You may know Dan Harris as an ABC news anchor, but he’s also a meditation guru of sorts. After a very public panic attack on live TV back in 2014, Harris realized his health had spiraled out of control—and he wanted to wrest it back. Lots of research, doctor visits, and some soul searching led him to take on meditation, which he now practices daily.
Not only that, but Harris recently wrote his second book on the subject, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. In it, he proudly spreads the word on how the practice has changed his life—and how it can change yours, too, despite the fact that taking on a new habit can be daunting. As the mindfulness expert says, “Don’t be afraid to try and fail. That is how we learn.”
One thing that makes meditation feel extra scary, often sabotaging a beginning meditator's efforts before they truly get into the groove? There's a set of myths that swirl around the practice, many of which dictate that there's a "right" and "wrong" way to sit in stillness. Here, Harris sets the record straight on five of the most common meditation misconceptions. Once you realize the truth, he hopes, you'll be more likely to enjoy the time on your cushion, rather than look at it as another chore on your wellness to-do list.
Here's the truth about the misconceptions that may be affecting your meditation practice.
Myth #1: Meditation is a major time-suck
Devoting just 5-10 minutes a day to meditation will bring on the practice's mental-health benefits, Harris says. Don’t think of it as something you have to do for hours on end—unless you want to, of course. “I tell people to just start with one minute a day,” Harris says. “Studies of the brain have shown that even that can help grow and strengthen the areas of the brain that affect attention regulation.” And all of us can sacrifice 60 seconds of Instagram scrolling in the name of a sharper brain, right?
Myth #2: Reaching a goal is the point of the practice
“This is a big misconception,” Harris says. “People think that there is some type of successful state you will reach and then you will have mastered meditation, but that is not at all how you should look at this."
The goal isn’t to become an A+ meditator whose brain is perfectly clear of all chatter, but rather to increase self-awareness. "The special state you should be in when meditating is just getting distracted and starting again.” he says “There are no prizes being given out.” Except for the stronger relationships, less painful periods, and reduction in stress that the practice confers—whether your mind wanders or not.
Myth #3: There's a formula for meditating properly
The rule to mastering meditation is simple: there are no rules. “People come to meditation and expect that while they’re meditating they’ll feel super calm," Harris says. "But meditation is not about feeling any certain way while you’re meditating. It’s just about clearly feeling whatever you’re feeling at that moment.” When in doubt, just focus on your breathing, the expert adds.
Myth #4: Fidgeting=failure
While Harris was writing Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, he drove cross-country on a tour bus with his meditation guide, Jeff Warren, trying to spread the truth about mediation. And there was one refrain he heard over and over again from his audiences. “People tell me all the time, ‘I can’t meditate because I can’t sit straight,’ or ‘I get too distracted,'" he says.
But according to Harris, this belief is missing the point of meditation altogether. In his view, you shouldn't get frustrated if your mind wanders during meditation—you should consider it a "consequential victory." “When you can take notice [of] how choppy the waves are in your own mind, then you are less likely to become fully engulfed in whatever emotion or thought is trying to take over your mind at any time," he says. "That is an incredible skill.”
Myth #5: Meditation is simple
Although Harris claims to have started feeling the benefits of meditation after only a few weeks of serious practice, he knows how hard a habit it is for people to take on. “We’re not wired for success in this area,” Harris says. “Like I say in the book, evolution did not bequeath us a mind that is good at creating long-term healthy habits.”
But Harris explains that just knowing how hard meditation really is should feel empowering to anyone willing to give it a shot. “You’ll know if it’s working for you if you begin to feel mindful of what’s happening in and around you,” he says. “In time, you develop the ability to notice in your daily life, ‘Oh, I’m starting to feel anger right now,’ or ‘I’m starting to feel fear or sadness,’ but you can handle it with more sanity. That’s mindfulness.”
Once you're hooked on the practice, here are some tips on how to trick out your mindfulness nook. Or, if you're really ambitious, style your entire home like a chic meditation studio.
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