We know we should prioritize self-care. We know we should build solid routines to maximize our productivity. We know we should make every effort to eat well and exercise daily. We know all of this, and now we’re hearing more and more about meditation. While the benefits seem pretty astounding, many entrepreneurs find it to be a difficult skill to begin and incorporate into their lives, much less master. I caught up with QuillBot CTO, Anil Jason, to get his thoughts on this practice: what is it, what do you *actually* do, and is it worth it?
The very first thing he told me was this:
“Meditation is non-prescriptive. It looks, feels, and works a little bit differently for everyone based on personality, habits, and goals. The main thing that I want people to understand about this type of practice is that there is no one ‘right’ way to do it. To some people, this is a big turn-off, but I would like this fact to empower people to try it. Learn the premise, and then just try out a few things to see what resonates the most with you, and go from there. Be empowered that your way of meditating, as long you find it to be beneficial, can be considered the right way.”
Yikes. I like recipes, personally, and I remember when I started to meditate that I got really hung up on the concept of “doing it the right way,” which made me quit the practice several times. Jason is spot on and scary accurate for so many of us that struggle with perfectionism in this way! But maybe the reality is that that’s why we need to fight to build this habit as entrepreneurs…
Ok, so what is meditation?
“To me, meditation is an opportunity for me to unplug from the world around me to check in with myself. Unplugging can be hard, especially for entrepreneurs, because there’s always a task, person, or deadline that needs our attention. I challenge you to see these issues for what they are though–inputs. They are a stream of incoming signals from outside of you, and in order to be present with yourself and check in, these have to be removed, at least for a short period of time, in order for you to be able to critically judge your own path and choices. Are you pursuing your own purpose? Are you growing? It’s really hard to see things for what they are if you don’t unplug and check in often. For me, I want to know my choices are reflective of my values and independent of the signals I am bombarded with constantly.”
Additionally, Merriam-Webster defines meditation as the act of engaging “in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of awareness.”
What are the benefits? Can you pitch it to me?
“If you want to achieve your full potential, meditate. If you’re on a journey to self-discovery, meditate. If you want to be more balanced and at peace, meditate. How much of your life do you want to own? I hope you said all of it–every piece. Meditation will take you from being swept away with the current to being comfortable surfing whatever the water throws your way. I meditate because it gives me the clarity to know that I’m in control of myself–so it’s less often that I’m being sucked into toxic situations or conversations because I’m present. It still happens, of course, because I’m human, but I’m doing the work to be better about it.”
Dr. Jill Suttie notes that the benefits of meditation include lower stress/anxiety levels, elevated mood, lower instances of burnout, decreased emotional reactivity, and she also noted that it may “decrease cognitive decline from aging or Alzheimer’s,” improve patient immune responses, reduce cell aging, and potentially reduce psychological pain.
Are you tempted to try it yet? Let’s talk about how it’s actually done and the other need-to-know details.
How do I meditate? What kind of time, materials, etc. do I need?
“I think we underestimate the value of sanity from many perspectives. However, for the low price of $0, you too can meditate!” Jason joked with me. “Meditation costs nothing but your time and attention, and while you can buy an app, you certainly don’t need to. Start with 5 minutes. Set aside this time, either scheduled beforehand or fit it into a nook or cranny in your schedule. Get comfy, turn off your devices, clear your mind, breathe, and check in with yourself. You can sit wherever, however–just do it. Eventually, you can up the time to whatever works best for you. There really isn’t anything you need to get started except your time.”
What does it look like for you to meditate? Give me the when, where, and how.
“As far as when I meditate, I do it as often as possible. If I have some time on my hands in between tasks or meetings, I will take it to meditate. As CTO and cofounder of QuillBot, my schedule can change quickly, so I found that taking the time to meditate when I could was the best option because scheduling it in would often not work with the demands of my position. Maybe this would be different if I were a morning person, but I’m just not. And I value this practice, so I know I will make time for it. I understand that when you are just starting out though, it can be easier to schedule in your practice or do it first thing in the morning.
The ‘where’ doesn’t really matter either, so long as you’re comfortable. This can take some getting used to if you’re going to meditate in public, such as if you’re on a walk, riding the train, or waiting in line, but I promise it is well worth it. Some people make a dedicated space in their home with one of those round pillows and candles, so if that’s what works for you, great! But don’t let setting up the space allow you to put off starting.
How to meditate is a nebulous question. Your first hurdle will be to exist with yourself, to quiet your mind and focus on counting your breaths. Sitting wherever you like, close your eyes and focus on watching your breath. Count your breaths and observe how breathing in feels different than breathing out, and some breaths will be longer or shorter than others. Focus on only the breath, and if a thought enters your mind, just imagine waving it away or pushing it out of your mind. If you end up engaging with a thought, that’s ok! That’s why meditation is so hard. Just return to your breath and keep going. Do this for 5 minutes at first, and when you stop engaging with thoughts for most of that time, you can increase the time.
Box breathing is another breath-focused meditation that is also great before stressful situations. You simply breath in for a count of 4, hold for 4, and then exhale counting to 4 again; you do this over and over. Try this for 30 seconds to a minute, and you will be surprised by how much you’ll calm down. Slower breathing allows CO2 to accumulate in your bloodstream, leading to a nerve response that floods you with feelings of calmness.
Once you’re comfortable with focusing on your breathing, then you can add some more layers to your practice. Once you get in the zone with your breathing, you can try dropping in a single question or a feeling into your mind to see what ideas pop up. You don’t dwell on the ideas that you find. You focus only on the question or feeling you are looking to understand. Then your mind will work behind the scenes for you, just like it does while you’re sleeping. Again, if you engage with a thought or idea that arises from what you’ve asked, then just stop and re-engage with yourself or go back to counting breaths.”
How will meditation maximize my time?
Just like exercise, you give an amount of time to a practice, and the extra energy you receive in return makes you feel like you’re adding twice that amount of time back to your day. Meditation is the same. Think about the last time you were upset, agonizing over a problem. How much time did you waste spinning your feelings in your mind, replaying events and lamenting your choices–or the choices of others? In reality, this moment has passed and cannot be changed, but you’re still spending hours dwelling on it. Meditation helps you avoid this and so, no longer lose those hours fighting something that you can’t change and need to let go of.
I won’t lie and say that learning to meditate and making it a habit was or is easy for me, but I will say that it’s worth it, always. If you’re having trouble jumpstarting your own journey, consider that anything done even part-way is better than nothing done at all. So, when you’re too tired to read a chapter, read a page. When you’re too tired to brush your teeth, floss, and do your whole nightly routine, give yourself some grace (and some mouthwash), and go get some sleep. And when you feel like you can’t meditate, count out 10 mindful breaths, because anything is better than nothing. It’s all about balance.
Here’s a final thought from Jason:
“Meditation as a preventative, upstream thinking practice has helped me greatly in my journey as an entrepreneur to avoid burnout. You might bomb a pitch at an important meeting but have more pressing issues to deal with later, and without a mindfulness practice, at these moments it’s common to feel really lost or be ready to give up. That’s why making it a habit is so important. You can find 5 minutes to calm yourself down and count ten breaths, but it starts with not wanting to feel so out of control and committing to doing something to build resilience and mental fortitude–and that’s your meditation practice.”