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Last Updated on May 13, 2020

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation to Calm Your Thoughts

Have you heard about the benefits of mindful meditation, wanted to try it, and maybe even sat down to do it, only to find it extremely difficult?

Your mind is racing, and you can’t sit still or calm your thoughts. Do you think it’s just not for you?

Many first-time meditators feel the same, but the key, like most things in life, is to simply practice.

Starting a meditation practice can have huge benefits if you stick with it. Having a regular meditation practice is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health and well-being. You can start right now, right where you are.

When I first started meditating, the soundtrack in my head sounded a little like this…

“Shoot, I forgot to send that email, should I do that first? Is 10 minutes too long, maybe I should just do 5 today? Who’s picking up the girls tonight? Am I doing this right? How long has it been? I have so much to do and I’m just sitting here doing nothing. I’m not sure I can do this. Am I done yet?”

I know I’m not the only one who’s felt like this when they first attempted to meditate. Upon asking a client yesterday if she meditated, she replied, “Oh yeah, my head won’t let me do stuff like that.”

Most people, upon starting a meditation practice, begin to list the excuses as to why it’s not working. They’re too impatient. It’s boring. There’s too much else to do. They can’t sit still.

But that’s really the point. You have a racing mind, and you feel anxious, and you want to cultivate patience. That’s exactly what a meditation practice will help you with.

Most people have an average of 60-80,000 thoughts per day. In order to get them under control and get the most out of them, meditation is a great option.

Saying I can’t meditate because my mind races is a bit like saying I can’t run because it’s hard to breathe and my legs hurt. Like with anything new, it’s not going to be easy when you first start, but the more you do it, the better you get.

In this article, you’ll read all about meditation, the benefits you’ll reap from practicing, the biggest mistake you’re making, a basic framework to get you started, and a whole bunch of resources to keep you going – and calm that racing mind of yours.

What Is Mindful Meditation?

In short, mindful meditation is combining the practice of mindfulness and meditation.

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and not overly reactive. Whenever you bring awareness to the information your senses are offering, you’re being mindful.[1]

Therefore, mindfulness meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.

Mindful meditation has been practiced since antiquity in numerous religious traditions and beliefs, often as part of the path towards enlightenment and self realization. Since the 19th century, it has spread from its origins to other cultures where it is commonly practiced in private and business life.

Meditation is essentially about finding quiet in your mind, being in the present moment, and entering a deep state of peace and relaxation. It’s not about clearing your mind from all thoughts and feelings. It’s about learning to observe those thoughts and feelings without attachment or judgement.

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A simple definition of meditation, offering by Deepak Chopra’s Chopra Center, is “a journey from external activity to inner silence.”[2]

Mindfulness meditation is just one type. From active meditation to walking meditations, guided meditation to transcendental meditation, there are many types of practices (and even definitions). Many people feel prayer, contemplation, and mantras are all forms of meditation, and they certainly can be if they lead to a sense of inner peace and stillness.

Regardless of which form you choose, meditation has all sorts of benefits mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Benefits of Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation allows you to calm your thoughts, achieve greater mental and emotional clarity, and access your true self – the one free from the weights, stresses, fears, and anxieties of the world we live in.

Studies have shown that meditation can transform your life and:

  • Lower stress levels and blood pressure[3]
  • Help you sleep better
  • Improve your overall health and relationships
  • Increase productivity
  • Create more joy and connection in your life
  • Manifest your deepest desires
  • Create an expanded sense of awareness and even..
  • Increase world peace

Research has also shown significant proven benefits in the areas of depression,[4] anxiety, and chronic pain.

Meditation is quite literally the answer for all that ails you.

Common Mistakes Made in a Meditation Practice

Want to know the biggest mistake you’re making with your meditation practice? It’s how you’re thinking about it. It’s likely your beliefs around meditation that are getting in the way, not the practice itself.

Think You’re Doing it Wrong?

You think you can’t do it.

You think it takes years of practice to receive any benefits from mindful meditation, or on the flip side, you meditated once and are frustrated you don’t see the benefits already. You think a successful meditation means you’re not having any thoughts. You think it’s just for yogis, airy fairy folks, and ancient philosophers. You think you don’t have enough time.

Here’s what I want you to know:

First and foremost, you can’t do it wrong because there’s really no one right way. In fact, as we mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of meditation practices and techniques. It’s about finding what works for you.

You don’t have to meditate every morning for 30 minutes. You can start with 5 minutes and work your way up. In fact, you could start with five mindful breaths. There, you just practiced mindful mediation! See? You can do it.

You will most likely have a multitude of thoughts while you’re meditating, and that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

You don’t have to dress up in flowy clothes, burn incense, and chant ‘OM’ if you don’t want to. But feel free to if that’s what you connect with. You can mediate at your desk, in your car — not while driving please — or on your hike.

So stop being so hard on yourself. If you think you’re doing it wrong, your mind is going to want to throw in the towel and stop – or worse yet, not get started in the first place.

Repeat after me:

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I cannot meditate wrong. There are many different ways to mediate, and I just need to find what works for me.

Is There a One-Size-Fits-All Approach?

I’m a big fan of this premise in all of life. The thing about most advice (on any topic really) is not that it doesn’t work, it’s that it doesn’t work for everybody. Any habit you are trying to create needs to take into account your unique personality, lifestyle, and challenges.

Have you ever set out with great intentions to do something – a new diet, exercise regimen, or meditation practice — only to fall flat on your face a few days or weeks later? Then what? You beat yourself up that you didn’t do it right, that you failed.

However, you haven’t failed; you have just found something that doesn’t work for you. And now, it’s time to find something that does. What works for a friend, colleague, or spouse will not necessarily work for you, so start experimenting to see what you mind and body need from you.

There is a perfect form of mindful meditation that will work for you — you just have to find what that is.

For most people, silent meditations are difficult at first. Instead, try looking up some guided meditations on YouTube to get you started.

Some connect more with nature and find it easier to practice meditation while walking or hiking outside.

So, if you’ve tried meditation and it hasn’t worked for you, try one of the suggestions below. Try until you find something that resonates with who you are.

A Basic Framework for Mindful Meditation

To get you started, I reached out to yoga, meditation and mindfulness teacher, Libby Carstensen, to give you a basic framework for mindfulness meditation.[5]

Her first reminder?

Meditation isn’t about quieting the mind but about finding the quiet that is already there.

Here’s her advice:

“I recommend my clients begin their daily practice by starting with a simple breathing technique to calm the mind and then begin their meditation practice.”

Remember this teaching, the breath controls the mind. “Pranayama” is the yogic technology of breath control. When consciously breathing, or breathing on purpose, the breath will restore control over the mind and allow you to focus and direct your awareness.

As Yogi Bhajan, the great Kundalini Yoga master said,

“The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”

Start With the 4-7-8 Breath

This technique, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying your 60-80,000 thoughts.[6]

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The 4-7-8 count, also known as the relaxing breath technique, is one of the easiest to do, and the benefits are immediate. Dr. Weil has even described it as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”

It’s perfect for anyone looking to calm their mind before meditation or whenever you’re feeling anxious.

The 4-7-8 Technique:

  1. Rest the tip of your tongue at the top back of your teeth.
  2. Let out a deep exhale, along with a big sigh or whooshing sound.
  3. Close your mouth and slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  5. Exhale deeply though your mouth and completely for a count of eight, being sure to let out a big sigh or whooshing sound.
  6. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation.

Now you’re ready for your meditation. Here’s a simple framework for meditation:

1. Get Clear and Set Your Intention

Why do you want to meditate? What matters to you?

I believe if your “why” is big enough, then anything is possible. Is it health, peace of mind, inspiration, forgiveness, or connection?

2. Set Yourself up for Success

Eliminate any distractions, close the door, use the bathroom, silence your phone, and ask your family to leave you alone for the next 5 to 20 minutes.

3. Correct Your Posture

Lying down is a signal to the body to go to sleep, so I don’t recommend lying down for meditation. You can sit in a chair or cross-legged in easy pose using a pillow or a bolster.

If you’re not comfortable, you won’t be able to relax. But don’t get too comfortable. The point is to focus your awareness, not to shut it down.

4. Keep a Tall Spine

Inhale, roll the shoulders up to your ears. Exhale, roll them back and down. This stacks the head atop your neck while floating the shoulders over the hips.

Consider this a neutral, tall spine. Every time you feel yourself hunching forward or slumping, reset your spine. Rest your hands comfortably on your knees or lap.

5. Close Your Eyes

With your eyes closed, direct your attention towards the brow point or the third eye.

6. Focus Your Attention on Your Breath

With your eyes closed, bring attention to your breath and notice how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Slowly inhale and exhale though the nose.

If your mind begins to wander to one of your thoughts (and it will), return your focus back to your breath.

7. Relax Your Body

Begin with a body scan: start at the scalp and move your attention slowly downward, methodically relaxing and softening each part of the body.

Consciously relax your body and let go of any tension from your head, neck, or shoulders. Releasing body tension will help you open to whatever arises during your meditation.

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8. Repeat the Mantra So Hum

Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, while thinking or silently repeating the word So. Then slowly exhale through your nose while silently repeating the word Hum. Continue to allow your breath to flow easily, silently repeating So . . . Hum . . . with each inflow and outflow of the breath.

Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in your environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating So . . . Hum.

9. Now You’re Meditating

Continue the practice for as long as it is comfortable. Start with 5 minutes a day, working up to 20 minutes once or twice a day.

When your practice is complete, stop the repetition of the mantra and sit silently with your eyes closed, taking a moment to rest in the stillness and silence.

10. Never Run to or From Meditation

Notice if you want to quickly move onto the next thing after your meditation practice. Take a few minutes to stretch and bring your awareness back into the present moment before you rush off on all the things you need to do.

Bonus Tips for Meditation

If you’re looking for some additional ways to get going. Here are a few additional ways to start meditating.

Download an App

Apps like Headspace and Calm are both fantastic places to start. They contain guided mindful meditations and breathwork on everything from stress, anxiety, self-esteem, concentration, walking, forgiveness, gratitude, and sleep.

You can choose from shorter meditation to longer as you progress and get more comfortable. Both offer a free trial, so you have nothing to lose.

Join a Group or Class

Feel like you just can’t do this on your own yet? There are plenty of group meditation practices and classes out there.

Search for ones that are close to you. These are often held at yoga and movement studios. You can search online for local Meetup Groups, check out Meditation Finder, or Google “local meditation groups” or “local meditation classes” to find something nearby.

Surf the Internet

There are some incredible mindful meditation resources on the web, including:

  • The Chopra Center
  • Roger Gabriel, Chopra Center Educator
  • Top 25 Best Meditation Resources: Guided Meditation, Meditation Music, and Meditation Apps
  • YouTube. Just search for topics you’re interested in. Guided Meditation for Anxiety? Check. Guided walking meditation? Yep, there’s 200. Morning Meditation? Here’s one of my favorite 5-minute ones. Test a bunch and see what you like. At one point, I did a new one almost every day as I explored what worked and what didn’t work for me.
  • Deepak and Oprah’s 21 Day Meditation Experiences. I love these as you feel like you’re part of something bigger. And they are amazing. A few minutes of Oprah’s words of wisdom, followed by Deepak Chopra, and then the mediation.

Final Thoughts

It’s time to practice. It’s time to commit. It’s time to choose a method that resonates with you and try it. No more excuses.

Set a goal. Commit to a month. Too long? Commit to 10, 5, or even just 3 sessions. But start somewhere.

Studies show changes in the brain in as little as 8 weeks of mindful meditation[7], but you’ll start to feel changes in your overall mental health and well-being long before then.

In fact, start practicing mindful meditation today and you’ll begin to feel the benefits in all areas of your life. You’ll be able to bring the calmness, awareness, and clarity into each day and your relationships, career, conversations and activities. The longer you stick with it, the easier it will become and the more benefits you’ll notice.

You can do this. Your mind will calm. Your thoughts will start to slow.

You’ve got this. The time is now. Let’s get started.

More Tips on Mindful Meditation

Featured photo credit: Mor Shani via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Tracy Kennedy

Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

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Published on September 23, 2020

6 Effective Negotiation Skills to Master

6 Effective Negotiation Skills to Master

I don’t know about you, but many times when I hear the word negotiate I think of lawyers working out a business deal or having to do battle with a car salesman to try to get a lower price. Since I am in recruiting, the term “negotiation” comes up when someone is attempting to get a higher compensation package.

If we think about it, we tend to negotiate almost every day in a wide variety of things we do. Getting a handle on the important negotiation skills can be incredibly beneficial in many parts of our lives. Let’s take a look at 6 effective negotiation skills to master.

What is Negotiation?

First, let’s take a look at what negotiation is. Put simply, negotiation is a method by which people settle their differences. It is a process in which compromise or agreement can be reached without argument or dispute.

Anytime two people or sides disagree on something, they are almost always looking for the best possible outcome for their side. This could be from an individual’s perspective or someone representing an organization.

In reality, it’s rare that one side gets everything they want and the other side gets nothing that they are seeking. Seeking to reach a common ground of sorts where both sides feel like they are getting most of what they want is the key to being successful and maintaining the relationship.

Places We Negotiate

I’ve mentioned that we negotiate in just about all phases of our life. For those of you who are shaking your head no, I invite you to think about the following:

1. Work/Business

This one is the most obvious and it’s what naturally comes to mind when we think of the word “negotiate”.

When you first started at your current job, you might have asked for a higher salary. It could be that you delivered a huge new client to your company and used this as leverage in your most recent evaluation for more compensation. If you work with vendors (and just about every company does), maybe you worked them to a lower price or better contract terms.

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In recruiting, I negotiate with candidates and hiring managers all the time to land the best talent I can find. It’s very common to accept additional work with the (sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken) agreement that it will benefit your career in the future.

Recently, I took over a project that was my boss was working on so that I would be able to attend a conference later in the year. And so it goes, we do this all day long at work.

2. Personal

I don’t know about you, but I negotiate with my spouse all the time. I’ll cook dinner with the understanding that she does the dishes. Who wants to mow the lawn and who wants to vacuum and dust the house?

I think we should save 10% for retirement, but she thinks 5% is plenty. Therefore, we save 8%. And don’t even get me started with my kids. My older daughter can borrow my car as soon as she finishes her chores. My younger daughter can go hang out with her friends when her homework is done.

Then, there are all those interactions in our personal lives outside our homes. The carpenter wants to charge me $12,000 to build a new deck. I think $10,000 is plenty so we agree on $11,000. I ask my neighbor if I can borrow his snowblower in the winter if I invite him over the next time I grill steak. And so on.

3. Ourselves

You didn’t expect this one, did you? We negotiate with ourselves all day long.

I’ll make sure I don’t skip my workout tomorrow since I’m going to have that extra piece of pizza. My spouse has been quiet the last few days, is it worth me asking her about, or should I leave it alone? I think the car place charged me for some repairs that weren’t needed, should I say something or just let it go? I know my friend has been having some personal challenges, should I check in with him? We’ve been friends for a long time, I’m sure he’d come to me if he needed help. I’ve got the #4 pick in this year’s Fantasy Football draft, should I choose a running back or a wide receiver?

Think about that non-stop voice inside your head. It always seems to be chattering away about something and many times, it’s us negotiating with ourselves. I’ll finish up that report that the boss needs before I turn on the football game.

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Why Negotiation Skills Are So Important

Put simply, negotiation skills are important because we all interact with other people, and not only other people but other organizations and groups of people as well.

We all rarely want the same thing or outcome. Most of the time a vendor is looking at getting you to pay a higher price for something than you want to spend. Therefore, it’s important to negotiate to some middle ground that works well for both sides.

My wife and I disagree on how much to save for retirement. If we weren’t married it wouldn’t be an issue. We’d each contribute how much we wanted to on our retirement funds. We choose to be married, so we have to come to some agreement that we both feel comfortable with. We have to compromise. Therefore, we have to negotiate.

If we each lived on a planet by ourselves, we would be free to do just about anything we wanted to. We wouldn’t have to compromise with anyone because we wouldn’t interact with anyone. We would make every choice unilaterally the way we wanted to.

As we all know, this isn’t how things are. We are constantly interacting with other people and organizations, each one with their own agenda’s, viewpoints, and opinions. Therefore, we have to be able to work together.

6 Negotiation Skills to Master

Having strong negotiation skills helps us create win-win situations with others, allowing us to get most of what we want in conjunction with others around us.

Now, let’s look at 6 effective negotiation skills to master.

1. Preparation

Preparation is a key place to start with when getting ready to negotiate. Being prepared means having a clear vision of what you want and how you’d go about achieving it. It means knowing what the end goal looks like and also what you are willing to give to get it.

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It also means knowing who you are negotiating with and what areas they might be willing to compromise on. You should also know what your “bottom line” is. By “bottom line” I mean what is the most you are willing to give up to get what you want.

For instance, several years ago, I decided it was time to get a newer car. I say newer because I wanted a “new to me” car, not a brand new car. I did my research and figured out what type of car I wanted. I decided on what must-have items on the car I wanted, the highest amount of miles that would already be on it, the colors I was willing to get it in, and the highest amount of money I was willing to pay.

After visiting numerous car dealerships I was able to negotiate buying a car. I knew what I was willing to give up (amount of money) and what I was willing to accept, things like the color, amount of miles, etc. I came prepared. This is critical.

2. Clear Communication

The next key skill you need to be an effective negotiator is clear communication. You have to be able to clearly articulate what you want to the other party. This means both clear verbal and written communication.

If you can’t clearly tell the other person what you want, how do you expect to get it? Have you ever worked through something with a vendor or someone else only to learn of a surprise right at the end that wasn’t talked about before? This is not what you would call clear communication. It’s essential to be able to share a coherent and logical vision with the person you are working with.

3. Active Listening

Let’s do a quick review of active listening. This is when you are completely focused on the speaker, understand their message, comprehend the information, and respond appropriately. This is a necessary ingredient to be able to negotiate successfully. You must be able to fully focus on the other person’s wants to completely understand them.

If you aren’t giving them your full attention, you may miss some major points or details. This leads to frustration down the road on both sides. Ensure you are employing your active listening skills when in arbitration mode.

4. Teamwork and Collaboration

To be able to get to a place of common ground and a win-win scenario, you have to have a sense of teamwork and collaboration.

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If you are only thinking about yourself and what you want without giving much care to what the other person is wanting, you are bound to wind up without a solution. The other person may get frustrated and give up if they see you are unwilling to meet them halfway or care little for what they want.

When you collaborate, you are working together to help each other get what is most important to you. The other upside to negotiating with a sense of teamwork and collaboration is that it helps create a sense of trust, which, in turn, helps provide positive energy for working to a successful conclusion.

5. Problem Solving

Problem-solving is another key negotiation skill. When you are working with the other person to get the deal done many times you’ll face new challenges along the way.

Maybe you want a new vendor to provide training on the software they are selling you but they say it’s going to cost an additional $20,000 to provide this service. If you don’t have the additional $20,000 in the budget to spend on the software but you feel the training is critical, how are you going to solve that problem?

From what I’ve seen, most vendors aren’t willing to provide additional services without getting paid for them. This is where problem-solving skills will help continue the discussions. You might suggest to the vendor that your company will also be looking to replace their financial software next year, and you’d be happy to ensure they get one of the first seats at the table when the time comes if they could perhaps lower the pricing on their training.

There’s a solution to most challenges, but it takes problem-solving skills to work through them effectively.

6. Decision-Making Ability

Finally, having strong decision-making ability will help you seal the deal when you get to a place where everyone feels like they are getting what works for them. Each step of the way you can cross off the list when you get what you are looking for and decide to move onto the next item. Then, once you have all of your must-have boxes checked and the other side feels good about things, it’s time to shake hands and sign on the dotted line. Powerful decision-making ability will help you get to the finish line together.

Conclusion

There you have it, 6 effective negotiation skills to master to lead a more fulfilling life. Once we realize that we negotiate in one form or another almost every day in every phase of our lives, we realize how critical a skill it is.

Possessing strong negotiation skills will help you in nearly every one of your relationships at both the workplace and in your personal life. If you feel your arbitration tools could use some sharpening, try some of the 6 effective negotiation skills to master that we’ve talked about.

More Tips to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

Featured photo credit: Windows via unsplash.com

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