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Reboot Your Brain With Practical Meditation

Reboot Your Brain With Practical Meditation
Meditation

Meditation isn’t just a spiritual practice. If done properly, meditation can be a practical one. Through taking more traditional meditative practices and altering them to fit my needs, I’ve found it can serve many purposes:

  • Focus. Meditating can cut through distractions and focus your mind. I’ve found certain meditations to be useful to give myself an extra edge in directing my thinking.
  • Imagination. Visualizing different scenes can give your creative muscles a workout.
  • Introspection. Remove the noise from your surroundings and you can actually hear yourself think. I’ve used meditation to solve problems, understand situations and better explore ideas.
  • Brain Reboot. Done properly, I’ve noticed an effect on my brain similar to rebooting a computer. With the right meditations I can often spend twenty minutes meditating can remove that feeling of mental fuzziness that comes with a hard day.

Use the Right Exercises

Meditating isn’t simply sitting in a chair cross legged and saying, “ommmm,” to yourself. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. However, if you want to meditate for a practical aim, say recharging your mind or enhancing your imagination, you have to focus.

When I first started meditating I’d often grow restless after a few minutes because I wasn’t sure what to do. Entering a meditation with a specific purpose will help you if your goal is practical and not spiritual.

How to Enter a Meditative State:

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  1. Be comfortable, but don’t fall asleep. Get yourself into a position where you can be comfortable but aren’t at risk of falling asleep. Too much muscular tension or bodily pains can be distracting when trying to meditate. You don’t want to move much once you start meditating, so make sure it is a position that can last a few minutes.
  2. Breathe. I always start any meditation with a breathing exercise. It usually takes about five minutes to enter the meditative state and patience is key. My goal is to stop moving and focus entirely on my breathing. I generally count to ten on the inhale, and once again on the exhale. Do this for a few minutes until you can keep the breathing pattern without counting.
  3. Flow with Distractions. Here’s a task for you: Don’t think about polar bears. Of course, trying to accomplish that task is almost impossible. Trying not to think about polar bears causes you to think about polar bears. This paradox applies with distracting elements too. Thoughts, emotions, sounds and disruptions can hamper with your meditative efforts. Don’t force these distractions out, but simply recognize them and let them pass.

The Meditation Toolkit

The first five minutes of practical meditation are always the same. After that things get interesting. I don’t profess to having a library of meditations or being a Zen expert. But here are a couple useful exercises I’ve found and developed to meet my needs:

For Focus: Isolating Senses

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Meditation can be used to enhance and practice your focus. To do that I isolate my senses, focusing on just one element at a time.

  1. On each exhale, pick an element to focus on.
  2. With the next inhale, focus on that element exclusively.
  3. With the exhale, release your focus and pick another element, or the same one.

Elements here can include parts of your body, sounds in the background, thoughts, visualizations or emotional states. Think of each breath like a mental rep, flexing the mental muscle until it gets released again.

For Imagination: Eating the White Apple

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A recent meditation I’ve found challenging and interesting I call: eating the white apple.

  1. Visualize a white apple. Hold it so that you can see it, feel the sensations of touch, even smell it.
  2. Take a bite from the apple. Not only should you experience the sensation of eating it, but the image should adjust with where you took a bite.
  3. Repeat this process until the image degrades. This happens when you can’t keep track of where and how you ate the apple. I can usually go about ten bites before the mental image gets fuzzy.

This is just one of many visualizations for flexing your ability to think.

For Refreshing: Brain Reboot

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All meditation is relaxing. Your breathing is slowed and you are eliminating distracting thoughts. A brain reboot goes further than other meditations in that aim. Here your goal is to enter a deep relaxation and leave feeling completely refreshed.

  1. Start with your normal meditations. You may want to spend a few minutes with another exercise before starting this one.
  2. Try to slow your breathing even more and make it smoother. I can usually go up to as much as fifteen counts per inhale and exhale. Don’t slow it so much that you start to feel uncomfortable as that defeats the purpose.
  3. Next your goal is to become aware of everything but detached from it. This mental alertness means that any thoughts, sounds or bodily discomforts enter your consciousness, but you simply observe them. This means holding off any reactions or instincts to inputs.
  4. Continue this for a few minutes before ending your meditation.

I’ve found this brain reboot works because it starts by deeply relaxing your body (slow breathing, no moving) and moves to relaxing your mind. The detachment is the mental equivalent of going completely limp. Observing what is happening but not passing any judgment, strategy or action on it.

Meditative Challenge

Not sure whether meditation is right for you? I suggest you spend fifteen minutes of your day for a week trying out these and researching other meditations. Mediation can be used for spiritual quests, but you can also make it practical.

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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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