They say that after you decide to give up smoking it only takes 20 minutes to start feeling the benefits as heart rate begins to return to normal, blood pressure drops and circulation improves. This turns into a cascade effect over the following days, months and years, leaving you feeling like a different person.
I always liked the sound of this time line of tangible benefits that left ex-smokers feeling healthier and happier. However, I’m not a smoker and my vices are mainly limited to watching too much football on TV. My drinking is social, not excessive. My diet’s pretty good, I exercise, limit caffeine and keep an eye on my sugar intake.
Thinking about it, maybe what I should quit is being so boring and live a little, however I was talking to a friend about my dilemma of wanting to stop something but not having anything to stop.
“Why don’t you just stop?” she suggested.
“Just stop. Meditate. And see where it gets you.”
So, instead of quitting cigarettes, alcohol or coffee, I just decided to try and quit - every day for around five minutes. Quit the chatter of my mind and the traffic jam of thoughts endlessly honking their horns for my attention.
Now, 101 days later, here are the most important lessons I’ve learned so far and the timeline of when I learned them.
Lesson #1: You’re not sitting, doing nothing
I had been at it almost a week when I finally realised that the act of doing nothing is all too easily equated with being lazy, useless and unproductive in our super connected world. It’s a big mental hurdle to jump over. However, as soon as you realise that, yes, you are sitting doing nothing and that is the point you will begin to get the full benefit of meditation and reap the rewards.
Lesson #2: Don’t worry, be present.
Almost a month in, I realised that I did have a vice that I needed to give up.
It couldn’t be seen, measured in units of alcohol or calories and was far more harmful: I worried. A lot. I didn’t just worry about the big things in life. Was my career stalling? Were my kids okay? What happened to all the Avengers at the end of Infinity War? I also worried about the things that didn’t really matter. What if I couldn’t find a parking space? What if my train was delayed? And what happened to all the Avengers at the end of Infinity War?
On the 27th day, I found that my guided mindful meditation practice began to lessen these anxieties, both big and small. It wasn’t that I opened my eyes and suddenly felt less worried about everything. However, after each session I felt more equipped to deal with the thoughts that did worry me and I got less caught up in them.
I began to realise that anxieties are just thoughts – they are fleeting and fabricated. After day six, I was beginning to feel dispassionate about anxious thinking patterns. Like baggage on an airport carousel, I was able to recognise and pick up the ones that were important and would equip me in life and ignore the rest before they had a chance to turn into anything more.
Lesson #3: Let happiness happen.
Out of the blue, on day 43, I saw my neighbour pulling out of his driveway.
I smiled, waved and pulled a funny face at his young kids who were in the back seat. Normally, I would have barely acknowledged that I’d even seen them because I would have been preoccupied with ‘getting on with things’. You see, before I started to meditate, I was a bit of a grump. Actually, I could be an absolute misery, which is weird considering that I truly feel lucky and happy to have my life, my family, my work and my pets and, yes, my neighbour. However, there was a real inequality in my thinking in that I treated happiness as fleeting, while troubles were here to stay.
My meditation began to correct that imbalance and by being more present, I lessened the effect that the low points had on me and didn’t let them cloud the rest of my day. In turn, this heightened the many daily high points in my life because I just learned to enjoy them, be present, rather than worry about how long it was going to last and then start looking for the next one. It also made me more aware of those mood-enhancing moments that happen to us everyday but we often let pass us by – like making my neighbour’s kids laugh.
Lesson #4: My smart phone stopped owning me
This was a totally unexpected side effect, which I first noticed on day 74. I didn’t realise that I was such a slave to every ping, click, swoosh, ding and tri-tone that emanated from my iPhone on a daily basis.
Thankfully, my practice was conditioning me to focus on whatever I was doing when my phone tried to interrupt. If my mind wandered to wonder who the text was from or what the whatsapp message was about, I let it go there for a moment before bringing it back to whatever I was doing before the interruption. Once I was done, I would then allow myself to check out what my phone was so desperate to let me know. Steve had changed his profile picture.
Lesson #5: There’s always time to meditate
I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy. Well, my mum’s not busy, she’s retired, but you get my point. There’s plenty of advice out there to suggest meditating at the same time each day and, preferably, in the same place is a good way to start turning it into a habit. This didn’t work for me. I tried as soon as I woke up, but was often interrupted by kids wanting breakfast. After breakfast, couriers wanting signatures interrupted me. At lunchtime, my stomach wanting food interrupted me. What worked for me was simply doing it whenever I found myself alone and undisturbable – it’s a word, believe me. That resulted in some very unusual locations but it also resulted in me not missing a day of the 101 days that I set out to meditate. And if you’re interested, here’s a list of some of the more unusual spots where I was able to find the time with my mind: the toilet, a multi-storey car park, a soft play ball pit, a trampoline, a plane, a Nepalese mountaintop at daybreak.
Just kidding about the last one.
This article was written for us by the brilliant Jon Axworthy, who used guided meditations by 'Headspace' for 101 days - and continues to use them today!