I just finished reading a nonfiction book. This is a rare occurrence for me.
It’s called 10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story. It’s kind of a memoir-slash-self-help-book by journalist Dan Harris, and it’s about his journey through the self-help world, which ultimately ends with his discovering the power of meditation.
I love this book. It’s inspiring me to take up a daily meditation practice, which I’ve done before but have never been able to maintain for too long.
Here are my takeaways from 10% Happier:
–Understand that ‘it is what it is’ – and then do what you need to do next.
A lot of Harris’s writing is about his struggle to balance meditation with the ambition and productivity associated with everyday life. He writes about how meditation is about acknowledging feelings and accepting thoughts as they are. But then he writes about doing what needs to be done next.
You can accept where you are, and then you can do the next right thing; acceptance and action are not contradictory.
–Learn to respond, not react.
Harris writes: What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, “respond” rather than simply “react.” In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.
As my work week creeps on, I find myself struggling to respond rather than react. I do a pretty good job with it on Mondays; I struggle a LOT on Fridays.
–A really awesome definition of mindfulness.
I’ve read and written a lot about mindfulness, but Harris’s book gave the best and easiest to understand definition of mindfulness I’ve ever heard.
He writes that mindfulness is like looking at your thoughts from behind a waterfall. Picture the mind like a waterfall: the water is the torrent of thoughts and emotions; mindfulness is the space behind the waterfall.
So, if I am practicing mindfulness, I can watch my thoughts and my feelings flow by without becoming swept away by them.
Simple – but challenging.
-Do one thing at a time.
Harris writes: [Janice Marturano – founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership – recommended something radical: do only one thing at a time. When you’re on the phone, be on the phone. When you’re in a meeting, be there. Set aside an hour to check your email, and then shut off your computer monitor and focus on the task at hand.
Another tip: take short mindfulness breaks throughout the day. [Marturano] called them “purposeful pauses.” So, for example, instead of fidgeting or tapping your fingers while your computer boots up, try to watch your breath for a few minutes. When driving, turn off the radio and feel your hands on the wheel. Or when walking between meetings, leave your phone in your pocket and just notice the sensations of your legs moving.
“If I’m a corporate samurai,” I said, “I’d be a little worried about taking all these pauses that you recommend because I’d be thinking, ‘Well, my rivals aren’t pausing. They’re working all the time.’”
“Yeah, but that assumes that those pauses aren’t helping you. Those pauses are the ways to make you a more clear thinker and for you to be more focused on what’s important.”
I love all of this.
-Ask yourself if your thoughts are useful.
It’s all about being in the present moment – right? However, Harris poses the question: What about when you need to think about the future? You’re considering your career – or you’re planning how to be on time for your flight home to Maryland.
One of Harris’s meditation mentors, Joseph Goldstein (well-known teacher and author, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society), answers this question. His response was (not verbatim) yes, wonderful, think about your flight. But when you’re running through your route to the airport for the seventeenth time, be mindful of this and consider if this thought is useful.
This reminds me of one of my rules for things to say out loud: Ask yourself – is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it true?
It also is a pretty great method for measuring when you’re thinking in a healthy, productive way, and when you’re thinking in an unhealthy and unproductive way. I can just ask myself – is this useful?
–Observe The Ten Pillars of Cutthroat Zen.
In the final chapter of 10% Happier, Harris writes a list of recommendations for using meditation and mindfulness principles in everyday life and the workplace. I put quotes for the book in parentheses where I thought explanation was needed
1. Don’t be a Jerk.
2. (And/But …) When Necessary, Hide the Zen. (“Sometimes you need to compete aggressively…it’s possible to do this calmly and without making the whole thing overly personal.”)
3. Meditate. (“Meditation is the superpower that makes all the other precepts possible.”)
4. The Price of Security is Insecurity — Until It’s Not Useful. (“Mindfulness proved a great mental thresher for separating wheat from chaff, for figuring out when my worrying was worthwhile and when it was pointless. Vigilance, diligence, the setting of audacious goals— these are all the good parts of ‘insecurity.'”)
5. Equanimity is Not the Enemy of Creativity.
6. Don’t Force It. (“It’s hard to open a jar when every muscle in your arm is tense.”)
7. Humility Prevents Humiliation.
8. Go Easy with the Internal Cattle Prod. (You can get a lot further when you practice kindness and self-compassion than when you are beating yourself up all the time.)
9. Nonattachment to Results. (This is HUGE! Work hard – but understand that the results won’t always go your way, and that letting go of your attachment to outcomes makes life so much happier.)
10. What Matters Most? (Listen to your inner voice. It does not lie.)