THE BLOG

What If You Hit the Pause Button on Your Day?

10/05/2016 11:42am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Have you ever watched a movie that follows the same character, but explores the different life choices that "could have been." I just watched Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda; and how about Gwyneth Paltrow's movie, Sliding Doors, from the late '90s? The entire premise of these movies is based on "What If."

We watch as two parallel lives play out, based on series of chance events. What if your life could be a romantic comedy or a tragedy? What if she had just made that train?

We've all visualized the "What If's" in our own lives -- from big ones (What if I had taken that job transfer?) to the small ones (What if I had stopped for gas?).

For example, think of your morning. For many, getting out the door is hectic. Any small chain of events can lead to missed trains, spilled coffee, or forgetting your keys. Throw kids or pets in the mix, and it all escalates.

Now, imagine your parallel life. Your morning is just as busy, but what if you made the train or your coffee stayed in the mug? What if you still miss the train and your coffee spills, but you're different? What if you stay calm amid the chaos? What if you're able to smoothly move on with your day?

No, your "parallel you" didn't get a prescription for Xanax or pour a shot of Bailey's into your morning coffee. Your "parallel you" practices meditation.

Meditation? I thought you understood my crazy morning?

I do, I promise. My life is hectic, too. I have a family, 2.5 jobs (one that requires traveling about 100,000 miles per year), and I try to exercise nearly every day. It's a challenging schedule. Managing it thoughtfully with kindness, calm and patience is not always easy, and I'm not always successful.

A cousin, who leads an equally frenetic life, has been meditating for years and suggested I try it. I was curious and knew I needed a way, aside from rosé, to chill out. I took his advice. What I've found is:

  • Meditation trains the mind to pay attention to all the details in the present moment. It's the mental conditioning of the right and left sides of your brain and how they communicate with each other.
  • When you meditate, you hit the pause button on the world around you. You take a little time - and it can be little - to re-focus and re-group. You don't "empty" your mind as much as you are strengthening it. You are learning to be conscious of every thought in order to process all of life's distractions. Meditation isn't all about incense, chanting, or religious undertones unless you want it to be.
  • If you aren't chanting or emptying your mind, how DO you meditate?

    Think of how you might approach exercise. One day, you run on your own. The next, you join a group class. Another day, you might meet with a trainer.

    Meditating can be the same (and take less time than your workout). There are several resources, from books to websites, to learn self-guided meditation. You might focus on your breath, your body, your thoughts, or visualization.

    For someone new to the practice, a little guidance is helpful. There are several apps that guide you through meditations anywhere from 5-60 minutes long. Headspace is one I especially like for beginners because it offers a pragmatic approach with a great free trial offer of ten minutes for ten days.

    You may also find meditation studios that offer guided classes. Today, most studios are on the coasts, but the list is constantly growing so it's worth checking.

    Why is meditation the answer? Don't I just need more sleep?

    You don't sleep well? Do you wake up with racing thoughts? Do you have a hard time winding down? Meditation helps you sleep better, which in turn, helps you manage your day.

    Beyond sleep, several recent studies have proven direct links between meditation and reduced stress, chronic pain, and blood pressure, just to name a few. Harvard University researchers learned that mindful meditation actually increases the densities of your brain's gray matter. Gray matter keeps you sharp and focused, especially as you age.

    So, this is just one more thing that I should be doing? One more thing to squeeze in?

    You're busy. I know it! So is Oprah. And Ellen. And Kobe Bryant and Arianna Huffington. So are hedge fund titans Ray Dalio and Paul Tudor Jones. And Jerry Seinfeld. Even our Sliding Doors movie star Gwenyth is busy.

    More importantly, employers realize how busy you are. Google, Apple, Nike, HBO, and even my beloved Chicago Cubs are among the many organizations that have implemented meditation practices for employees.

    As the Harvard Business Review published last year, "Mindfulness should no longer be considered a 'nice-to-have' for executives. It's a 'must-have' -- a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress."

    What if you pressed the pause button on your day to meditate? What would happen?

    In subsequent articles, I'm going to explore these two questions in-depth. With your input, I'll share how meditation can impact everything from work-outs to relationships, from job performance to health. The goal is to offer tangible insights that are meaningful in your everyday.

    As journalist and meditation evangelist Dan Harris suggests, this path can't solve all your problems, but it could make you 10% happier. Exploring What If isn't about making wishes. It's about taking that first step in imagining a better way.

    Have you tried meditating? What happened? Are you a skeptic? Please share with me at feedback@chillchicago.com. The goal is to address your experiences and help you use meditation to find calm in the chaos.