meditation, selfhelp, wellbeing

Why Working Your ‘Attention Muscles’ Makes You Happier

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This frog may look serene but he has a marble stuck up his bum to stop him falling over

It’s the noticing that matters

Every time you notice you’re distracted and bring yourself back to what you’re meditating on, you exercise and grow the ‘attention muscles’ of your mind.

So what? 

If you meditate regularly, the area of your brain that you use to pay attention to stuff, changes. How? Well, the more you realise how much of your thinking is ridiculous, repetitive or reactive, the less you’ll do it. You’ll think, “Christ on a bike, I’m still finding ways to make myself feel bad about what happened last Saturday! This has to stop.” The annoying thought will probably return, but you will give it less credibility and will shrug it off easier than you did before.

Watch yourself

When you’re flexing your attention muscles your thoughts become more rooted in what’s actually happening around you, and less focused on your own grumbly musings. And when you’re more present and engaged in the moment, you will spend less time worrying about stuff you’ve fucked up – or might fuck up in future. That alone will make you feel better.

Your concentration levels will also improve when you notice how easily distracted you are. This means you’ll be more immersed and focussed on the things you enjoy doing. And you’ll handle the things you hate with more awareness, which should help you put some space between your unpleasant experience and your thoughts about it.

Remember you’re not trying to clear your mind during meditation, you’re returning your focus to your breath. Noticing stretches the muscles that will make you happier and less anxious regardless of how often you behave like a complete twonk.

fun, meditation, wellbeing

Grimly determined to feel calm?

See meditation as a game…

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A playful attitude to meditation stops it becoming a task

Signs that you’re taking meditation too seriously are: beating yourself up for getting distracted, worrying you’re not making enough progress or that it should be different to how it actually feels. It’s common to bring a work-like attitude into meditation and this can suck out all the joy from your practice. If you’re gritting your teeth through it, reframing your session as a game could turn it into something more enjoyable.

Why having creative approach works best…

  • You forget about time when you’re playing: doing something fun makes time zip past.

  • You don’t have big expectations – you’re meditating because you want to and not hoping to gain anything in particular from it.

  • Playing is relaxing and enjoyable, there is no big effort to get it right. 

  • It’s voluntary. You’re not meditating to impress the Dalai Lama or to make you seem more windswept. 

  • You won’t bad about not meditating. Do you feel guilty if you don’t throw your Frisbee around? (professional Frisbee players aside). It stops it becoming a chore.

  • Playing is the best way to learn anything. If you take the pressure off to achieve, it becomes a place where you can try things out and experiment a bit.

Next time you’re concentrating on your breath remember it’s not meant to be hard work. Relax, let your curiosity take change and just see how it feels. When you get distracted thinking…

“Must remember when the recycling gets collected… hmm, have to do the walk of shame to the bottle bank. That party was too loud… neighbours hate us. Should I be worried about drinking Tequila from that rubber chicken?”

Notice yourself spinning out and smile. It’s not a big deal. It’s kind of funny and when you laugh at your own ridiculousness you’re winning the game!