The Broken Autopilot

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You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts. 

Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.

As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close. 

After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power. 

Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.

The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.

But if there’s no ground, what’s down there? 

The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.


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My Least Favorite Side Effect of Mindfulness Meditation

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If you were to ask me which skill I’ve developed in the past five years that has been the most beneficial to my daily life, I’d likely interrupt you. 

“What would is the most useful skill you’ve developed in the past five—” 

“—meditation. Definitely meditation.” 

And it’s true. Mindfulness meditation, more than any other technique, coping mechanism, or practice has helped me manage the fidget spinner in my mind. As someone diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and treated (aka heavily medicated with powerful narcotics), I believe that Mindfulness Meditation should be utilized as a treatment for the symptoms of ADHD. Other studies have revealed that Mindfulness Meditation has been proven effective in treating anxiety, heart disease, depression, insomnia, and even reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain, and psoriasis. Whoa, that’s pretty compelling. 

For all of its benefits, there is one aspect of Mindfulness Meditation that I didn’t initially care for—it perpetually reveals just how scattered my focus truly is. 

Before I started a regular a  Mindfulness Meditation practice, I was comfortably oblivious to my mind’s erratic nature. While I would grow frustrated when my focus was derailed by a fleeting thought or an external distraction, I just thought I needed to slap myself in the face, sharpen my gaze on the task at hand, and white-knuckle my attention into its proper place. This method was not only exhausting but also ineffective. 

My first couple of moments of Mindfulness Meditation revealed what the heck was happening in my mind. I would sit silently, attempting to aim my focus at the raw sensation of my breath entering and exiting my nostrils. As my attention arrived at the present moment alone, a pleasant coziness settled into my mind and body. I was surprised by how delightful this sensation of absolute presentness could feel. Just as I started to think about how pleasant the feeling was, WHAM!!—like a 1960’s Batman jab, a random thought delivered a gut-punch to my serenity. Before I knew it, more thoughts began to roll in like aggressive waves at the beach. Soon, I was stuck in a mental riptide. 

  • “DID I TAKE THE TRASH CAN TO THE CURB?”
  • “MY CAR NEEDS GAS. I MEAN, I GUESS I COULD GO TO THE STORE, BUT NOT MY PARENTS’ HOUSE IN…” 
  • “THESE PANTS FIT ME A LITTLE BIT FUNNY. BUT RETURNING THEM WOULD MEAN…” 
  • “DO I GET ON MY BOSS’ NERVES, BUT THEY’RE TOO NICE TO TELL ME? I MEAN, THAT ‘LOL’ WAS DEFINITELY NOT GENUINE…” 

These thoughts are completely normal for any meditator to experience—even among the most experienced in the world. Actually, one of the most critical exercises in Mindfulness Meditation is becoming “mindful” of these thoughts as their own entities without allowing them to hijack your focus. 

Some meditation teachers instruct their students to treat their thoughts like leaves floating on a stream, letting them float on by without judgment. Others will say to observe them like clouds in the sky, watching them come and go. 

I prefer to look at them like clothes on hangers to move to get to the back of my closet. Sure, I can take them off of the rack to observe them, but I don’t need to put them on in order to sort through them to get to the back of my closet. In the same way, practicing the art of not putting on/engaging with my thoughts helps me see them not as reality but as thoughts hanging on my mind’s clothing rack that I can slide through while leaving them on their hangers. Never before had I ever been able to encounter my thoughts without “putting them on.” For someone with ADHD, being able to do this without medication feels like a superpower. 

So, what’s the problem? Well, now I realize just how unruly my mind is.

I remember letting my mind wander untethered while I was taking a shower. Though I was able to take a shower on autopilot, my thoughts jumped from my family to work to personal fitness to time management to everything in between. As I stepped out of the shower and toweled off, seeing my reflection in the mirror stomped the brakes on the runaway train of my mind and brought it back into the present. Staring myself down with water dripping from my face into the bathroom sink, I couldn’t help but think, “wow, your mind is still a pinball machine, isn’t it?” At that moment, I felt like a doctor had just handed me a diagnosis—” yep, your mind is still all over the place.” 

I’m still not sure what is worse—having a pinball machine for a mind and being gleefully ignorant of it or realizing the mayhem upstairs and being too hard on yourself for it. Then again, thanks to Mindfulness Meditation, I now know that being hard on myself for having such a scattered mind is, itself, a thought that I have taken off its hanger and put on. Realizing that, I can allow myself to take it off and observe it from an objective perspective.  

So, if I were armed with a time machine and what I know about mindfulness, would I go back in time and prevent myself from learning about my own mind—thus limiting my own self-judgemental nature? I’ll admit, I didn’t immediately know the answer to this. 

Being gleefully ignorant of one’s own shortcomings can be quite lovely—like enjoying a party, completely unaware of the toilet paper stuck to your shoe. However, I believe that I wouldn’t change a thing. I would prefer to understand the nature of my mind so I can work to flex my mental muscles of objective, non-judgemental analysis. 

Whether knowing that my mind’s default mode is “scattered” or that I have toilet paper stuck to my shoe, I’d rather know such things so I can pull the toilet paper off of my shoe before I get back to the party.


Related: Enjoy some of my other articles on meditation.

Helping Relieve Anxiety & Depression With God’s First Question

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Disclaimer: This piece is not meant to treat those experiencing clinical depression and anxiety—which should be addressed by a medical professional. However, for those with the occasional episodes of anxiety and depression, to quote one of my favorite writers, Patrick Rhone, this could help. 

A great deal of anxiety and depression stem from our own broken emotional time machines. 

These time machines can trigger a spiral of depression when we replay moments of anguish or regret—whether these are accurate depictions or warped perceptions of said events. In other instances, these malfunctioning flux capacitors can spark bouts of anxiety by painting worst-case projections of the future. Whether we’re reeling over a past disappointment or spinning rotisserie-style in our beds over what the future may bring, there’s a question we need to ask ourselves—the same question God asked of “us” in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, Verse 9. 

איכה

Ay’yehkah?” — “Where are you?”

This is the question God articulated as the first two humans scurried into the bushes to hide their newly-realized nakedness.

This one-word question seems odd. Surely, if we can determine our friends’ precise coordinates using a device we keep in our slacks, the Creator of the universe can locate two fig-leaf-bikini-sporting folks in a garden. The simple explanation is that God knew precisely where they were, but that the man and woman, themselves, did not. Their emotional compasses were shattered. They were blinded by the realization of their wrongdoing and trembling over the imagined consequences as they heard God’s footsteps in the garden tiptoeing closer and closer. 

The question God put forth was not was in order to obtain an answer but to inspire them to ask the question of themselves. And us. 

One of the devastating impacts of depression and anxiety is that they sap the pleasure from the present moment. In most instances, we’re too wrapped up in the past or the future to look at where we are. We’re emotionally time traveling in our backfiring machines, gasping on its exhaust, incapable of simply taking a breath to shelf any time that isn’t right now.

How do we shelf the past and future? Well, with three steps. 

Step 1: Realize that you’re not your thoughts and emotions…with practice. 

One of the biggest lies that we tend to believe is that we are our thoughts and emotions. 

When we’re feeling depressed, we remove the word “feeling” and believe, “I am depressed.” Likewise, when we’re feeling anxious, we remove the word “feeling” and believe, “I am anxious.” 

(As a dorky dad would say, “Nice to meet you, anxious—I’m dad.”) 

Ugh, what terrible identity, right? But it’s not who you are. You’re not depressed—you’re Anthony, and you’re feeling depressed. You’re not anxious—you’re Jessica, and you’re feeling anxious. This understanding is necessary when appraising your thoughts and emotions. 

How can we do this? With practice.

  • Sit with your thoughts. 
  • Watch as they approach like a meteorologist watches clouds in the sky. 
  • Become mindful of when the storm clouds of negative thoughts and emotions arrive.
  • Monitor and appraise these thoughts and emotions—not like someone in the path of the storm, but as a meteorologist tracking it from another place. 
  • Practice this and grow accustomed to the sensation of these thoughts and emotions. 

Step 2: Ask yourself, “Ay’yehkah?” — “Where are you?”

Indulging a negative thought or emotion can make you feel downright stuck. Much like trying to floor the gas pedal to free a vehicle from a muddy ditch, attempting to not think about a thought causing anxiety or depression can wear an even deeper rut. How can you rock yourself free from this emotional thicket? By taking a shotgun to our time machine. 

When you realize that you’re experiencing a moment of anxiety or depression, audibly ask yourself: “Ay’yehkah?” — “Where are you?” (You don’t have to say the Hebrew, but I find it keeps people from wondering if I’m talking to them and instead makes them think I’m just clearing my throat. 😉 ) 

What’s the point of asking ourselves this question? It forces us to put our feet on the ground and wake up to the present moment. Why the present moment? Well, because it’s probably not that bad. In fact, it’s probably pretty great

Just think about where you are when you’re experiencing anxiety or depression. If you’re “trapped” in your home, you’re home—likely your favorite place. If you’re near a window, you can see the sky, may be able to hear birds singing, or have the ability to open it and feel a breeze. You may be close to your family—the people you cherish and who cherish you. Even if you’re anxiously tossing and turning as you try to sleep, you’re snuggled up in your warm, safe bed. What could be better? 

Asking “ay’yehkah—where are you?” can help you realize that you’re not in the present and motivate you to return. If you were to regain consciousness in that precise moment and look immediately at what lay before you, it would likely be pretty awesome. 

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

Step 3: Attempt to live 60 seconds at a time. 

After nuking your broken emotional time machine by recentering your focus with  a full-throated or even whispered “ay’yehkah,” strive to live in 60-second increments. The past is already over. The future is anyone’s guess. What is certain? Only that which lays before you in this 60-second increment. Not 24/7 political news. Not sinking in the contrived infinity pool of social media. All that exists are these 60 seconds. Live within that time like a dolphin in the aquarium inhabits its tank. 

My prayer is that you come to realize that you aren’t thoughts, that you sledgehammer your dysfunctional emotional time machine with a robust “ay’yehkah,” and cannon-ball into the pool that is the right now

The water feels fine. 

What I Learned in 2019: My Last Journal Entry of the Year

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I do believe that 2019 has been one of the most transformational years of my life. It will forever go down as the year of intention — of discovering what I believe a great life to be and what is necessary to live it out daily. 

This year I learned…

Good habits don’t have to suck. They can be downright enjoyable. In fact, they should be enjoyable or else you probably won’t stick with them. Removing as much friction between you and your doings is the only way to ensure they actually get done. 

I am not the voice in my head. Meditation has shown this to me. It has also shown me that the voice in my head may actually represent the worst side of me, but that this is only through years of leaning into a negative bias. Training the voice in my head to be positive and the idea that I can do so has been immensely inspiring. 

It’s surprising how little I need to be happy. And these aren’t even “needs”, but falling more under the category of “pleasantries.” A good book. A comfortable pair of shoes. A jump rope. A practical watch. A french press coffee maker. The occasional drink. A few musical instruments. A means of hearing great music. My prayer accouterment. Boom — I’m a happy camper. All other joys are nonphysical. 

Social media is no match for a one-on-one drink with a good friend. Keeping up with a myriad of acquaintances online has lost its luster. But even the cheapest of beers with the oldest of pals has really become a release valve for me. I would take an evening with a buddy over the most spectacular, extravagant entertainment money can buy. 

There’s a certain pleasure in getting my attention locked into a good book. This has been the first year that my attention span has been trained to the point of being able to do this. In fact, there are times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to be left alone with whatever book I happened to be enjoying. This is new for me, but I pray that it continues. 

Memento mori. Tomorrow is not promised, that I am going to die one day so that I need to take active steps towards my goals now. If you’re going to write that book, start now because tomorrow is not promised. If you’re going to be that amazing father, start this instant because you’re not promised another breath. Avoid deathbed regret whenever possible. 

Amor fati — love your fate and let it update who you are. The good and the bad should both be leaned into to become a better you. 

Don’t react — respond. If you don’t know how to do so, train your mind through meditation. Sit with your thoughts to see that they are thoughts. This is how you will be able to create the buffer necessary to respond to life’s happenings rather than impulsively react to them. 

Life is too short for your second string anything. After finding the cut of pants you like the most, the coffee mug you go for first, and socks that actually positively transform your mood, don’t feel the need to regularly tolerate anything less than these if you can help it. Your second favorites are likely only taking up space not only in your cupboard and garage but also in your mind. 

There is a certain buzz that can be attained by simply choosing to be present. Most of the time, we’re not wherever our bodies are or actively taking in experiences as they unfold before us. Even during moments of elevated experience, our minds are time-traveling — considering the possibilities of the future or ruminating about the past. Life-changing moments are witnessed through phone screens instead of being fully savored as they unfold. Purpose-infusing experiences are completely missed due to mental scab-picking. Deciding to let the past remain in the past, the future to come in due time if at all, and to concentrate fully on experiencing the present moment like a live-streaming camera is so rare that doing so can actually bring on a lively rush. Choosing to be fully present can drastically transform your life. 

Happy New Year.

A String of Restarts: Using Mala Beads in Non-Mantra Mindfulness Meditation

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Disclaimer: I wrote this article because I could not find another one like it. Unlike most pieces about the power of utilizing mala beads during meditation, espousing their ability to help one in the counting of the recitations of a mantra, this method uses no mantra.

The “Wasted” Meditation Session

How long did it take before you experienced a “failed” meditation session? An instance where you feel like you would have been better off never having even attempted to meditate at all due to the noisy state of your mind? Two weeks? A month? Six months?

For me, I’d say it was about three days of meditating before I was routinely saying to myself, “Well, that was pointless.” My primary cause for hopelessness was what felt like an inability—or at least strained ability—to recenter my focus following the realization that I was lost in thought. In these moments, I felt like I just couldn’t shake lingering thoughts—like toilet paper on my shoe. 

Though this is a rather typical experience for Mindfulness Meditation practitioners, I’ve found some reasonable relief from this mid-session hopeless in an unlikely source; mala beads, also referred to as a mala.

“Hey, You’re Using That Wrong”

A mala? Aren’t those for mantra-based meditation, such as Transcendental Meditation? You’re absolutely correct. You’re so correct, in fact, that I have yet to find any writings online or elsewhere that outline how to use to a mala in Mindfulness Meditation—thus the purpose son for this article. This isn’t to toot my own horn—perhaps I’m just a weaker meditator in need of such a security blanket or the Mindfulness equivalent of a fidget spinner. Still, for the myriad varieties of meditation methods, I’m surprised that I haven’t found this technique mentioned.

For a quick background on mala beads for the unacquainted:

A mala (Sanskrit word for “garland”) is a string of 108 beads (a special significance in the Buddhist tradition) including a main “guru” bead to denote the beginning. Malas are traditionally used for counting Buddhist chants, prostrations, or mantras. The beads can be made of anything from wood and seeds to specific stones.

How Malas Can Be Used In Mindfulness

Though malas are synonymous with meditation, to my understanding, they’re almost unheard of for use in Mindfulness Meditation. Despite this, using a mala’s beads as a tactile denotation of mental recentering following the awareness of a thought during a sitting Mindfulness Meditation session can be transformative. It goes a little something like this:

Using a Mala for a Sitting Mindfulness Meditation Session

mala mindfulness meditation

  • Sit in your usual Mindfulness Meditation posture — likely with your eyes closed, spine straight, and your head level.
  • Take the mala in your dominant hand, lightly holding the bead just following the largest “guru” bead between your thumb and middle finger. The index finger traditionally represents the ego, so out of respect for the mala’s original intent, it may be best to hold it in its intended way here.
  • The duration of holding a single bead denotes one instance of constant mindful focus, however long that happens to last. It could last two minutes or two seconds.
  • Once you notice the presence of thinking or rumination, make a mental note of it, and realign your focus on the breath.
  • Once you have realized you are thinking, treat the new bead like a restart button for your focus on the present moment.

The tactile sensation of moving from one bead to the next following a mindful restart of present consciousness allows for an enhanced distinction between one micro-meditation session and the next.  Simply put, use the bead as a “RESTART” button like you would with a computer, mobile, or video game console—instead, this restart is for your focus on the breath and, thereby, the present moment. 

Though the use of a mala to mentally distinguish this restart is not mandatory (it’s actually downright unheard of for the most part), moving from one mala bead to the next with every mental recentering helps to separate mindful moments from mindless moments.

Begin Again

Since using a mala in my Mindfulness Meditation sitting practice, I have yet to experience the same feelings of hopelessness in the face of a seemingly irredeemable meditation session. Instead, each restarting denoted by moving to a new bead feels like a brand new meditation session within a meditation session. It’s not unheard of for me to go through the 108 beads in a single 20-minute sitting Mindfulness Meditation session. That means I allowed myself to restart over 100 times within the span of 20 minutes — all without beating myself up over my inability to focus. 

It is important to remember that unbroken focus, though a pleasurable “in the zone” sensation,  isn’t the goal of Mindfulness Meditation. Instead, the goal is to notice wandering thoughts without judgment or analysis before they derail our practice, decrease focus, or incite anxiety and depression.

Wearing a Mala Outside of Meditation

mala mindfulness meditation
Bob Ross also helps me remember to remain mindful.

I have grown to enjoy wearing my mala as a necklace during the day. Not only does it allow for quick meditation sessions on breaks, but it also reminds me to remain mindful — truly in the moment — anytime I feel its presence. Some may not recommend wearing a mala, especially if you’re not Buddhist (which I am not), but this remains a personal choice.

Where to Obtain a Mala

Malas can be obtained from most any meditation goods store—whether brick and mortar or online. While you can find malas on Amazon for as little as $7 of less, I personally recommend shopping Etsy to support smaller businesses and to receive a quality, handmade mala that is likely the product of more responsible working conditions. Spend a little time finding a mala that resonates with you as you’ll likely be spending a lot of time with it.

mala mindfulness meditation
My rosewood mala with Eitz Chaim (“Tree of Life”) pendant — representing the life-sustaining nature of the Torah for Jews.

In Conclusion

I hope that this piece was helpful. If I’m entirely wrong about this practice not being mentioned elsewhere (and I hope that I am), I wholeheartedly welcome and even covet feedback on the matter. This piece is simply me sharing how borrowing the tools from one particular meditation practice to enhance another.

Happy meditating.


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Also, I’ve recently (as of December 2019) authored a short book about my own experiences in developing transformational habits in 2019 entitled A Year Ungraded. You can download it for free here.

Meditate the ADHD Away: Personal Experiences of a Mindful Spaz

Reading Time: 8 minutes

What ADHD Feels Like

If I had to describe it, I’d say that having ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) feels most like subject-specific mental exhaustion. Reading one type of book can make your eyes cross and trail over the surface of the page without comprehension of a single word. Another type of book can lock you into its narrative like a straightjacket until you look up at the clock to see that it’s 3 AM. The worst part is that you can’t control which of these subjects elicit which response. You want to be able to intelligently consume Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, but your attention is held by The Stinky Cheese Man & Other Fairly Stupid Tales.

When keeping my focus on the math lesson felt like a sleep-deprived game of Operation, my inability to focus would turn to mischief in order to find something to hold my attention. While I largely had this mischief squelched by my second-grade principal’s bulging stare and wooden paddle, many other children with similar attention spans have followed their quests for attention-quenching down darker paths. Fortunately, the worst of my quests resulted in volumes of doodles and stories — probably one of the reasons I became a writer.

Attention issues also impacted my childhood outside of school. During peewee soccer, most of my time on the field was spent as goalie — usually blowing on dandelions and watching airplanes in holding patterns as the opposing team would send the ball flying over my head into the net behind me. As a little league outfielder, though I had a hand-stinging throw that could make it all the way into home base, fly balls would soar over my glance of the picture I had sketched in the dirt with my finger. Despite being a head taller than everyone on my basketball team, my coach would routinely advise that my parents give me a caffeinated soda before every game to keep me “in the zone.”

Kids on Amphetamines

Notwithstanding a lackluster career in organized sports, my ADHD was never quite debilitating. Still, as preparations for college began to appear faintly visible on the horizon of early high school life, my grades became of more significant consequence. In my freshman year, I recall being prescribed 30 milligrams of Adderall XR, a potent time-release amphetamine, by a primary care physician after a short questionnaire. During my first few days on the medication, I rode a buzz strong enough to distract me from the fact that I had forgotten to eat. While the medication certainly helped increase my focus on subjects that I had struggled to grasp, the side effects zombified me. Though an active writer, artist, and musician, I was suddenly devoid of all creative ideas. My mouth continually tasted like carbon steel. I would sleeplessly toss and turn in bed. I became so skinny that my eye sockets became visible on my face. After a few months, without consulting my doctor, I stopped taking the pills and never returned for a refill of my prescription.

Yoga Math & Equation Graffiti

Without the medication, though my creativity and body-mass-index increased, my attention span for certain subjects returned to its diminished state. Comprehending books required silent spaces and reading out loud. Mathematic concepts required real-world applications and physical representations. One of my college math professors, also a yoga instructor, taught dividing fractions by multiplying by the reciprocal. The only reason I remember this is because, to demonstrate, he stood on his head in the middle of class. The rest of my math education was thanks to an early-era YouTuber named Chycho, who would teach concepts by scribbling equations on the side of interesting buildings using sidewalk chalk — sometimes illegally, I believe. Chycho’s approach to math was just innovative enough to get me through basic college mathematics.

Over the years, I continually had to find new ways to overcome my ADHD. I would still read out loud. When I needed to complete tasks for work, on would go giant headphones, bumping repetitive instrumental music (heck, I still do this). All of this was an effort to push out what I believed to be the main distraction in my life — the world. Yet, no matter how repetitive the music was or how interesting the work, I still had trouble focusing. Then one day, while indulging in my fascination with self-help/optimization, I began to learn more about meditation.

Approaching Approachable Meditation

As a teenager, meditation seemed pretty interesting. At the time, I was primarily into its vibe of trippy, “out-of-body “ness. Over the years, I never looked any deeper into meditation because it seemed out of reach — like a practice intended for mountain top yogis or Buddhist monks in hidden monasteries. It wasn’t until I heard a podcast with comedian Pete Holmes swearing by something called “TM” (Transcendental Meditation) that I began to see meditation as even something I would be capable of doing. Pete has described himself as “a big ole dummy” with others calling him a human “golden retriever.” This was to say that Pete, despite being a brilliant comedian, is a highly approachable person. If I saw Pete in person, I would have no qualms approaching him for a chat that would probably end in a brotherly bear hug. If he was an avid meditator, what could this mean for me?

Upon investigating TM, I immediately slammed into road-block number one: it’s enormously expensive to learn. The barrier to entry is nearly $1,000 — sometimes more. I didn’t have an extra grand to throw at something just to try it out. Still, as I continued to investigate meditation, I came across Mindfulness Meditation. The basic idea is that you sit, close your eyes, and focus on the raw sensation of breathing. When you notice that you have become distracted by a thought, you return to focusing on the breath. This information was available for free in addition to an internet with more guided meditations than you could ever hope to listen to. You can probably guess which style of meditation I chose to attempt.

Keeping in mind that I had no specific reason for trying meditation other than general self-improvement, my expectations were almost non-existent. I heard that meditation was a great way to relieve stress, to exercise your mind, and somewhat helped with spiritual endeavors, though those claims were immensely vague. I began my attempts to meditate with recordings of guided sessions. I used Sam Harris’ app “Waking Up” until I ran out of free courses. I moved over to a free guided meditation application but quickly found the forced-soothing tones actually to take me out of the meditative experience. I needed to learn how to meditate without training wheels.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

I’m not positive how I came across it, but I purchased the audio version of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeffery Warren. You may recognize Dan Harris as a correspondent for ABC News. The book’s own description defines it better than I can — “ABC News anchor Dan Harris used to think that meditation was for people who collect crystals, play Ultimate Frisbee, and use the word ‘namaste’ without irony. After he had a panic attack on live television, he went on a strange and circuitous journey that ultimately led him to become one of meditation’s most vocal public proponents.”

The book was essentially a “woo-woo”-free introduction to meditation for people who couldn’t care less about chakras, third-eyes, and dharma. I consumed the book in about a week’s time, learning many important truths along the way (more on that in a bit). Before I was even finished, I had already established a daily meditation routine…for the most part.

My first few times really meditating on my own were fraught with difficulty. For those with ADHD, our inner narrative is already like a ricocheting bullet in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Mindfulness Meditation mostly asks you to, whenever possible, turn away from those thoughts and return to your focus on the raw sensations of breathing. The brisk air entering your nose. The warm air rising up from your lungs. While somewhat possible, an ADHD person attempting to wrangle their thoughts is much like trying to put socks on a cat…and to keep them on.

Initially, every time my mind would stray (which would usually happen within about two seconds or less), I would become disappointed in my inability to focus. My internal monologue would grow hostile. I would become convinced that my brain was just broken — utterly incapable of remaining balanced on the high wire of my breath. As I got further into the book, I learned the total game-changer — staying focused isn’t the goal of meditation. What is the goal? Realizing that you’re thinking — thinking about thinking. In meditation circles, this is known as “meta-awareness” and it is largely what separates humans from other animals — our ability to observe our own thoughts. As Tim Ferriss once said on Dan Harris’ podcast, it is like being able to look into the washing machine of our mind instead of being thrown around by it. Obviously, I’m paraphrasing.

I Spy a Wandering Thought

The book went on to explain that every time you realize that you’re lost in thought and you return to using your breath to bring you back to present focus, it is like a “bicep curl for your mind.” You’re literally training your mind to be able to quickly spot when your attention has gone off the rails and to automatically course-correct. Repeatedly doing this action during sitting meditation conditions your mind to do so automatically. The more you do this, the easier it is to do when you’re not meditating. The realization of this turned what once was a one-man butt-kicking session turned into a game of “spot the thought” with my own mind. Though difficult, every time I would notice myself thinking during meditation and return to the present sensation of my breath, I felt like I was scoring points in some kind of game. 

I began to build meditation sessions into my daily routine. They started out as five minutes and gradually worked their way up to fifteen-minute sessions. My most extended session to date is 47 minutes.

Over time, I really didn’t think much about what I was doing. It wasn’t till a meeting at work that I realized what had started happening to my brain.

Breakthrough Realization #1

It was another day and an ordinary meeting. While the details of an upcoming project were being discussed, my input wasn’t immediately needed. My mind started to do what it would usually do — zone out and wander. As I began to drift into thoughts about what outer space smells like or a time before house cats were domesticated (two thought that occurred in about two second’s time), I sniffed slightly. The crisp, conditioned air of the conference room chilling down my nose hairs alerted my present consciousness that I was in the midst of wandering thought. This quickly brought my attention back to the meeting, like a camera lens finding its target. It wasn’t until after the meeting that I realized what had happened — the muscles I had been flexing during meditation had begun to be able to hold the weight of my focus. One other event made me realize the full importance of this realization.

Breakthrough Realization #2

One evening after putting my son to bed, I plopped down on the couch with the book I was about half-way through. Though I no longer needed to read all of my books out loud to keep my eyes from doing mindless flyby’s of the words on the page, I still required a near-silent mouthing of the words to properly process them. After reading a few pages, I felt how quiet the house had been for the last few minutes. Hmm. I put the thought out of my head and continued reading. Suddenly, it dawned on me — I had been reading completely close-mouthed and following every word, sentence, and paragraph of my book. At first, I thought this was just absentmindedness on my part — that I had just forgotten to mouth the words and that there’s no way what I had comprehended what I had stoically read. I flipped back through the pages. I recalled every word and action of the book. Oddly enough, I began my old method of mouthing the words again, only to be distracted by my mouth movements. Reading completely close-mouthed was now my preferred method of comprehension.

Something had shifted my brain. Focus-correcting had started to become the new default mode. Even for subjects that once failed to hold my attention were now within my grasp. Mindfulness Meditation is resetting my mind to easily focus by exercising mental muscles.

In Conclusion

As I approach over four months into my daily Mindfulness Mediation practice, I’m reasonably sure that this method can treat ADHD. No, it can’t “cure” ADHD, but it can keep the symptoms of the disorder entirely manageable for people who keep up the practice. Even more than that, because Mindfulness Meditation allows people to realize that they can observe their own thought process, they can recognize that they are beyond their process — that they aren’t their thoughts. When you know that you are beyond your thought process, negative thoughts are much less likely to control your life. For this reason, Mindfulness Meditation is being used to treat anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, addiction, eating disorders, and a wide variety of other mental health issues. The potential results are immensely promising.

Once my son is old enough to be able to sit quietly for three seconds, I’ll likely begin teaching him how to meditate. I’m still holding my breath. That counts as focusing on it, right?

For addition help meditating, check out my One Minute Meditation Tutorial.


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Meta-Awareness: The Exit Door in the Movie Theatre of Your Mind

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When you think about it, being brought to tears by a tragedy in a fictional movie should be absolutely ridiculous. Whatever is taking place is fake. The people on the screen are ostensibly lying. Even if the story were true, you don’t know them. Even if you did know them, you aren’t the one experiencing the events of the film. Eventually, the credits roll, the lights come up, and you feel like an idiot when the person seated one row in front of you stands up to see you wipe away a tear that was rolling down your cheek. You walk out of the theatre, get in your car, and go home. 

Part of you was there in the story. For a few moments, there was no separation between what may have been a tragic story and your own emotions. Driving home in your cozy car, the street lights running up the hood to the windshield and over the top remind you that you’re out of there — you’re safe. The only reason why the tragic events of the movie haven’t left you scarred and in need of therapy is because you know that it was just a movie. Once you step out of the theatre and into your car, you’re free from it. 

In many ways, our thoughts are the movies we replay in our minds all day. Like movies, we can hone in on specific parts, analyze individual clips, and even edit the events. Just because your zipper was down during that meeting doesn’t mean everyone noticed it, but in your own edit, the client definitely saw your underwear. Just because your boss forgot to invite you out for happy hour doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate you, but in your edit, he’s planning on firing you next week. 

The reason why we can feel fine and calm after a tragic film while depressed and anxious after our own internal movies is because, unlike the blockbuster, we can’t separate ourselves from our own movies. Well, most of us can’t, anyway. There are some people who can…

Most of us don’t realize that we aren’t our thoughts. For the majority of people, thoughts are synonymous with real life. A good chunk of folks not only never leave the theatre of their mind, but they also don’t even know that there is an exit. Here’s the cool part — there is. 

Here is a quick exercise to show you the noise of your mind: 

First, find a quiet, comfortable spot that allows for good posture. Rest your hands in your lap and close your eyes. Relax your body and try to bring your complete attention to the present moment, using the sensation air entering and exiting your nostrils. Cool air in. Warm air out. 

If you’re like most, your mind will immediately begin to revolt. 

  • What on earth am I doing? 
  • I wonder if anyone is watching me right now. 
  • Did I leave my phone in my car? 
  • How do astronauts keep the windows from fogging up?
  • I wonder what I should have for lunch…

Our minds, especially in the 21st century, have been programmed to be in constant analysis mode. Most of this analysis is unproductive chatter. Neuroscientists have deemed this tone of continuous chatter as the “default mode” — or the “monkey mind” according to many meditation practitioners. This mental state is largely unfocused, unproductive, and alarmingly unchallenged. Most of us don’t challenge it because we don’t know that there is any other mental state…for the most part. 

Take a moment to recall your favorite memories. These experiences can take different forms. A mesmerizing live musical performance. An intimate conversation with close friends. Witnessing a gorgeous sunset with a spouse while on the beach. Taking in the open ocean for the first time. The nail-biting final moments of a close-scored sports game. An unprompted hug from your child. A moment of epiphany. These moments usually have something in common — during those moments, we are fully present. As athletes or musician may say, we are “in the zone” without thought to the past or the future. We are focused — completely hanging on every second as it unfolds. No matter how mundane the activity, the mental state of being fully present is inherently pleasurable. 

Contrast this with our moments of misery. Take a moment to think about times when you’ve experienced anxiety or depression. These were likely times of immense mental fog. While in the throes of sadness or stress, you probably felt wholly unfocused, directionless, and unable to concentrate on tasks in front of you. You likely couldn’t enjoy movies, books, music, or your favorite sports events. Even conversation with friends sounds like overhearing murmurings through a wall due to being lost in thought, stress, pain, or depression. 

Try imagining a time when you were sad, depressed, or anxious without taking on the emotions felt during that time. Simply remember that time or those feelings without applying them to your present state. When you do this, something exciting is happening — you’re now an onlooker — an audience member of your own thoughts. This not only allows you to manage your thoughts better but shows you that you are not your thoughts. This awareness of the separation between you and your thoughts is something psychologists call “metacognition” or “meta-awareness” — thinking about your thoughts. Meditation practitioners call this “mindfulness.” 

An immensely simplified example of meta-awareness or mindfulness is in adjusting how we experience emotions. All too often, we’re quick to identify with our negative emotions. 

  • “I am depressed.” 
  • “I am anxious.” 
  • “I’m stressed out.”
  • “I am confused.” 
  • “I’m in pain.”
  • “I’m worthless.”

Meta-awareness allows us to see these are emotions to be observed and managed. 

  • “I feel depressed.” 
  • “I’m experiencing anxiety.” 
  • “I am experiencing stress.”
  • “I am feeling confused.”
  • “I’m experiencing pain.” 
  • “I’m feeling worthless.” 

While these very slight adjustments can seem insignificant, they allow us to mentally sit up from the patient’s couch and sit in the psychologist’s chair to examine why we may be experiencing negative emotions. Mindfulness allows us to take a third-party look at our thoughts without judgment. When we don’t identify as our depression, our stress, our anger, our pain, or our anxiety, this helps us to let go of negative emotions and to choose consciously positive emotions.

The more you train your mind to be attuned to the present, the more you will begin to see the separation between the film on the screen (your thoughts) and the theatre (your mind). When you can see the “exit” sign in the movie theatre of your negative emotions, you can feel better knowing that you can choose not to identify with those thoughts and feelings and instead choose happiness.

For help finding the door, I put together a simple “One Minute Meditation Tutorial” to help you train your mind to more easily live in the present moment. 


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Taming a Time-Traveling Monkey: Newbie Observations On Meditation

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve been meditating for about three-and-a-half months, meaning I’m by no means an expert. Still, I feel that being closer to a complete novice versus a meditation master places me closer to the highs and lows of a meditation newbie that may prove useful to newcomers. Here is what I’ve learned and experienced about meditation during my first three months.

What Am I Even Doing?

Dan Harris (author of 10 Percent Happier, Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics, and creator of the 10 Percent Happier meditation app) says that, 

“Meditation has been the victim of the worst marketing campaign for anything ever.” 

The failure to adequately express the simple nature of meditation is due to its hijacking by pseudo-spiritual chi-mongers who are looking to leverage spiritual insecurities to sell classes, books, and app subscriptions (not you, Dan — you’re cool). It’s not uncommon to see watered-down Eastern spiritual symbols associated with the marketing of meditation — from yin yangs to chakra diagrams to people sitting crossed-legged with their thumb and index fingers pinched (something I’ve never seen outside of stock photography). However, from my own perspective as a religiously spiritual person coming to meditation, when the practice is broken down to its most essential parts, the practice feels about as spiritual as pushups or jumping jacks. 

So, what is meditation? Simply put, I’d say it’s “presentness practice.” When executed, I’d say it’s the process of taming a time-traveling monkey that lives in your head.

What do I mean by that?

The Default Mode Network

We spend most of our waking lives in a part of our brains called the default mode network. This system of brain regions is fired when we’re not actively concentrating on an immediate task or solely on the present moment. This zone is where your mind goes when you’re daydreaming or simultaneously comparing thoughts with moments to determine your next course of action. 

While your default mode network can help brainstorm a new idea for a marketing campaign based on past successes, when combined with insecurities or painful moments, it can also lead you down a spiral of dread and anxiety. Past experiences can result in healthy stress that can keep you safe. However, the default mode network can cause you to dwell incessantly on the pains of the past or worry incessantly about potential hardships of the future. How do can we avoid this mental pain spiral while also increasing our attention span? By making it easier to escape to where things are likely better — the present. How do we do that? Through meditation. 

All We Have is Now. Might As Well Enjoy It! 

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that things are good for you right now. I’m not talking about what happened earlier today or what will happen later this week — but right at this moment. If you’re reading an article online, that means you likely have a little time to yourself, you’re in a comfortable position, you have access to a technological device and electricity. Even if you’re reading a printed version of this, you’ve likely ok right now. Take a second to push the past and the future aside, take a deep breath, and just enjoy this moment. I’ll wait. 

Pretty nice, right? Well, meditation can help you access that place more often and with less work. 

Taming the Time-Traveling Monkey

The following practice can potentially hurt the read-through rate of this article, but I’m willing to risk it: 

  1. Take ten seconds to shake all focus on the present moment. Just allow any thought into your mind and feel free to follow it wherever it goes. 
  2. Ok, come back! 

If you’re not an experienced meditator, what you just experienced probably felt the way a tuning orchestra sounds — just a chaos of noises and thoughts, some ok and some negative. You just allowed your default mode network to have complete control of your mind. It was probably wholly directionless, like riding an innertube through stormy seas. This is what is popularly known as the “monkey mind.” Like a monkey on your back, it will cause you to waste time, believe your insecurities, covet the successes of others, and just be unable to focus on the task at hand. If you’re reading a book, the monkey mind is the reason why you can sometimes read an entire paragraph only to realize that, while your eyes took in the sentences, your mind couldn’t tell you want they said. It was busy time traveling to the past or future. Yes, this is why I compare active meditation to taming a time-traveling monkey. 

Is It Working? 

If you start a diet or exercise routine, you can typically see metrics of your progress. These metrics may appear on the bathroom scale or the number of reps you can perform without toppling over. However, unless you’re part of a clinical trial studying the mental effects of regular meditation, these metrics won’t seem so evident. 

One of the catch 22’s of meditation is that you won’t experience tangible evidence of the benefits because meditation itself takes you out of your ruminating mind that would detect such improvements. Still, you will recognize these benefits more abstractly. The following is a personal example: 

Just as background for those who don’t know what mindfulness meditation consists of, it’s essentially focusing all of your mental bandwidth on the raw data of the inhale and exhale of your breath — two indications of the present moment. When your mind begins to wander to events not happening at that moment, the key is to make a note that your mind is wandering and return your focus to the raw data of breathing — in, out, cool, warm; however you feel it. 

“I feel it working!”

One day, I was included in a meeting on a project which would one-day require my involvement. Because the information being discussed at the moment didn’t immediately correspond to my role, my mind began to wander. What should I have for lunch? Did I leave my phone on my desk? Did I remember to lock my car? Suddenly, upon taking a breath, the sensation of the coolness of the air entering my nostrils reminded me of my meditation sessions…and told me that my mind was wandering from the meeting. While I could have carefully studied the notes of the meeting later, it would be much easier to fully experience the material now for my role in the project later. Upon seeing my distraction, I immediately brought my focus back to the person speaking — a realization and redirection that probably took two seconds total. This feat would have been substantially more difficult without my meditation practice.

Neuroscience, Y’all

Though that instance required a stimulus (my breath) to remind me to focus, I have been receiving the “You’re wandering — focus” notification in my mind much more often in daily life when I become distracted as a result of daily meditation practice. Eerily enough, this is actually due to meditation changing the setup of my brain. A 2011 Harvard study looked at before-and-after scans of participants who took part in an eight-week meditation course. The scans showed a cortical thickness of the hippocampus (associated with learning and memory) as well as other regions of the brains associated with the regulation of emotions, perspective-taking, and self-referential processing. Scans also showed the shrinking of the amygdala — the zone related to stress, anxiety, and fear.  

Despite all of the benefits that daily meditation has had in my daily life, I’m anxious…to see what the future holds.

Ok, that was corny, but I couldn’t help it.

Additional resources:
If you’re completely new to meditation and would like to try it out, no tools necessary, enjoy the one-minute meditation tutorial I wrote here.


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The One-Minute Meditation Tutorial (Step-By-Step Instructions)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When I wanted to learn how to meditate, I took to the internet. There, I encountered a myriad of articles and videos that spoke more about the benefits of meditation than the practice of doing such. This piece is my attempt to deliver a concise tutorial on how to get started meditating today — no apps, no books, no expensive lessons required.

I’ll break this into two parts — firstly, the barebones essential instructions in eight easy-to-follow steps, and secondly, my own recommendations regarding those eight steps. These steps should take one minute to read. Start your timers…now. 

  1. Find a timer without an annoying end buzzer. 
  2. Find a comfortable seat where you can maintain good posture. 
  3. Place your feet, legs, arms, and hands in a position where they will remain comfortable for 10 or so minutes. 
  4. Start the timer for the duration you would like to meditate. 
  5. Close your eyes. 
  6. Bring your full focus to your breath as you inhale and exhale from your nostrils. 
  7. Do not change your breathing, but simply focus on the inhale and exhale of your body’s natural patterns. 
  8. When you attempt to focus solely on your breath, your thoughts will mutiny. Your mind will try it’s hardest to wander and daydream. This is fine, but when you first notice that you are daydreaming or thinking about anything besides your breathing, make a mental note — “that’s a thought” or “I’m drifting” — and return your focus to your breath. 

That’s it. With these steps, you should be able to start meditating.

Additional Tips for Each Step

  1. Don’t feel that your timer has to be an expensive meditation application. It should simply be anything that won’t startle you from a focused, relaxed state. I personally like the timer in an application called “Strive Minutes” (no paid endorsement), though there are many free options that provide a similar experience. The soft gong sounds don’t startle me out of a meditative state. You can also track your meditation sessions with this application to help make meditation a regular habit.
  2. I prefer sitting with my back not touching a seat. I used to sit cross-legged on the floor just to keep my cat from jumping into my lap and startling me (that happened a few times). Now, I like meditating while sitting on my solid-wood bench-like coffee table. While you could realistically meditate while lying down, I find that sitting with good posture helps with focus. Lying down or sitting on a couch may just put you to sleep. 
  3. The position of your arms can vary, but they should be situated in a way where they won’t be on your mind. If your hands are touching, they can become clammy and distracting. If your legs are crossed, they could fall asleep and tingle. If sitting on a bench or seat, I prefer keeping my legs uncrossed, shoulder-width apart, with my feet flat on the floor. I position arms with my forearms resting on my lap without leaning on them. 
  4. The duration of time depends on your preference, but keep in mind that any amount of time counts. I personally meditate for 10 minutes every day, but even a single minute is a good start. Start small and increase your sessions as you feel necessary. 
  5. Some like to use eye masks, but I find them to be yet another distraction. They can also mess with my circadian rhythms (tricking my brain into believing its night)  and leave me feeling drowsy. 
  6. Internalize the coolness of the air entering your nostrils on the inhale. Actively feel the warmth of the air exiting on the exhale. I try to feel the icy freshness of the air and imagine it nearly leaving my nose hairs as icicles — like I’m taking a deep nasal breath while chewing icy-mint gum on a blustery winter’s day. In reverse, I like to imagine the warm exhale as luxurious, like a warm shower on a chilling morning — the feeling of breathing air in a sauna. Instead of “in, out, in, out”, I think “cool, warm, cool, warm…” 
  7. It’s ok to take deeper inhales and release longer exhales in order to intensify your focus on the “cool, warm, cool, warm…”, but that can leave you lightheaded if you do so too much. That’s why I recommend just focusing on the cool and warmth as they occur naturally.  **Later added recommendation: One technique I’ve found beneficial for remaining focus on the breath is by understanding that the air of every breath is going to feel slightly different in your nose, mouth, throat, etc. Really try to feel the differences in every breath - whether one is cooler, sharper, if it flutters, etc.
  8. Don’t be upset with yourself for your mind wandering. This will happen for absolutely everyone, just like distractions in real life will always occur. What you want to work on is shortening the time it takes for you to realize that you’ve drifted away. Once you’re aware of your drift, acknowledge the drift, and return to the “cool, warm, cool, warm…” of your breathing. 

duck with eyes closed

What is Happening? 

This particular style of Mindfulness Meditation is like weight-training for your attention span. When you lift weights with your body, your muscles are competing against the gravitation pull of the earth. When you’re practicing Mindfulness Meditation, your focus of the moment is competing against the gravitational pull of your thoughts. This style of Mindfulness Meditation aims to train your brain not necessary on the length of pure focus, but rather to be able to return focus in less time and with less effort. 

What is the Sign of a Successful Meditation Session? 

Mindfulness Meditation is not like walking an ice-covered tight rope — where making it to the other side without falling is impossible. It is more like practicing tight rope walking while people are aggressively shaking the guide wires — something some tight roper walkers practice to prepare them to walk in a tight rope under poor conditions. In the same way, Mindfulness Meditation is training your attention span to regroup more quickly and efficiently with every aggressive tug at your mental guide wires. 

Will you ever be able to make it through a meditation session without ever falling off of “cool, warm, cool, warm…” train? Probably not. You will likely always drift. However, your success criteria should not be how many times you drift, but how times you notice that you are drifting. Even drifting every two seconds and course-correcting every time for 10 minutes would be a more productive meditation session than one 10-minute drift that ends with your timer. 

meditating child with eyes closed and red coat in the woods

Bonus: 

The following is an example of what my internal dialogue sounds like during an average meditation session: 

Cool…warm….ice cool…sauna warm….can’t wait to get in the shower. Man, that workout left me a sweaty mess…Oops, I’m drifting. Cool…warm…cool….warm….cool…is my cat rubbing against my leg? I’m drifting. Cool…warm…cool…warm…I hear my cat-err-I’m drifting. Cool….warm…cool…warm…cool….warm…cool…warm…cool…warm…cool….wow, I’ve gone a long time without drifting. Wait, crap, that was a drift, too. Cool….warm…cool…warm….cool….is that timer still running? This feels like way more than 10 minutes. Driting again. Cool….warm…cool…warm…Hey, remember to relax your face — you’re all tense. Drifting. Cool…warm…cool…

This piece is largely based on wisdom I learned from reading Dan Harris’ book Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics.


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“Jump, Fatboy, Jump”: A “Skinny Fat” Man’s Jump Rope Rediscovery

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Drowning On Dry Ground

It had been one of the first times I had heard actual wheezing come from my throat. The feeling of drowning on dry ground wasn’t so much disturbing as it was the assurance that I was doing something right. As soon as I caught my breath, I couldn’t help but chuckle about hitting a wall that day in my driveway.

No More “Skinny Kenny”

In my late twenties, I first noticed that I was no longer a candidate for the nickname of my teens: Skinny Kenny. Despite having this nickname, I hadn’t paid any mind to exercise or a healthy diet aside from eating kosher (definitely not synonymous). Beer and other carbohydrates were close friends. My body had become a shape that I’d later hear fitness personalities refer to as “skinny fat” — the illusion of skinniness…until take off your shirt. Still, it didn’t quite come to a head until Passover 2019. 

After a delightful Passover, I noticed a tagged photo of me from before the seder. In the picture, I’m holding my then-ten-month-old son. Just below my adorable son was the most substantial belly I’d ever seen on my frame. My button-down shirt was divided toward the bottom, revealing my undershirt. Wow, ok. For the first time, I realized that I was pushing the bounds of a weight limit I didn’t know existed in my mind. It was the sign I needed — an indication that I needed to “clean it up.”

Inspired by…Meditation?

As the month progressed, my weight continued to ride in the backseat. Instead, I began to realize how much I was squandering all of my free time. While parenthood didn’t allow for oodles of unbridled hours of self-paced leisurely delight, my free evenings and early mornings were engulfed in utter useless nonsense — social media, YouTube clips, and anyone else that illuminated my stupid face. 

Recognizing this, I quickly consumed heaping piles of content related to living a controlled, minimalist lifestyle and forming better habits. The first big push in this direction was a reading of Atomic Habits by James Clear

In the process of taking control of my life and my attention span, I wanted to develop a habit of daily meditation. While I never found a single YouTube meditation tutorial that made it click for me (that would require reading Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris), I stumbled upon a video that outlined some of the benefits of meditation. In the video, a fella probably a decade my junior discussed how he especially liked to meditate following a jump rope workout. 

Wait, jumping rope? People actually do that as exercise? 

Even though the video only mentioned the terms “jump rope” and “jumping rope” maybe as many times as I just did, something clicked for me on a level unrelated to meditation. Jumping rope fit the middle of the Venn diagram of “something good for your body” as well as “something fun to do.”  

venn diagram of fun vs health

In my elementary school days in the ’90s, The American Heart Association was on a veritable crusade in gym classes to get kids jumping rope. Being naturally skinny with decent rhythm, I took to jumping rope pretty quickly. After a few months, I was pretty darn good at it — even one of the only kids in my school able to perform double-unders (two rotations under a single jump). Soon, elementary school was over, and any interest in jump rope was replaced by garage jam sessions, skateboarding, and, ahem, girls. Somehow, five seconds of jump roping in this YouTube video seemed to bring me right back to jump roping in my school gym.

Before that YouTube clip had finished, I was already scoping out jump ropes on Amazon. About $10 and a few days later, my first jump rope in over 25 years arrived. I was ready to get started.

“That’s a Keeper”

Figuring that an interest in a particular exercise was the beginning of something monumental, I stepped into the bathroom. Awkwardly clutching my phone, I snapped a quick shirtless “before” image in the mirror. If the aim of a “before” picture is to incite disgust, mission accomplished. I scarcely recognized the pasty ogre reluctantly looking back at me from my phone screen. While the image is quite educational, that one stays hidden until the paparazzi hack my Google Drive. 

Donning swim trunks, recreational sneakers, and t-shirt, I stepped onto my driveway — jump rope in tow. Once I found a place where I was sure not to smack any of the wires connecting my house and that of my neighbors, I began to jump. 

And then stopped. Whoa, is there someone sitting on my shoulders or something? They made it look so easy on the videos. 

Well, I wasn’t that bad. I could jump for a good 15 seconds before my legs would burn and I’d gasp, struggling to throw air down my stupid throat fast enough. Despite being May, the air felt like spring. Still, it wasn’t long before I was utterly drenched in sweat, panting like an idiot who just tried to outrun a car. I’d never felt like such a winded mound of dough.

Blame it on the Gear

Another problem I was experiencing was my rope getting caught on the tread of my shoes. 

“Oh, I just need a longer rope.” 

I got a longer jump rope, which still got stuck. 

“Oh, I just need different shoes.” 

I got different shoes, which still caught the rope. 

I also got a foam-rubber mat to jump on. 

Still, stuck. 

Oh, my technique is garbage, you say? Ah, why didn’t you say so? 

That lesson cost about $106.

Coming Together

  • After the first week, my calves quit burning all of the time and I could walk normally. 
  • A few weeks later, I started jumping for five minutes, each minute spaced out by a minute of rest. 
  • A few weeks after that, I decided to up it to 10 minutes of jumping, each minute spaced out by a minute. 
  • A few weeks after that, I started ending sessions with 2 divided minutes with a weighted rope. 
  • A few weeks after that, I began my jump rope sessions with 2-minute continuous jumps.

Boxer Skip = Cool Points

Around this time, I finally started to learn the “boxer skip” — a move where you casually shift weight from leg to leg. You may recognize this move from the background of any boxing gym scene in a movie…or, you know, an actual boxing gym. While it looks like more work, when performed correctly, the boxer skip is a lifesaver for stamina — giving each leg a split-second micro-break as you go. It also makes you look like you kind of know what you’re doing. (Here’s the best boxer skip tutorial. The rest just suck for some reason.)

boxer skip

“Well, that’s a first.”

As more pieces started to fall into place, something bizarre started to happen — I began to look forward to evening jump rope sessions. What had started as the dry-land-drowning sprees had become “Let’s see what I can do” time. During the day, I would catch myself occasionally daydreaming about jumping rope. When I didn’t think anyone was watching in the bathroom or waiting for the microwave at work, I’d practice ropeless heel taps, boxer skips, and seeing how long I could hop on one foot (obviously, not while I was using the bathroom). Starting to see results on the scale and in the mirror only intensified my anticipation of evening jump rope sessions. 230 pounds became 225, 220, 215, 210, and then 205 pounds. My wife also said that core is seemed less flabby and my “man boobs” seemed less evident. Hey, how much more empowered can you get?

It’s a Big Deal…For Me

This may seem pretty bland to many of you, but the concept of craving exercise is entirely new to me. While I’ve enjoyed physical activities whose side effect is exercise, craving the exercise itself is not a feeling I can recall having in my 32 years of life. Looking forward to out-jumping the shadow in my driveway is something I’m still getting used to. 

I also feel tremendously grateful to have discovered that one of my favorite exercises is one of the best ones in existence. Seriously, check out the health benefits of jumping rope. 

More than anything, jumping rope fits my personality.

  • Introverted: I can do it by myself, whenever I want, wherever I want — provided there aren’t any ceiling fans, low-hanging light fixtures, or people I could accidentally sweat on. 
  • Challenge-seeking: More than another hampster wheel, it’s a skill I can continuously work to master. I find myself taking notes after almost every session. 
  • Cheapskate: It’s ridiculously cheap. There’s no required gym membership. Seriously, for the cost of some cheap sneakers and a $3 rope, you can be making puddles of sweat today. 
  • Sustainable: I can keep doing it into old age…provided I keep doing it now.

In James Clear’s Atomic Habits, one of the methods of forming a good habit is casting votes towards an identity you want to have based on what you do.

I think I’m finally to the point of being able to say, “I’m a jump roper.” 

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do. – Epictetus


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