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Intrusive Thoughts and Meditation: Embracing Discomfort to Improve Your Life

Hello my beautiful souls!


Welcome back to the Modern Manifestation blog. Feel free to listen in to today's topic in the podcast.


Today we are talking about meditation and the intrusive thoughts we experience while meditating. Spoiler alert: these thoughts are a good sign.


I’m going to start off this post by speaking to the people reading this who are like “Ya, ya, I’ve heard this before...Meditation is good and I should meditate, but I’m just not good at it. My mind doesn’t stop wandering… so I’m probably not going to do it anyway.”


This episode is especially for these friends.


I get it. I do. I was this person. I had such a bad monkey mind that I would get bombarded with the irritating and intrusive thoughts two seconds after I sat down. It would get so bad, that I’d convince myself that a minute was enough and I'd end the practice there… To make matters worse, I’d only meditate about once a month.


Actually, that’s generous. I put "meditation" on my to-do list everyday, but I bet I actually did it once a quarter.


To be fair, I was still in the "all-or-nothing" mindset where I’d assumed I had to meditate PERFECTLY or it wasn’t worth doing. I thought I had to have a quiet house, my meditation pillow, my salt lamp, I had to be rested, I had to be full (but not too full), I had to…. [Insert whatever criteria I made up as an excuse not to do the damn thing].


The truth was that I didn’t like meditating because it was uncomfortable. It was hard. I’d try, then all these intrusive thoughts would come in, and I’d give up. This discouraged me from continuing the practice because I’d assumed I sucked at it. Why bother doing something I wasn't good at? Don't get me started on what this said about my resilience, but we will save that for another day.


Here is the meditation paradox: the people who don’t like meditation, the people who say they suck at meditation, and the people who do NOT meditate, are the people who benefit from it the most. So, "I'm just not good at it" is a really bad excuse because... that's exactly why you should be doing it. This is like saying you're not going to stretch because you're not flexible... even though it would benefit you way more than it would benefit a gymnast.


The harder it is for you, the more you need it.


The more uncomfortable it is, the more progress you're making.


In other words, the more you suck at it… the more efficient your use of time is when you sit down to practice.


Why?


Because when you don’t engage in some form of meditation, you have SO much space for improvement. Your thoughts are completely untamed and primed for ANY change. On an exponential scale of one to infinity, you're smack dab at zero. So much opportunity is ahead of you.


Your mind does not have any boundaries. You’ve allowed your thoughts to run around like rebellious children who interject whenever they feel like it, even when you’re in the middle of something. They’re not used to structure or organization because you haven’t allowed your brain to create this.


Science has discovered that meditation allows your brain to re-organize your neural pathways into a more efficient flow, so your internal environment is more organized and your thinking becomes less disorganized over time. If you’re someone who jumps from topic to topic and get overwhelmed easily, meditation might be the natural form of Adderall you’ve been looking for. I say this as someone who has ADHD and is currently unmedicated. I'm not recommending that anyone get off their meds... but meditation could be a great supplementation.


In quite a literal sense, meditation is like a system defragmentation for your brain. When you run a system defrag on your computer, it begins to run faster and more efficiently because your computer has consolidated all of the related data into organized sections on your hard drive. When it's completed, your processor won’t have to bounce all over the hard drive looking for scattered files. This is what meditation does for your brain!


There is a Buddhist quote that goes something like… if you don’t have time to meditate for 30 min a day, you need 2 hours. In other words, when you have less time, you can’t afford to be disorganized and inefficient with your tasks. To prevent this, its recommended that you spend more time preparing for the day (via meditation).


The moment I needed meditation the most was when I was super busy, running around, stressed out of my mind, as a hyper productive, type A personality, with no personal boundaries, and a ton of shit to do…. But back then I always said, "I don’t have time".


That wasn't true. I didn’t want to make the time. I still had time for wine night, Netflix, happy hour, workouts, volunteer work, etc. I didn’t want to make them for meditation.


The irony is that at this point in my life, I was trying to figure out how to stop being so stressed. I was looking for supplements I could take, workout classes I could sign up for, music I could listen to, I was researching how to balance my adrenals, and exit fight or flight mode…. When the thing I was resisting, meditation, was the answer to all of it.


But meditation was hard. It was uncomfortable.


I wanted an easier way: A pill, a class, a song…. The last thing I wanted to do was add more discomfort and face my own internal environment. I didn’t know what the hell was waiting for me there. Sitting still? That terrified me.


Meditation isn't easy. But if it were easy, it wouldn't be beneficial.


Why do I have so many thoughts while meditating?


I'll never forget that when I first started meditating, I googled, "Can you still receive benefits from meditation when you have a lot of random thoughts?". If you're in the same boat, let me tell you a thousand times: YES!


The intrusive thoughts we experience while we're meditating are a sign that you're on the right path. Here are a few of the reasons/explanations that might explain why these thoughts are a good thing and what they might be accomplishing for us:


1. They help you become aware of your default setting. Your brain might be experiencing these thoughts all the time anyway, but you only recognize them when you’re trying to settle down. 


If you’re annoyed, irritated, or exhausted by this constant interruption while you’re meditating… how do you think this is impacting you throughout your day?


These intrusive thoughts are kind of like your email notifications going off. When you're checking and addressing e-mails as they come in, these notifications don't bother you as much. When you're trying to focus on getting something else done, all of the sudden your e-mail notifications become distracting. The same can be said about meditation. When you're actively engaged in thinking, the intrusive thoughts seem normal. When you're trying to focus your mind on "no-thing", these notifications become distracting.


2. They are thoughts that need to be acknowledged. Intrusive thoughts may be forcing their way into your consciousness at their first opportunity to be recognized. They might be the thoughts you’ve ignored or repressed, so they’re seizing their opportunity to finally be recognized. Or, you have so much going on in your head all the time, that some thoughts didn’t get their moment of awareness.


And yes, I’m personifying our thoughts because they’re a part of us. Our inner child. The subject of the thoughts isn't always important, but giving them their moment is.


3. They are a sign that your ego is afraid of (positive) change. Our ego creates resistance when it fears change. Meditation creates an opportunity for us to grow and expand (aka, change).


If you're like me and let intrusive thoughts stop you before, your ego will try this tactic again. So when your ego starts kicking and screaming, telling you things like, “We’ve had enough. We’re done. This is a waste of time. I have so many other things to do today”, push through. This means that you’re really close to real change, or else your ego wouldn't be so offended.


On the other side of this discomfort is the new neural pathways that will help you re-create your life. The neural pathways that will help you manifest the things you want.


This ego component is why I resisted meditation. Status quo was the better option, even though I was stressed out of my mind at the time. It’s like the saying goes…. the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.


4. They help our brain trigger a need for change. When our brain feels resistance in the way of discomfort or irritation (due to intrusive thoughts, for example), this friction tells our brains that our neural circuitry needs to upgrade to accommodate this friction. It needs to change. When we get the message that our neural circuitry needs to change, we’re priming our brain for a healthier mindset. This is powerful.


The discomfort we feel from our intrusive thoughts is exactly what we want to experience for personal growth. So, when you’re sitting down on that mat, in a chair, or wherever you meditate... and the thoughts start bubbling up, “Hey, we should be done by now. This is uncomfortable. I can’t turn my brain off anyway, this is pointless. This is a waste of time. We’re literally just sitting here. I could be doing anything else right now with my time this is not productive”... keep going.


When you get to the edge of your discomfort, you're getting to the good part. The part that creates physical and energetic changes to your mind.


Where there is discomfort, there’s a growth waiting on the other side. Take these intrusive thoughts as a sign that you’re experiencing exactly what you need to experience.


Intrusive thoughts can feel like petulant children, but they're more helpful than we realize.


Meditation allows your thoughts to get better organized, so they’re less likely to pop up randomly. They have a home. They have a place in the mind. It also creates space and awareness for your thoughts.


All the reasons listed above is why most guided meditations will never tell you to dismiss thoughts, but to become aware and notice your thoughts before letting them go.


How long should I meditate for in order to see the benefits?


According to the Huberman Lab, these are the best increments to choose from:


  • 3 minutes is the minimum required to experience positive changes in the brain and nervous system.


  • 5 minutes is minimum plus. You’re still experiencing the minimum positive changes that will take place from 3 minutes, but you’ve doubled how quickly you will notice the changes. Instead of 6 months, you might notice changes after 3 months.


  • 13+ minutes is the minimum time you should meditate in order to receive the greatest physical and mental changes to your brain and nervous system, in the quickest amount of time. The longer you meditate, the better, but 13 minutes is really the threshold for the greater and faster changes. Of course 20, 30, 40 +, minutes are even better, but the changes are more incremental after 13 minutes.


If you can’t commit to 13 minutes a day, try to commit to at least 3 minutes. The biggest differentiator between those who have a successful meditation practice that creates change, and those who don’t, is consistency. It doesn’t have to be every day, it doesn’t have to even be every other day, but it does need to be consistent. Aim for at least 1-2 times per week, at a minimum.


If you are aiming for fewer days a week, try to meditate longer (20, 30,40 minutes) to expedite your benefits. If you can commit to doing it every day, 3 to 5 minutes is fine. If you want to Goldstar, 13 minutes a day is ideal. But anything is better than nothing.


We can all do three minutes a day. Maybe you do it while sitting on your bed before going to sleep, maybe you do it after lunch, maybe you do it while you're sitting in your driveway after work... find a time that works well for you and stick to it. If you want to have a more picturesque meditation experience later, consider this bonus time.


Design a practice that best fits your lifestyle, create consistency, and commit to meditating every day for 6 months. In 180 days, you will look back and see how much you've changed.


Thank you for hanging out with me today. I will catch you in the next post!


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