Little strokes fell great oaks.” –Benjamin Franklin
When I opened my eyes this morning, I looked over at the corner of the room and took a deep breath. It was the corner near the fireplace, where for the last two weeks, I sat, crossed my legs, and closed my eyes for twenty minutes of mindful meditation.
Now, some people may still consider meditation as a strictly spiritual practice. Something reserved for chakra juggling mystics after new moon parties. However, tons of scientific research credit meditation and mindfulness with reducing anxiety, improving cognition, and decreasing distraction.
In a world where external stimuli chases us down like an avalanche, a mindfulness practice can be a beacon in the snow storm.
Craving the benefits of this so-called bicep curl for the brain, I had enthusiastically committed myself to a 30-day mindful meditation challenge. This morning would have been day 18.
I sat in my corner, felt the heat of the fireplace and wiped the sleep from my eyes. Eager to begin my cerebral scrub down, I set the timer. That’s when it hit me—yesterday came and went, and I didn’t meditate.
I had told myself I’d find the time, yet somehow, the barrage of office emails and hours of mindless internet scrolling took precedence over my mental hygiene. All that time lost in thought, rehearsing arguments in my mind I’ll never have in real life, added up to a day lost and a meditation streak broken.
“What a waste,” I thought, disappointed with myself. I surrendered and said, “Maybe I’ll try again next month.”
This initial feeling that “all was lost” is a misconception that surrounds many things. For instance, some of us might consider dieting one day a week, or lifting weights only once a month, to be pointless. We don’t like to believe lackadaisical regimens can produce the fast, proven, real, extreme results we crave. If we can’t do something correctly and consistently, why bother at all?
What we forget, however, is what Einstein called the 8th wonder of the world—compound interest.
The power of compound interest is simple. In financial terms, it means we earn interest on both our initial investment along with whatever interest has already been earned. If we invest $100 and compound 1% interest every day, in one year we’ll have $3,778.34. That’s an increase of 37x!
I considered this 8th world-wonder and my last few weeks of meditation. I realized how my sense of contentment and emotional well-being had increased not only from when I started the challenge but how it continued to build upon the progress I made from each previous day. While I may have failed the 30-day challenge, all was not lost.
Practicing mindfulness, to put it simply, is the act of pulling ourselves back into the present moment. When we make the decision to stop and focus, to be grateful, to notice our emotions without trying to change them, we not only improve the quality of the present, but invest in our ability to be mindful in the future.
The moments we spend being mindful compound and pay interest in the form of clarity, gratitude, and presence.
Think about the example of compound interest above and consider how becoming just 1% more mindful each day could add up over a lifetime. We may not see 30-day-money-back-guaranteed results, but compounding small improvements every day leads to huge growth down the road.
But just as is it when investing money, compound interest can be a double-edged sword. Markets can crash. Days of enlightenment can be followed by days of darkness. The time we spend lost in thought, emotionally scattered, or ungrateful—those moments compound as well.
That’s why adding up mindful moments whenever we can is so valuable. We’ll need them when life’s storms inevitably come.
There is an old zen proverb that goes, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
While this is noble in sentiment, for most of us, it offers little value in action. Carving out twenty minutes a day for a new habit is hard enough without worrying if more time is needed to even make a difference. We must remember that when it comes to mindfulness, we are working towards clarity and appreciation for the present— every moment counts.
For those of us that aren’t ready to invest an hour a day or even twenty minutes to meditation, here are 4 ways to become 1% more mindful each day without setting aside any extra time.
First. Taste your food.
We’ve all been there, starving as our slice of pizza arrives, ready to devour. We take a bite, pull out our phone, starting thinking about what so-and-so said last night. Before we know it—the food is gone and we have no recollection of chewing.
During your next meal, focus on those first few bites. Notice the smell. Identify the flavors. Tune into your body and mind during the meal. Resist the urge to solve problems or think about your schedule, this is your time to eat.
Second. When you go from sitting to standing—check in.
Moving from one position to another gives us a chance to check-in with ourselves.
When you stand up from your workspace, are you in a hurry? That’s fine, don’t try to change it. Just notice it.
When you sit back down does your mind begin to rush towards the rest of your day before finishing the task at hand? Gently reel yourself back to the present. Close your eyes, take a breath and focus on what’s happening right now. This only takes a few seconds.
Third. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for every morning.
This is a tip I learned from using The Five Minute Journal. For how easy it is and for how little time it takes, I cannot express enough how much of an impact doing this consistently has had on my overall satisfaction with life. If you only incorporate one thing from this post, make it this.
Fourth. When you walk…
Don’t let your monkey mind crawl around the cage while you stroll. Instead, feel the weight of your feet pressing against the asphalt with each step. Notice the temperature of the air on your face and hands.
You don’t even need to make time to “go for a walk.” Do this when you walk to your car in the morning. Do it when you walk towards your bed at night. When you walk, be present.
Whether it’s embarking on a 30-day meditation challenge or just remembering to be a little more grateful once in awhile, remember—the power of compound interest is happening all around us.
Will you let it work for you, or against you?
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Corey McComb, a San Diego-based writer that focuses on the sweet spots in life where travel and personal development intersect. When he’s not dreaming about running away to South America with his girlfriend, he writes on his personal blog and stares at lunch menus utterly confused. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Artwork by HavocHendricks on Instagram.