New Year’s Resolutions can be real downers.
If we’ve tried and failed at something before (and how hasn’t?), something sad happens: working toward a goal turns into a chore. It feels heavy, difficult, maybe even hopeless. And not many feelings are less motivating than those.
Up until a few weeks ago, that’s how I felt about meditation.
For God knows how long, I’d been trying to make meditation a part of my daily life. And I came up with every excuse in the book not to. After some reflection, I realized why: I didn’t know if I was doing it right. I didn’t know whether it was working. I didn’t know which kind of meditation I should do. I was so uncertain, and that was making it almost impossible to believe I’d ever meditate daily.
But then, I stumbled upon a new idea that totally changed my mindset.
The idea came from Josh Kaufman, a writer and researcher who studies learning and skill-building. In his brilliant TED Talk “The first 20 hours: how to learn anything,” he presents a pretty revolutionary idea: that we can master almost any skill in just 20 hours.
I know what you’re thinking. Whaaat? I thought it took ten thousand hours to get good at something!
That’s expert, Novel Prize-winning level. What Kaufman talks about – and what most of us really want anyway – is general competence. Learning to draw, learning a language, playing an instrument, and of course, meditation.
So I decided to try it. What would happen if I spent 20 hours practicing meditation?
Immediately I felt a huge sense of relief. Even the idea of meditating seemed less difficult. Suddenly I felt curious about it, not burdened. There was a fresh, new energy around it, and that made me actually want to do it, instead of having to force myself to.
Instead of feeling like a loser because I couldn’t stick to a habit, now it sounded fun. I like learning, I like doing new things. I’m willing to be bad at something, knowing that soon – in the foreseeable future, even – I’ll be better.
The 20-hour rule gave me permission to be bad. It gave me hope to get through the icky part. It made achievement seem possible, real, and not all that far away.
Now, I’d love to tell you that after 20 hours of practice, I am now a confident meditator who can sit for half a day without getting antsy. But alas, that is not yet the case. I’m only at about hour number 7 (what with the holidays, a last-minute trip to Jamaica…you know how it goes), but already I’ve seen changes. I’m confident that the next 13 hours will bring even more improvement. What a difference that is from my old beliefs.
(For a really mind-blowing example of what 20 hours of practice can do, check out Kaufman’s ukulele performance at the end of his TED Talk.)
What about you? What’s something you’re working on, or want to work on, that might benefit from this? What will you spend 20 hours practicing?
Comment below, and then after 20 hours, check in again. What happened? What changed? What are you now capable of doing that you couldn’t do before?
I love this idea not only because it works, but because it injects this new energy into New Year’s Resolutions, and any other type of goal. Now, we don’t have to carry that heavy “I can’t do it” feeling into a new challenge. We can embrace it, take it one hour at a time, and master it. Maybe even before the month is over!
I can’t wait to hear all your success stories.
Go out and shine.