By now, you’ve probably heard: Meditation holds amazing benefits. If it were a pill, it would be a miracle drug. It improves focus, productivity, and overall well-being. It reduces stress, anxiety, and mind-wandering.
So why isn’t everyone doing it? The short answer: time. Unlike drinking a Red Bull or popping a supplement, we’ve been taught that meditation requires that we take time out of our day. You have to stop what you're doing, find a comfortable seat in a quiet location, and spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour bringing your attention to the breath or some other object of concentration.
This conventional understanding is half-right, half-wrong. It’s right because the seated practice of meditation really is the most powerful way to begin developing the skill of focused attention and to begin experiencing these benefits.
But it’s wrong because sitting in silence isn’t the only way to meditate. And it’s important to highlight this point because it’s this idea that keeps many busy people from starting a daily practice.
My company, Life Cross Training (LIFE XT), learned this after several years of teaching meditation to hundreds of people working at a variety of firms: law firms, health care companies, venture firms, and media agencies.
We found that some people easily pick up a daily seated meditation practice. But we learned that some people just can’t seem to get around the time barrier to meditation.
So for people who couldn’t commit to setting aside five to ten minutes each day for seated practice, we developed an alternative—one that has changed the way many of our clients think about meditation.
We call it The Mindful Walk to Work.
The practice is based on the idea that, each day, everyone walks somewhere. If you work outside your house, you walk from the car or subway station to your office. If you work in the home, you might walk outside to get your newspaper. If you’re retired or out of work, you might walk to the local coffee shop to meet a friend.
The practice is to turn this daily walk into a meditation. Here’s how:
1. NOTICE by creating a cue.
The first step is to notice—to remember to begin building this habit. Without this step, The Mindful Walk to Work will never happen. So create some sort of daily noticing cue to help remind you. If you drive to work, your cue might be opening the car door. If you ride the train to work, it might be walking out of the subway car. The goal here is to build a mental association with this daily cue so that it begins to remind you, almost automatically, to start meditating.
2. SHIFT by redirecting your attention.
The second step is to shift your attention. You may have noticed that without awareness, your mind wanders all over the place as you make this daily trek to work. These thoughts could be utterly mundane or profound—what you’re planning to eat for lunch, how your pants don’t fit quite right, or a big decision that’s weighing on you.
The goal is to shift your attention from these wanderings of the mind to the sights and sounds of the present moment. Make what you see and what you hear during this walk your object of concentration.
This is the key move that turns your ordinary walk into a meditation. Notice the cars whizzing by in a blur. Listen to the sounds of the birds, the wind, or the construction crew jackhammering.
Try to do all of this without judgment. See if you can just watch and listen to everything that is happening without labeling it as good or bad.
3. REWIRE by keeping your attention on the present.
If you have a five-minute daily walk, the rewire step is all about bringing your attention back to the sights and sounds of the present moment again and again for those five minutes.
Of course, your mind will wander. You will almost inevitably get drawn away from the present moment and lost in thoughts about the past or future. When this happens, simply notice and, without judgment, bring your mind back to the sights and sounds of the present moment.
That’s the practice. It’s an ultra-efficient way to begin the daily habit of meditation—a practice that allows you to experience the benefits of meditation without taking a single moment out of your day.
So if you don’t have time to start a seated meditation practice or if you just want to try something new, we encourage you to try out the Mindful Walk to Work for the next week. By using Notice-Shift-Rewire to redirect your attention to the sights and sounds of the present moment, you train your brain to focus. You also cultivate a new way of thinking: what experts call “mindfulness.” You learn how to take in each moment without getting lost in memories of the past and fantasies about the future.