I meditated for a year. Here's what happened

I Experimented With Meditation For A Year and a Half. Here’s What Happened (Complete Guide)

A year ago, I started an experiment. After hearing all the hype from successful people about how meditation, I took it up for the first time in my life. And I documented my journey with data.

I used the app, Insight Timer, the best free meditation app out there. It logs all the free guided meditations I listen to on there and breaks down the stats. According to the app, I have meditated a total of 56 hours and 27 minutes for a daily average of 10 minutes.

See photo below:

i meditated for a year proof
Here’s proof my meditation stats.

In fact, it’s more than that. I have meditated on my own many times without logging my time with other guided meditation videos or apps.

I want to share with you what I learned from the practice, if it was actually useful for common struggles (like focus, anxiety, overthinking, overwhelm), and if it actually leads to more wealth.

Noticeable Results

Here is what I noticed on what changed and didn’t (trying to be brutally honest about this without hyping up meditation):

  • A 5% increase in focus.
  • A 10 to 15% increase in the ability to stay present without thinking about what to say next or wandering into my own thoughts when I’m bored when talking or listening to others (great for work, dating, and staying focused).
  • A 7% decrease in anxiety and worrying.
  • A 5% decrease in overthinking, something I do way too much.
  • 5% happier throughout the day.
  • I have noticed slight to no difference in my ability to control my anger when it erupts. This may be because anger is one of my toughest traits to change genetically as my parents are very angry. Having said that, I realize even more now the importance of not saying something stupid when angry and being able to control it.

FRom here, I want to give you some knowledge bombs on the truth about meditation to dispel myths and some tips to turn it into a habit:

Benefits of Meditation

Sharon Salzberg, one of the top meditation influencers, said there are 3 main benefits of meditation:

  1. Mindfulness – This allows you to be more aware and in control of your emotions, behavior, and surroundings. This is especially useful during times when it is genetically hard to notice and control your behavior, like when you’re angry, frustrated, jealous, or scared.
  2. Compassion / Loving Kindness – Being kind to yourself and others can help you feel happier, raise your self esteem, be more kind, improve emotional intelligence, and reduce narcissism.
  3. Concentration – This one is the most obvious. You can improve your focus, which boosts productivity and ability to connect with people because you’re not thinking of what to say next or daydreaming when you should be engaging with others socially.

There are other benefits and reasons people take up meditation, including to improve anxiety, lack of focus, dealing with stress, dealing with overwhelm, cope with being pulled in multiple directions, and peace of mind.

Russell Simmons, hip hop mogul, used to be a doubter. His pleasure was lots of hard drugs and sex. But he stumbled on the beauty of meditation, which increased his success and happiness, saving his mind from decay and improving focus.

Russell says that meditation improves creativity and happiness because you can only be creative and happy in the present rather than in the past or future and it turns down the noise and distractions by reducing all the hundreds of thoughts.

As a businessman, Russell has credited meditation to many successful business decisions because it puts you in a calm, rational state.

Dr. John Denninger, Harvard research, found that meditation and Tai Chi can turn genes on and off, reduces stress, and help with cardiovascular disease. Meditation creates a relaxation response in your body, the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.

1. It’s Not A Miracle Cure But It Can Give You 10%

Rather than start this off with all the reasons it rocks (we’ll get to that), let’s start with honesty. It’s not a magic pill. If you’ve ever listened to any of those podcasts or rich entrepreneurs who seem to imply that meditation will make you rich or dramatically increase your performance, that’s what got me interested in meditation. But after a year of meditation, I have to disagree.

My bank account as slightly increased. I definitely feel an increase in control over my focus, anxiety, over-thinking, and overwhelm  But it’s slight. Maybe 5% for my bank account and 15% for my internal control.

As many meditation gurus will say, it is a skill that takes decades of practice. Anyone expecting it to 10x your life in such a short time (yes, I consider a year short) will be met with disappointment.

I can’t say for certain that my bank balance increase is due to meditation. It’s not a controlled scientific experiment and I can’t tie it directly to what I did because I’ve done a lot of other things (everything I could really) to try to increase my income. Nonetheless, I have seen nothing bad come from meditation. Therefore, it’s a risk-free situation: only good can come from it.

Some people misinterpret meditation as a spiritual practice but that isn’t true. It can be a simple “disk cleanup” of your brain.

It would be amazing if meditation compounded my financial and mental results in the decade to follow, but I’m not expecting anything crazy. I think it’s important not to.

2. Overthinking, Anxiety, and Overwhelm Became Easier to Control

meditation for anxiety and stress

Literally a week before I wrote this, I was standing in the shower over-thinking and overanalyzing my day, which is typical of me. But I caught myself. I started meditating and slowly, but surely, I returned to a state of calm.

Since starting meditation, I’ve noticed a clear increase in my control over situations like this. It’s not as easy as a flip of the switch though. People may assume that meditation acts like a pill where it’s easy to turn on and easy to see the results quickly. Instead, even after a year of practice, I had to work really hard to push out my thoughts and return to a sense of thoughtless calm.

Was this all due to meditation? Maybe not. I’ve also learned a lot of mindset shifts from the personal development industry (and through my own reflection) that have aided me in overcoming overthinking, anxiety, and overwhelm, which I’ve infused into my meditation.

Some of the top mindset shifts I recommend for you are:

  • Worrying about the past or future does nothing for your present except make you suffer needlessly — unless you make something of it to improve your present and future. Therefore, make the plans, decide what you’re going to do, and stop fretting.
  • Just breathe.
  • All you need to be happy is a healthy body, a healthy brain, air, water, and food. (This last one is huge; it’s helped me many times when I get caught up in worrying about something or chasing some needless goal.)
  • You don’t need all this information. Just get advice on the next step forward and nothing else. Then, do it. (Great for dealing with information overload.)
  • You’re probably overanalyzing the situation. What would a standard, dumb person think of the situation? That’s probably what they’re thinking. Chill out and move on.
  • The world is not going to collapse if it happens. The worst case scenario is not that bad. You’ll probably just end up homeless, which is survivable. Heck, you won’t even end up homeless. You’ll just move back with your parents — which is actually quite comfy (Great for anxiety.).

3. Start Small (Tiny Habits)

I discovered this incredible technique invented by a Stanford professor called BJ Fogg who spends his life studying how we build habits. I’ve used it to effectively build up a daily practice of exercise, flossing, and meditating.

I suggest you use it too if you want to start meditating because I used to burn out or procrastinate from doing things like this until I found this method.

It’s really simple. Just start out with an absurdly small time limit and amount of the task. Then, only increase it when you’re absolutely certain it’s become a solid habit. For exercise, it was two minutes at the gym and one push-up. For meditation, it was one minute of meditating. For flossing, it was one tooth.

By making it so absurdly easy, you can’t help but to not do it. And by only increasing it when you’re solid, you prevent yourself from taking on too much too quickly and burning out.

Try it out yourself because you’ll be surprised how easily you can build habits from it.

how to build a meditation habit
My meditation progress over time based on Insight Timer’s stats.

4. You Get Greater Control of Reactive Emotions

Most of us understand that failing to control your emotions is a bad thing because it can lead to horrible results. You may lash out at your boss and lose your job by accident. You may react negatively on the road unnecessarily and end up in an accident that ruins your body. You may fail to resist temptation and destroy your relationship with your spouse. The list goes on and on.

So does meditation help boost your willpower so that you can do this? No.

But it does do something that does increase your mastery of emotions. Instead of boosting willpower, which it may do as well, meditation has been proven to magnify the logical part of your brain during emotional events.

The entrepreneur Vishen Lakhiani describes it the best in his book Code of the Extraordinary Mind. After he started meditating, he felt like he was viewing himself in the third person when he was experiencing road rage. It’s a weird phenomenon but you tend to be able to step back as a third party from emotion-driven situations and assess the best thing to do.

I haven’t experienced it to this level. But I do feel a very slight increase in my ability to bite my tongue rather than respond back with outrage. As mentioned, it’s not a miracle cure. There were times where I responded out of a bit of emotion to some comments on my YouTube channel. But there were other times, like when someone I knew in real life insulted me in a text message, where I was able to restrain myself for 24 hours and respond with a more sensible message.

But this isn’t woo-woo spiritual stuff. There is science behind this. The billionaire Ray Dalio explains it effectively in this video:

Essentially, meditation helps you separate the logical part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) from the emotional part of your brain (the amygdala) so that you can behave and react more sensibly in situations that stir emotions.

5. It’s Made Life Simpler and Me Happier

Meditating everyday ultimately comes down to just sitting there and breathing (or moving around breathing and seeing the world). It’s free.

I live in an overly commercialized world where I’m constantly being tempted to chase after all these materialistic possessions and events that I want, like new clothing, new cars, or fancy vacations. This chase and the struggle that comes with it often leads to suffering or unhappiness because I’ve tricked myself into believing that I can’t be happy until I get those items.

Even if I know this isn’t true, which it isn’t (Science shows that we take these new things for granted pretty soon. The scientific term is hedonic adaptation), I forget.

But meditating daily is a frequent reminder that has helped remind me that you don’t need crazy stuff to be happy. In fact, some of what brings the most long-lasting happiness is free to everyone. Meditating reminds me of super happy meditation gurus, like the Dalai Lama, who spend literally their whole day just sitting there and breathing — yet are so happy and joyful all the time. If you’ve ever seen any videos of the Dalai Lama, you can tell he loves to laugh.

6. Loving-Kindness Meditation Helped Improve My Empathy and Prejudice

I do loving-kindness guided meditations once a week, if that.

At first, I saw no effect. Shockingly, I started seeing subtle differences in how I treat and see people, especially strangers.

Before, I would assume they were mean or against my interests, especially if they cut me off on the road. But now, I’ve increased my empathy and decreased my negative biases. I start seeing that they are people too and that they may have good reasons to be in a rush.

The most clear example of this is when I was tapped by a guy in front of me in line at Qdoba, a Mexican grill, that it was my turn to order. Rather than jump to my natural assumptions that this guy was pissed off that I was on my phone and not attentive, I thanked him and assumed he was kind to let me know.

Is this solely thanks to loving kindness? I’m not sure because I also have made more conscious intention to see more of the good in others and not jump to the worst conclusions about what people think behind my back.

7. It’s Made Me More Patient and Less Bored

Half a year before I started meditating, I worked in food and dining. This job required long periods of time where I had to do repetitive tasks with little to no social contact.

For example, I was stationed at a table against the wall hand-cleaning hundreds of utensils, staring at a white wall in front of me.

Sometimes, these moments drove me mad with boredom and I devised all sorts of games to entertain myself. I would try to rap. That failed horribly. I would try to memorize numbers. That became a chore more than a game. I would try to day dream about my future. That got depressing after a while.

The point is that I was bored to tears and my mind liked to go miles every minute.

I thought the cure was to always find something to entertain myself. But I’ve discovered that I live an ordinary life and there’s nothing extraordinarily entertaining most of the time. I don’t get the option to jet pack around the world with two bikini-clad women on my back.

By chance, I stumbled across meditation and I discovered that becoming okay and at peace with a simple, seemingly boring life is key. Rather than having ridiculous expectations, I can find bliss, gratitude, and tranquility in just breathing.

There are still moments when I get bored and have nothing else to do, like when I’m rowing on a Concept 2 rowing machine or waiting in line. But quickly, they stop being boring because I take it as an opportunity to practice meditation.

I’m not saying I’ve mastered boredom yet. I can meditate for 10 to 20 minutes without break, but after that, boredom seeps in and it gets harder. I can say that I’ve reduced the amount of time I’m bored because I can always find something, like meditation, to do in that time.

The Problem With Meditation Claims

The issue with the claims of big influencer proponents of meditation, like Tim Ferriss and Jaime Masters, is that it suffers from confirmation bias and anecdotes. They say so many successful people they interviewed meditate, but they don’t do it in a scientific way.

Correlation does not prove causation.

Many people tie their shoes before getting sick from the flu. Does that mean it’s correlated?

Also, Tim likes to use a general, vague phrase such as “a lot of people” rather than a precise, verifiable percentage of people who he has interviewed. Then, he follows it up with a few anecdotal examples of specific people.

That’s not good enough! And he should know better! He recommended a whole book on how to identify bad science.

It would be much better if he (or someone on his team) would put in the work and track every person he’s interviewed and give a precise percentage of how many of them claim to actually meditate. You might find that it’s a lot lower than the hype, maybe just 17%. But at least it’s more honest.

Top Types of Meditation

I meditated for a year. Here's what happened

Here are the most popular and effective forms of meditation:

  • Mindfulness – the type gaining the most popularity these days because there is an increasing amount of scientific studies proving its effectiveness, so much so that Time magazine made it the cover of one of its issues) great for focus, attentiveness, being more present, managing anxiety, and being more aware and in control of emotions and reactive behavior.
  • Basic Breathe – a good fundamental version for daily practice where you simply focus on the in-breathe and out-breathe. Great for general benefits of meditation, including increasing focus, calm, and the ability to overcome overthinking, over-analysis, overwhelm, and anxiety.
  • Loving Kindness – great for improving self esteem and self love.
  • Transcendental – one of the more advanced versions, deeper. Not necessary.

You don’t need to get fancy with it and I don’t recommend you do so. I suggest basic breathe meditation for beginners and as your fundamental practice. It’s simple and easy to return to.

I would only start with some of the others if you are really struggling with a specific issue, like low self-esteem, and you are particularly drawn to a form, like Loving Kindness, that will help you with the issue.

Keep in mind results may take a year or more to see with consistent work.

Frequently Asked Questions about Meditation

Frequently asked questions and types of meditation

Is meditation religious?

No. It doesn’t have to be. Meditation at its core is a simple practice around breathing and concentration.

Can you screw up with meditation?

No. This is the big mistake people make. They beat themselves up whenever they drift or lose focus. But this is normal. Treat drifting off during meditation like any kind, normal person would treat a puppy walking away when they don’t want it to.

You don’t beat the puppy. You gently bring it back.

Can anyone meditate? Is it complicated?

Yes. Anyone who can breathe can start meditating. It’s a very simple practice at its core.

Is meditation time-consuming?

No, you can meditate for as little time as you want. Even one minute or ten seconds.

I do it while waiting in traffic or waiting in line — whenever I can’t listen to audiobooks or podcasts.

As you get better and start enjoying the practice, you will naturally increase the duration.

These Books Can Convince You to Meditate

Here are the top books I recommend if you still need some convincing to meditate:

  • Success through Stillness by Russell Simmons
  • Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation – A 28-Day Program by Sharon Salzberg
  • Super Rich by Russell Simmons
  • Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

To learn more about meditation, check out:

  • Secrets of Meditation
  • Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman

Which Meditation App Do You Recommend?

I’m aware of the big apps out there. Headspace, Calm, and 10% Happier are the big ones.

But I don’t recommend anything other than Insight Timer App.

Insight Timer is the YouTube of guided-meditations. It’s free, it has thousands of guided meditations from the world’s top experts, and there are no in-app purchases that try to take your money.

It also has some great tracking features that will record your meditation times and sessions, while allowing you to sort in many ways, such as average daily meditation time.

The other apps require you to purchase them and they offer only a few meditations from one or two people. You simply can’t compete.

It’s a tragedy that Insight Timer is the least known. One reason is that the some of the other apps have millions in funding from investors so they can afford to advertise. The people behind Insight Timer have posted announcements about how they’re putting user experience above all else, sacrificing opportunities to make a profit to avoid being annoying.

Conclusion

There is no downside to meditating except losing out on a bit of time and the potential rewards are worth it. Even though it’s not 100% confirmed that meditation is correlated with success, it can’t hurt, so I will continue the practice.

As you can see meditation is useful if you commit to it. There is even plenty of science to back this up. The problem is that some people tend to over-hype it and I want to stress that it does not provide superhuman results, as shown by what happened to me.

I still consider myself to be at the start of my meditation journey. One year is small compared to the masters of meditation who have been doing it for decades. I’m excited to see the effects at the ten year mark.

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