TIME Careers & Workplace

How Steve Jobs Trained His Own Brain

Steve Jobs gestures during a conference in San Francisco on June 6, 2011.
Paul Sakuma—AP Steve Jobs gestures during a conference in San Francisco on June 6, 2011.

He was far ahead of his time in the technology of the mind

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Steve Jobs is one of the two or three greatest icons of high tech, rivaled only by Bill Gates and perhaps Mark Zuckerberg. He’s mostly known for his legendary ability to create innovative, groundbreaking products.

What’s less known, though, is that Steve Jobs was a pioneer in what was once a rather esoteric “mind technology”–the use of Zen mindfulness meditation to reduce his stress, gain more clarity, and enhance his creativity.

As the Financial Times recently pointed out, Jobs was quite specific about how he went about practicing this “discipline” (as he called it). Biographer Walter Isaacson quotes Jobs as saying:

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things–that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”

What Jobs described in that passage is readily identifiable as a specific type of meditation, usually called “mindfulness,” that’s taught in Zen Buddhism and its Chinese antecedent, Taoism. When Jobs was talking to Isaacson not long before he died, he had been practicing such meditation for many years.

I know that for certain because, by coincidence, in the early 1990s, I had a brief one-on-one conversation with Jobs about how Zen related to computer programming. (That’s a story for another post.)

In any case, it’s now clear that Jobs was as far ahead of his time in the technology of the mind as he was in the technology of computers. According to no less an authority than Scientific American, the latest neuroscience research proves that meditation techniques that have been around for thousands of years have beneficial effects on both your mind and your body.

The mind technology of meditation has since gone mainstream. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, companies as diverse as Target, Google, General Mills, and Ford have begun to teach their employees the same kind of mindfulness that Jobs embraced decades ago.

While the idea of corporate-sponsored meditation sessions strikes me as a bit creepy, you don’t need corporate sponsorship to get the benefits of mindfulness. I learned mindfulness meditation from world-renowned martial artist Yang, Jwing Ming. From what I can tell from Jobs’s description of his meditation, Yang’s method is either identical or closely related to Jobs’s own practice.

Here how the technique was taught to me as far as I recall it:

  1. Sit cross-legged in a quiet place, preferably on a low pillow to reduce strain on your back. Take deep breaths.
  2. Close your eyes and listen to your inner monologue, the thoughts that spin through your mind all the time: work, home, TV, whatever. Those thoughts are the chattering of your “monkey mind.” Don’t try to stop it from chattering, at least not yet. Instead just observe how it jumps from thought to thought to thought. Do this for five minutes every day for a week.
  3. After a week, without trying to silence your monkey mind, during the meditation, shift your attention to your “ox mind.” Your ox mind is the part of your brain that thinks slowly and quietly. It senses things around you. It doesn’t try to assign meaning to anything. It just sees, hears, and feels. Most people only really hear their ox mind when they experience a “breathtaking moment” that temporarily stops the monkey mind from chattering. However, even when your monkey mind is driving you crazy with rush-rush-rush and push-push-push, your ox mind is still there, thinking its slow, deep thoughts.
  4. Once you’re feeling more aware of your ox mind, ask it to start quieting your monkey mind down. What worked for me was imagining the monkey mind going to sleep due to the slow walking of the ox as it moves patiently along a road. Don’t get upset if your monkey mind keeps waking up. It’s a monkey, so it can’t help acting like one. However, you’ll find that, despite its protests, your monkey mind would rather give it rest and stop making all that tiring and tiresome noise.
  5. As your monkey mind calms down, continue to shift your attention to your ox mind. Each breath will seem to take a long time. You’ll feel the air on your skin. You may feel your blood flowing through your body. If you open your eyes, the world will look brand new and even rather strange. A window, for example, becomes just a square thing that full of light. It doesn’t need to be opened or closed or cleaned or repaired or anything else. It’s just there. You’re just there.
  6. While it can take a while to get there, you’ll know you’re doing the exercise correctly when it seems as if no time has passed at all between when you started the timer and when it goes off. When you succeed at that, gradually increase the amount of time you spend each day. Weirdly, no matter how long you practice, it will seem as if no time has passed.

In my experience, daily practice of mindfulness has three valuable results:

First, it completely eliminates stress. While the stress may return, it’s starting from scratch and thus has less chance of snowballing into something unmanageable.

Second, it eliminates insomnia. When I was practicing this regularly, I was able to close my eyes and go to sleep within two or three seconds. That alone is worth the effort, in my view.

Third, and most important, it allows you to think more clearly and more creatively about everything happening in your own life. In my case, I used the sense of calm to extract myself from an unhealthy relationship and a job that made me miserable.

So, while I can’t promise that practicing mindfulness will make you as creative as Steve Jobs, I can promise from my own experience that mindfulness will create positive change in your life.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Yoga Helps Older Adults Battle Depression and Anxiety

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For many older adults, the thought of stepping into a yoga class swarming with yogis more flexible than Gumby might provoke anxiety. But the practice itself may be just the antidote the over-60 set needs, suggests a recent review of studies about relaxation exercises. Those who did yoga and other calming activities saw greater reductions in their anxiety and depression than people who didn’t.

The body of literature on yoga’s relaxation benefits spans all kinds of people, but the authors thought adults aged 60 and older deserved their own analysis. Up to 40% of older adults report anxiety, they note, and anywhere from 15-20% of the elderly experience depression. So in the review published in the journal Aging & Mental Health, researchers scrutinized 15 studies—12 of them randomized controlled trials—from the past two decades that looked at different methods of relaxation. They gauged the effectiveness of six techniques: yoga, listening to music, tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles, massage therapy and stress management training.

MORE: Is Bikram Yoga Safe?

The most effective ways to alleviate depression were yoga, the music intervention and the muscle tensing and relaxing exercise—called PMRT, for progressive muscle relaxation training. The music and yoga interventions were the best for anxiety.

Yoga had the strongest staying power. Positive effects from the stretching, breathing and meditation exercises stuck around six months later in older adults. “It could help counterbalance the negative effects of ageing, improve physical functioning, postpone disability, decrease morbidity and mortality, stimulate the mind, and increase hope, reducing the risk of anxiety and depression,” the study authors write.

MORE: 15 Ways Exercise Makes You Look and Feel Younger

And good vibes from PMRT lasted 14 weeks after the intervention ended. “It is believed that the PMRT has a tranquilising effect, triggers a sense of peacefulness, helps participants retreat mentally from their problem and curtails negative thoughts, reducing depressive symptoms,” the authors write.

The most effective intervention, of course, is the one you enjoy doing—and these results suggest that it’s never too late to find your favorite way to unwind.

 

TIME Research

This Is The Easiest Way to Get Better Sleep

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A new study suggests a simple and inexpensive fix for better sleep

Half of people over age 55 have a sleep problem, but a new study suggests meditating can improve sleep in those who can’t seem to get enough.

In the study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers looked at 49 men and women around age 66 who were experiencing poor sleep but didn’t have a diagnosed sleep disorder. About half of them enrolled in a standard sleep hygiene education program, and the other half learned mindful awareness practices.

For six weeks, the mindful group spent two hours a week learning a variety of mindfulness and meditation practices, including mindful sitting, eating, movement and meditation. They were asked to practice what they learned at home—but throughout the program, the group never discussed sleep.

“A lot of individuals who are undergoing sleep problems don’t want to talk about their sleep anymore. It just further exacerbates their issue,” says study author David S. Black of the University of Southern California. “I wanted to look at a program where you wouldn’t have to talk about sleep and it would indirectly remediate some of those problems that go along with sleep, like worrying about it.”

At the end of the sessions, the researchers measured everyone’s sleep quality and found that the people learning mindfulness scored higher in better sleep than the other group. They also had improvement in areas like depression, insomnia symptoms and fatigue. The two groups had similar results for anxiety and stress.

The researchers speculate that mindfulness meditation improves nervous system and cognitive system processes that relate to arousal and stress. “Before going to bed, people who can’t sleep worry a lot, and they start ruminating about not being able to sleep,” says Black. “Through mindfulness practice, people learn how to observe thoughts without having to elaborate. It allows people be present without further interpretation of their symptoms.”

Another possibility is that by curbing mood disturbances, meditation can lessen anxiety and let people relax more. Mindfulness might also simply make people think they’re getting higher quality sleep.

The findings are still preliminary, and while they’re not yet robust enough to make clinical recommendations, Black says he envisions mindfulness as a simple, inexpensive intervention for people who don’t have serious sleep problems, like those enrolled in the study. “This trial was intended for the majority of older adults who face sleep problems but do not have a clinical diagnosis of insomnia,” he says. “It opens it up to a broader audience.”

TIME Research

Mindfulness Exercises Improve Kids’ Math Scores

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Fourth and fifth graders who did mindfulness exercises had 15% better math scores than their peers

In adults, mindfulness has been shown to have all kinds of amazing effects throughout the body: it can combat stress, protect your heart, shorten migraines and possibly even extend life. But a new trial published in the journal Developmental Psychology suggests that the effects are also powerful in kids as young as 9—so much so that improving mindfulness showed to improve everything from social skills to math scores.

Researchers wanted to test the effects of a program that promotes social and emotional learning—peppered with mindfulness and kindness exercises—called MindUP. Developed by Goldie Hawn’s foundation, it’s used in schools across the U.S., Canada and beyond.

The study authors put 99 4th and 5th grade public school students in British Columbia into one of two groups. One group received four months of the mindfulness program, and the other got four months of a standard “social responsibility” program already used in Canadian public schools.

In the mindfulness classrooms, the program incorporated sense-sharpening exercises like mindful smelling and mindful eating, along with cognitive mindfulness exercises like seeing an issue from another’s point of view. Children did a three-minute meditation three times a day focusing on their breathing. They also acted on their lessons by practicing gratitude and doing kind things for others.

For the four months, researchers analyzed all kinds of in-depth measures, like behavioral assessments, cortisol levels, children’s self-reports of their own wellbeing, reviews from their peers about sociability and the objective academic scores of math grades.

The results were dramatic. “I really did not anticipate that we would have so many positive findings across all the multiple levels we looked at,” says study co-author Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, a developmental psychologist at the University of British Columbia. “I was very surprised,” she says—especially considering that the intervention took place at the end of the year, notoriously the worst time for students’ self-control.

Compared to the kids in the social responsibility program, children with the mindful intervention had 15% better math scores, showed 24% more social behaviors, were 24% less aggressive and perceived themselves as 20% more prosocial. They outperformed their peers in cognitive control, stress levels, emotional control, optimism, empathy, mindfulness and aggression.

The program also may have had an unintended effect—one the researchers didn’t measure, but now want to. “Anecdotally, teachers tell us that the program helped them calm down more—by doing the program and integrating these mindful attention practices and being more aware and thinking more about others, that they actually become less stressed,” Schonert-Reichl says. “That has huge implications, and a further area of research is needed.”

More research is needed, but mindfulness interventions like these are promising. “Doing these kinds of programs in school does not take away from academics,” Schonert-Reichl says. “It adds to a growing research literature that’s showing, actually, these kinds of programs and practices increase academic gains. By adding this on, you not only create more academically capable, successful students, but actually create more caring, less stressed, kind students.”

Read next: Energy Drinks May Drive Kids to Distraction

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TIME Careers & Workplace

9 Ways Daily Mindfulness Will Help You Succeed

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Long story short, enjoy the journey

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Many of us are drawn to the peace and happiness promised by a life of mindfulness, but we often abandon it in our daily lives because practicing mindfulness can seem at odds with our desire to succeed.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are nine simple ways that incorporating mindfulness into your busy work life can actually help you succeed:

  1. Forgive and forget. Workplace politics are draining, and a waste of time. Don’t let yourself get sucked into drama. Save your mental energy for your own success by forgiving those who slight you, forgetting who said what about whom, and moving on to more important things.
  2. Breathe before you blast. Try not to shoot off emails when you’re angry. Take a deep breath first and reflect on what’s behind your anger. Anger-driven emails almost always do more harm than good, to sender and receiver alike.
  3. Stop being ‘judgy.’ Mistakes are an opportunity to learn, not an excuse to look at yourself or others with negativity. Assessing mistakes from a neutral perspective allows you and your team to grow from them. Harping on them only serves to bring you (and those around you) down.
  4. Do what you want. Mindfulness gurus often talk about the idea of “intention.” But what does intention really mean? It means to make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. And to do what you want. If you feel like you are wasting time in your current occupation, stop doing it and start something new.
  5. Salute the sun. Starting your morning with a quiet mind will help you be more effective throughout the day. Carve out time in the mornings — before the day’s madness ensues — to do a few sun salutations, eat a leisurely breakfast, go for a jog or engage in whichever activity helps you to still your mind.
  6. Salute your enemies. The word “namaste” means “I bow to the divine in you.” Having respect for your enemies will help you learn from their strengths and be more objective about your own weaknesses. So salute your enemies. You may find yourself with fewer of them if you do.
  7. Take victory in stride. It’s important to celebrate milestones. But don’t get addicted to them. If you let yourself become too attached to your victories, you will be less able to cope with defeat. And the ability to persevere through failure is essential to success.
  8. Sleep more. According to the Dalai Lama, “Sleep is the best meditation.” Get more of it.
  9. Enjoy the journey. Life is short, and you will spend most of it working. Work can either be depressing, or it can be an incredible ride. It’s up to you. The more you enjoy what you do, the better you will be at it.

Prerna Gupta is Founder & CEO of a stealth startup in a novel area of artificial intelligence. She is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and author, whose work has been published in the New York Times, Forbes, TechCrunch, FastCompany and Recode, among others. She was previously Chief Product Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Smule. Prior to that, Prerna was co-founder and CEO of Khush, where she led the company to profitability and acquisition by Smule in 2011.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Meditation Tips for People Who Can’t Focus

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Just a few minutes can shift your mindset for the whole day

Meditation is more than just a stress buster. New research shows it can help boost creativity; another review found it could reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and it could even improve decision making, in addition to a host of other health benefits.

But how can you embark on a serene course of meditation when you can barely quiet your multitasking brain long enough to finish tasks at home or at work? Here, five tips from meditation guru Amit Sood, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and author of The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living.

Pick an activity that works for you

One assumption novices make is that you have to sit in a corner chanting “ommm” for meditation to work. But that’s a fallacy, says Dr. Sood. You can incorporate it into everyday activities, like your workout. If you’re running, for example, instead of listening to your iPod, silently repeat “peace” every time your foot strikes the ground. After a few minutes, you’ll find you’re chanting the word automatically and have entered a contemplative state.

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Grab a moment of gratitude

An easy way to get in a quick meditative moment is to sit down and take two minutes (yes, you can set your cell phone timer!) to think about five people in your life you’re grateful for. Start with the first one, and quickly run down the many ways this person has helped you. Now move to the second one, and imagine looking deep into their eyes. The third one, visualize giving them a quick, firm hug. By evoking images of folks who care about you, you’re releasing positive energy that will stay with you the rest of the day.

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Start small

Most people only meditate for 3 to 5 minutes when they first start the habit, according to data collected by the folks behind the goal-tracking app Lift. Dr. Sood suggests this simple exercise: Sit quietly and as you breathe in, imagine your brain filling with light. Exhale. Breathe in again, imagining your heart filling with light, then exhale. Repeat (rotating between brain and heart) for two to three minutes.

Wish others well

When you walk around the office, silently send each co-worker you see a wish. It can be specific—“I wish you well in your meeting with the boss this morning” or it can be general “I wish you health and happiness and general well-being.” Do it for everyone, even people you’re indifferent about or dislike: “It removes any sense of hostility or competitiveness you might feel towards others and replaces it with positivity, which is energizing,” says Dr. Sood.

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Turn to an app

If you don’t find any of these techniques helpful—or you crave more—there are plenty of apps out there to keep you meditating in the moment. (Sixty-two percent of people who meditate more than three days a week use a meditation app, according to Lift.) A few to try: Mayo Clinic Meditation ($2.99), Stop Breathe & Think (free), and Mental Workout (free). Or try one of the free guided meditations suggested by Lift.

The good news is if you stick with it, it’s likely to become automatic: people who meditated for 11 days were more than 90% likely to continue to a 12th day, according to the Lift survey.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME psychology

3 Simple Things That Will Make You 10% Happier

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever been really stressed? So stressed you nearly freak out?

This happened to Dan Harrisin front of 5 million people.

On June 7th, 2004, Dan was a news correspondent on ABC and he had a panic attack on air while reading the news:

He knew he had to do something. His career was in jeopardy.

By coincidence, he was soon assigned to cover stories about religion. This set Dan on a multi-year quest talking to people of faith — and total quacks.

But it ended up introducing him to something that helped him get his head straight and, as he likes to say, made him 10% happier.

What was it? Meditation.

Feeling skeptical yet? Thinking of hippies, beads and chanting? Actually, that’s how Dan felt too.

But it turns out his discovery wasn’t the least bit mystic — in fact it was quite scientific.

I gave Dan a call and we talked about meditation and the book he wrote about his journey: 10% Happier.

And here’s how the neuroscience behind a 2500 year old ritual can help all of us become 10% happier.

You Don’t Have To Be A Hippie And Live In A Yurt

Dan’s now the co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America.

What’s the first thing this Emmy-award winning journalist has to say about meditation? It has a huge PR problem.

Via 10% Happier:

Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose… There’s even science to back this up.

So what is science learning about meditation? A lot. Here’s Dan:

There are actually tons and tons of studies on meditation. But you can find one-off studies that show almost anything, right?

So what happened when the Journal of American Medicinerecently looked at more then 18,000 citations on the subject?

Meditation demonstrated clear results in helping people with anxiety, depression and pain.

Other studies are showing it can help with decision-making, compassion — and it might even reduce your cravings for chocolate.

And Dan’s not the only one who’s realized this:

  1. The SuperBowl winning Seattle Seahawks meditate.
  2. Google has someone in charge of teaching meditation.
  3. 12 minutes a day of meditation makes US Marines more resilient in war zones.

Looking at the research a while back, I said meditation is one of the ten things people should do every day to improve their lives.

(For more on the science of meditation, click here.)

I know some of you are saying, “Great. But what does it do, really?

Meditation and mindfulness are two things we hear about constantly but few of us can really define what they are and what they do. That’s about to change.

No Robes And Chanting Necessary

We all have that voice in our head. Our internal narrator. And he’s usually a jerk.

A nonstop running commentary of wants and needs, second-guessing, regretting the past and worrying about the future.

Dan explains:

The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings.

Harvard professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert, has shown that this sort of mind-wandering makes us miserable.

In fact, a recent study showed men would rather get electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts. Yeah, really.

This is where meditation comes in.

It’s not some magic incantation; it’s a bicep curl for your brain that can tame the thoughts in your head.

By teaching your brain to focus it can allow you to not get yanked around by your emotions, to be able to respond rather than react.

And the results are real:

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A 2012 Harvard study showed:

In the mindful attention group, the after-training brain scans showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress.

And after 8 weeks of regular meditation these changes were visible even when the subjects weren’t meditating.

A 2011 Yale study showed:

Experienced meditators seem to switch off areas of the brain associated with wandering thoughts, anxiety and some psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.Researchers used fMRI scans to determine how meditators’ brains differed from subjects who were not meditating. The areas shaded in blue highlight areas of decreased activity in the brains of meditators.

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(For more things scientifically proven to make you happier, click here.)

Some people don’t like my fancy brain pictures. They’re still saying, “That wouldn’t work for me.” You’re wrong. Here’s why.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

People give tons of excuses why they can’t meditate. Dan has heard them all by now and most don’t hold water.

1) “I’m too busy to meditate.”

You can see results in 5 minutes a day. You don’t have five minutes? And how long have you been reading this post for, Mr. Busy?

2) “It won’t work for me. My mind is too crazy.”

Ah, “the fallacy of uniqueness.” Dan says he had the attention span of a 6 month old Golden Labrador. It’s worked for him and many many others.

3) “I’m not a Buddhist.”

I asked Dan about this when we chatted. Mindfulness meditation is secular:

The form of mindfulness meditation that has been studied in labs is completely secular. It’s called mindfulness-based stress reduction and you don’t have to join anything, you don’t have to wear any special outfits or believe in anything. It’s secular and scientifically validated.

4) “I need my anxiety. It drives me crazy but it’s the reason I get things done.”

I was curious about this one, too (you think someone who writes blog posts like this doesn’t have a voice in his head? C’mon.)

Dan always lived by the motto, “The price of security is insecurity.”Worrying kept him on his game. But it also made him miserable.

But then Dan asked his meditation teacher, Joseph Goldstein, what he thought of worrying.

Here’s Dan:

He said “Yes, you have to worry because that makes sense in order to function effectively. However, on the 17th time when you’re worrying about that same thing, maybe ask yourself one simple question: ‘Is it useful?’”

At some point, you have thought it through sufficiently and it’s time to move on. What I have learned how to do as a result of meditation is to draw the line between what I call “constructive anguish” and “unconstructive rumination” and that’s made me a lot happier.

You won’t lose your edge. You can still worry a bit. But when it gets out of hand ask yourself, “Is this useful?”

(For more lifehacks from ancient times that will make you happier, click here.)

At this point many of you are saying, “Okay, okay, meditation is good. But how do I actually do it?

That’s up next. And it’s crazy simple — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

How To Meditate

Dan taught Stephen Colbert to meditate:

And here’s how he explained it to me:

It really involves three extremely simple steps.

One: Sit with your eyes closed and your back straight.

Two: Notice what it feels like when your breath comes in and when your breath goes out, try to bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out.

Third step is the biggie. Every time you try to do this, your mind is going to go crazy. You are going to start thinking about all sorts of stupid things like if you need a haircut, why you said that dumb thing to your boss, what’s for lunch, etc. Every time you notice that your mind is wandering, bring your attention back to your breath and begin again. This is going to happen over and over and over again and that is meditation.

Personally, I like to think of it as the toughest and most maddening video game in the world. Dan agrees:

It’s not easy. You will “fail” a million times but the “failing” and starting over is succeeding. So this isn’t like most things in your life where, like if you can’t get up on water skis, you can’t do it. Here the trying and starting again, trying and starting again, that’s the whole game.

It works. And meditation doesn’t cost anything. All you need to do is be breathing, and breathing is something that’s always with you and never stops.

And if it ever does stop, well, you may have more urgent problems to deal with.

(For more on what the happiest people do every day, click here.)

So how do we tie all this together?

Sum Up

You can still see Dan on Nightline and Good Morning America but luckily he’s not having any more panic attacks.

Is meditation going to give you magic powers? No. Even the Dalai Lama loses his temper.

Seriously — Dan asked him during an interview.

Via 10% Happier:

“Is your mind always calm?” I asked.

“No, no, no. Occasionally lose my temper.”

“You do?”

“Oh yes. If someone is never lose temper then perhaps they may come from another space,” he said, pointing toward the sky and laughing from the belly, his eyes twinkling beneath his thick glasses.

But research says meditation can make you less stressed and more happy. Here’s what Dan told me:

The bad things in my life are still bad but I am not making them worse than they need to be by adding on a bunch of useless rumination. We assume that our happiness is derived from external circumstances, like how much money we’re making, if we had a happy childhood, if we married well, whatever. The radical proposition of meditation is that happiness is self-generated. You can develop your happiness muscle the way you develop your biceps in the gym. That is hugely, hugely empowering and a comforting notion.

5 minutes a day. That’s all it takes to give your happiness muscle a workout.

What are you waiting for?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Cancer

Why Meditation and Yoga Are Recommended for Breast Cancer

Non-invasive alternative therapies can clear an anxious mind

Up to 80% of American patients with breast cancer will undergo complementary therapies to manage anxiety and stress after they receive a diagnosis.

Though there’s no clear consensus on which integrative and alternative therapies work and which are ineffective, more and more medical practices have incorporated practices like mindfulness and acupuncture into their offerings. But a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs conducted by several major oncology facilities has examined which therapies benefit patients the most. The answer? Meditation, yoga and relaxation with imagery.

The three methods are known to be calming for those who practice them, and the researchers gave the practices an “A” for treating symptoms of mood disorders that are highly common among people with a recent diagnosis.

To come up with the grade, the researchers parsed through clinical trials conducted from 1990-2013 on complementary therapies paired with routine cancer treatment, like chemotherapy. The researchers then graded each therapy based on efficacy. Acupuncture was given a “B” for controlling chemo nausea, and music therapy also received a “B” for anxiety and stress.

“Women with breast cancer are among the highest users [of these therapies]…and usage has been increasing,” the authors write in their study. “Clear clinical practice guidelines are needed.” The study involved researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, MD Anderson, University of Michigan, Memorial Sloan Kettering and more.

The researchers also gave some therapies low grades. For example, healing touch was given a “C” for lowering pain, and aloe vera gel was not recommended at all for preventing skin reactions from radiation therapy. The researchers also point out that while some natural products were shown to be effective, they did not have the safety data to back them up, suggesting more formal research is needed before some of the therapies can be officially recommended.

As patients with breast cancer and other forms of cancer continue to seek other ways to deal with some of the emotional side effects that stem from serious illness, it will become increasingly important for hospitals to find ways to answer their unmet needs—which might include a yoga class.

TIME HIV/AIDS

How Meditation May Help People With HIV

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A mindfulness routine may lead to better health outcomes

From the time a person is diagnosed with any illness, the focus of their healthcare often shifts to managing sickness rather than promoting wellbeing. But new research shows that a non-pharmacological intervention could help play a role in HIV patient’s mental and physical health. Practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM), a 20-minute twice-a-day mindfulness regimen, may help people with HIV feel better, a small new study finds.

The project’s research, which is being submitted to scientific journals but is not yet published, was done with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the David Lynch Foundation, a nonprofit that funds research on stress reduction methods, including TM, for at-risk populations. In the 39 HIV patients who completed the study, researchers measured health factors like stress levels, wellbeing (using an established spiritual wellbeing scale), levels of psychological distress and physical symptoms related to HIV, like fatigue. They then taught TM to the patients, and after three months of meditation, patients experienced significant improvement, the study authors say. They got sick less frequently, were less fatigued and more energized and had better general health and physical functioning, says Thomas Roth, director of the David Lynch Foundation HIV Initiative and TM teacher of 40 years. Psychological symptoms got a boost, too: patients reported being less stressed and anxious, with decreased anger, hostility and depressive symptoms.

MORE: You Asked: Is Meditation Really Worth It?

The study didn’t look at blood biomarkers for things like stress, not did it measure the patients’ T-cell counts, instead relying on reports from the people in the study. More research is needed, and for now, says Roth: “My prediction two years ago was that this could improve the quality of life of people living with HIV.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Is Meditation Really Worth It?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Totally. Here's why

Updated Oct. 9, 2pm

First of all, understand that “meditation” is a catchall term for a lot of different mental activities, many of which have nothing to do with sitting cross-legged on the floor and saying om.

“There are thousands of different types of meditation,” says Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and author of Words Can Change Your Brain. But while meditative practices come in all shapes and styles, Newberg says nearly all of them have at least one thing in common: They involve focusing your attention, a habit that’s been marginalized by our smartphone-tethered lifestyle of digital distraction.

“That focusing could be on a word or object or physical motion,” Newberg explains. “But regardless, the type of focusing involved in meditation activates the brain’s frontal lobe, which is involved in concentration, planning, speech and other executive functions like problem solving.” Studies have shown meditation can bolster all of these mental tasks. But the greatest benefits may spring from the interplay between your brain’s focus centers and its limbic system—a set of structures that manage your emotions and regulate the release of stress and relaxation hormones.

MORE: The Mindful Revolution

“Studies suggests your body’s arousal system is calmed and the flow of stress-related hormones is reduced [by meditation],” Newberg explains. “There’s also a softening effect when it comes to emotional responses.” Just as weightlifting allows your muscles to lift a heavier load, working out your brain with meditation seems to fortify its ability to carry life’s emotional cargo. That stress-dampening effect has tied meditation to improved mood and lower rates of heart disease, insomnia and depression.

Newberg says there’s also some evidence that meditation quiets the area of your brain that manages your sense of self and your relationship to others. That may sound like a bad thing, but this quieting may help you feel more connected to others and less isolated within yourself, he says.

“Basically, meditation helps your brain get out of its own way,” adds Dr. Judson Brewer, a Yale School of Medicine psychiatrist.

Once you’re convinced meditation is worth a try, figuring out the right type for you is important, because the benefits tend to materialize only if you enjoy your practice enough to stick with it, Brewer says. Luckily, you have a lot of options—from Transcendental Meditation to Tai Chi. Even yoga counts, because it focuses your mind and blocks out distraction.

MORE: How Tai Chi Helps Fight Depression

Mindfulness is one style of meditation that’s exploding in popularity, largely because it can be done anywhere and anytime, Brewer says. “It’s mostly about being aware of your thoughts and not running after them in your mind,” he explains. Awareness is a wedge that, with practice, you can place between your thoughts and unhealthy emotional reactions, he says.

MORE: Can Yoga Ease Major Psychiatric Disorders?

That kind of vague, semi-abstract language can make meditation seem thorny and inaccessible, but it’s easier than you think. If you want a simple taste of meditation, Brewer suggests focusing your mind on your breath or a nearby object, refocusing it when it strays. “Your mind wanders, and you bring it back,” Newberg says. “That’s a mental push-up.”

Do enough mental push-ups, and you may be amazed at how strong your mind muscle can get.

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