RFS Blog | by Karl W. Palachuk – Relax Focus Succeed. Learn more at www.relaxfocussucceed.com

CAT | Meditation

I had a conversation with someone the other day about meditation. He expressed a very common belief: I tried that and it didn’t work for me.

I couldn’t help wondering, “What do you mean by try?”Yoga Pose

Whether it’s meditation, exercise, playing the piano, learning a new language, or anything else, you can’t try once. Trying has to mean that you give it a real effort. If I try to do something once I am virtually guaranteed to fail (or be very bad at it). You can almost never do something right the first time.

On the flip side, if I work at something for an hour every day, I am virtually guaranteed to get good at it. That’s true of speaking a new language, learning a new exercise, wood carving, or anything else. You get good at whatever you put your attention on.

I’m a big believer in daily meditation. And guess what? I have trouble quieting my mind – even after sixteen years of meditating almost every day. I have trouble slowing down. I have trouble emptying my mind. I have trouble sitting still. I have trouble getting comfortable.

BUT I know how. I know what it feels like when my mind begins to calm down. I recognize that because I’ve experienced it thousands of times.

Another friend of mine posted something on Facebook a few days ago. He was starting a new I.T. project and referenced one of my books on project management. He referred to the “muscles of success” regarding projects. Those are the good habits that keep your project on track, on time, and under budget. Just like anything else, consistent activity becomes a habit – even making a profit!

Take stock the next time you decide to “try” something. Trying once is essentially useless. If you’re gonig to try, you need to commit to enough attempts to actually understand and make a little progress. Don’t quit after one attempt and say you tried.


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If you’re like me, you can get the same advice over and over for years and it doesn’t sink in – until the time is right. That’s why I read all the “success” literature I can. I read to keep thinking about changes in my life until it’s personal for me.

I took a lot of statistics in graduate school. There was a recurring phenomenon with stats: I never truly, completely understood the math from one course until I had to apply it in the next course. I wasn’t alone in this. Many people found that taking a second semester stats class from a different professor than their first semester helped them understand more. And it didn’t matter which was first or second. It as a different way of explaining the math that made the difference.

hand-drawn-brain-book1kIt’s also the case that the first course prepared our minds for the next. One started laying down the pathways and the next started building the knowledge in a meaningful way. Your personal success is very much like this. You have to lay down the foundation before you can start building. When it comes to changing yourself and your habits, that means you might hear a message a hundred time – or a thousand times – before you decide that you really need to take action.

Success will never come until you internalize your commitment to your own self-improvement. This is because success is hard at the beginning. You have to change your habits, your knowledge, and your commitments. Then you begin the actual work of changing yourself.

Let’s look at how those three things are inter-connected. Knowledge is the easiest piece of the toolkit. You can listen to audio programs and read books all day and all night. You “know” you need to get up early, spend quiet time planning your day, exercise, eat right, set goals, focus on them, and execute.

You “know” all that but it’s all meaningless external knowledge until you make a commitment to change your life.

Some people spend years educating themselves on success but never take action until something suddenly makes sense and then the commitments start falling into place. Others start doing without commitment. In other words, they start following the formula even though they haven’t internally accepted that it really will change their lives.

Believe it or not, this also works. If you get in the habit of getting up early, it will make the habit of quiet time easier. If you get in the habit of exercising, it will make the habit of eating right easier. One by one you can adopt all the habits of success until one by one they are meaninful to you.

Knowledge doesn’t come overnight. Neither do habits nor commitments. But if you practice these things, you will eventually achieve them.

Remember: Nothing happens by itself. You have to work on your success. If you don’t work on your self-improvement, it won’t happen. Period.

Just like athletic development, you need to work on your self-improvement until it becomes real for you. One way to do that is to read and consume self-help books and blogs. The habits you execute without commitment will gradually help you become the person who is ready for success. One by one you will internalize these habits and see exactly how they contribute to your success.

Eventually things will start to click and you will develop a true commitment to each habit. So keep reading. Keep listening. Start doing the things successful people do. The more you do these things the more you prepare yourself for success.

Nothing happens by itself.


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I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. One of the powerful effects of this disease is exhaustion. In fact, the most common way that people discover they have RA is that they wake up one day and they’re so tired that they can’t get out of bed. This gets worse and worse until it takes more than an hour to just get out of bed in the morning.

sleeping-eyes_450My disease is very well under control after sixteen years, but I have been through long spells of exhaustion. And I still have to be careful not to over-exert myself.

One of the beautiful side effects of social media is that you can appear to be everywhere at once, doing lots of things, and producing lots of “content” all the time. That’s what people tell me they see of me. In reality, I have periods when I work and periods when I rest, and I am rigorous about working when I work and resting when I rest.

From time to time, I have to take medicine that prevents me from drinking alcohol. Let me just say for the record, I like a beer now and then. Well, now and now again. I’m glad the surgeon general recommends that I have two or three drinks a day, and that other countries’ surgeons general recommend more than that.

But sometimes I have to just stop.

As we get older, we are supposed to learn that overdoing things is bad for us. That’s easier said than done for some people. And some lessons we need to keep learning year after year. In my case, there’s also a little mixture of fear. Eventually, with RA, I will have flare-ups (“flares”) that cause permanent damage to my joints. This just will happen. Even if I’m stable for five or ten years, eventually there will be flares and eventually they will cripple me.

So my goal is to avoid things that will cause flares or make them last longer. And so, I take the doctor’s advice. Whatever it is.

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn isn’t about alcohol or even what most people think of as self-care. It’s simply about rest. I try to rest up enough on the weekend so that I’m “fresh” on Monday morning. I try not to over-do it all week, but I have a little less energy every day. And so – with rare exceptions – I have stopped planning anything for Friday night.

Fridays I stay home. I don’t go out on dates. I might be talked into a dinner, but I don’t let it drag on. I go home so that I can collapse and go to sleep. As a result, I can do almost anything on Saturday. As you can imagine, Friday is a very popular night for doing things. So I quietly avoid all those things.

Sometimes people push, and they push very hard, for me to break this rule. “You can sleep in Saturday.” Or, “It’s just one night.” After all, I seem very healthy and I seem to be able to do what I want. So what’s one more night?

They don’t see the cane hanging in my closet, which I rarely use. They don’t see the medicine I inject in my leg. They don’t see the yoga and the meditation and the Karl who crashes hard night after night from simply leading life one day at a time.

I’m not ready to say I’m thankful for my RA, but it has taught me a great deal about discipline. I know for a fact that my body will deteriorate. I also know that I can slow the progress of that deterioration if I am committed to certain behaviors.

Friday IS just one night. And I CAN sleep on Saturday. And I can bend the rules and break the rules all I want. There’s no one to stop me. But I have to be committed to the long-range plan. The rest-of-my-life plan. The plan that keeps me upright and working and playing.

I’ve been doing Bikram Yoga for about sixteen years. I’m pitiful at it, really. I can’t do hardly anything at all. I go and I try. It’s painful. And frustrating. But I go and I try. Why? Because everything would be worse if I didn’t.

So I go and foolishly try to stand on one leg . . . even though it feels like I’m standing on 1 x 1 Legos. I bend and stretch and get frustrated that I can’t touch my toes without bending my knees. Sometimes my muscles just give out and I lie down and wait for the next posture.

But I go.

And I keep trying.

I’ve learned that pain and weakness are literally moment-to-moment things. I might not be able to get into a posture the first time. But sixty seconds later, I can do it fine (or at least “some”).

All of these lessons have helped me in my personal life and business life as well. I have to have rules and I have to stick to them, no matter what others want to tempt me to do. I have to stick to my formulas for success even on days when I can’t see the progress. And I have to realize that failure literally lasts sixty seconds and then you’re on to the next thing.

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Your brain can't stopSo many people tell me things like

– I can’t meditate

– I can’t turn off my brain

– I can’t stop worrying

– I can’t stop thinking

– etc.

Here’s the simple truth: Your brain – your human brain – was designed to do something no other animal on earth can do: Think!

Yes, some animals are clever and they do some rudimentary thinking, but it’s nothing like complicated human thinking. We can, and naturally do, think about things in a complicated way. Here’s what I mean.

When humans consider any topic, we tend to consider things from our past and speculate about our future. Then we consider a number of possible outcomes, and the effects of the past on each of those. And then we speculate possible futures of each. Very often, we also consider how this thing affects other possible outcomes for other totally-unrelated decisions we are considering.

It’s amazing how quickly our brain can go through that complicated process. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed because we can’t help trying to think all those thoughts at the same time.

So here’s the deal with meditating: It’s not your goal to stop thinking. It’s not you goal to have an “empty” mind. The goal is simply to slow down a bit, become aware of the thoughts and ideas, to relax and observe.

Think about it like this: Your brain is no different than anyone else. People who meditate have simply practiced sitting in one spot and slowing down a bit. They’ve practiced watching their thoughts without judgement. And you can too!

People who run marathons do not have a different kind of feet. They’re just people who got up one day and decided to jog around the block. Then two blocks, ten blocks, 10K, a half marathon, and a full marathon. I might say that I can’t run a marathon, or that I’ll never run a marathon. But the truth is that I could some day if I decided to start by jogging around the block.

Don’t set your goal to stop your brain from thinking or to meditate for an hour.

But set your goal to meditate for thirty seconds, and then a minute. Eventually You will meditate for three minutes, then five and ten.

Most people who meditate don’t meditate for long periods of time. But you’d be amazed how five minutes a day can change your life.

Stop. Unplug. Close your eyes. And watch what your brain does. It’s a great resource.


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One of the challenges of someone who’s new to meditation (or is getting back into it after being away for awhile) is Monkey Mind – the chatter of your brain switching to a contemplative mode. Monkey Mind is a little different for everyone, but basically consists of the flood of thoughts that come into your head when you are trying to be calm, quiet, and reflective.

One reason for Monkey Mind is simply lack of practice. If you’re not used to quieting your mind and calming your thoughts, then you have no excperience dealing with the chatter. For most people, there are three kinds of thoughts that float into your mind when you start to quiet yourself. First, your short-term to-do list will float into your mind. Second, your longer-term worries will wander in. And, third, all kinds of random stuff floating in your brain will break into your consciousness.

Robot meditatingSome of these thoughts truly need to be acknowledged. Your unconscious wants you take in the thought and acknowledge the need it represents. You don’t have to take action right now. But once your brain knows that you are aware of the thought, it will let you move on.

Here’s a strategy for getting started on the road to meditating with Monkey Mind. I call it the 1-2-3 method.
Set Your Timer for One Minute

First, simply set your timer for one minute. Get a pad of paper and a pencil and begin to meditate. Take three deep, cleansing breaths and begin to relax. Very soon, the thoughts will begin floating in. If they’re just random images of things, or pleasant memories, acknowledge them and set them aside. If they’re “to-do” items that you need to address, go ahead and open your eyes, write a note to yourself, and go back to meditating.

Take another deep breath and relax. If things come up that require a note, make a note. When the minute is up and your timer goes off, you’ve finished step one.
Set Your Timer for Two Minutes

Next, set your timer for two minute. Begin meditating again. This time you will notice fewer distractions. The reason is very simple: You have acknowledged the to-do list. If you’ve already made a note about the dry cleaning and the shopping, you don’t need to do that again. Your brain doesn’t need to push those thoughts forward.

Two minutes is a short time. It might not seem like it when you start, but it is. And when your brain knows that you can stop and write down a note, it relaxes a little more. Feel free to do this again. Restart as needed with a deep, cleansing breath.

Overall, you’ll find a lot less Monkey Mind.
Set Your Timer for Three Minutes

Finally, set your timer for three minutes. This time you will not stop. You will not interrupt your meditation. You will learn to work through the thoughts that wander into your brain.

This time, as thoughts arise, imagine yourself gently moving them to the side to clear the path before you. Try to clear your mind. Let it wander. You will have thoughts wandering in for a very long time. It takes great practice to truly clear your mind. But now the thoughts will not be the rushing, scurrying, chattering thoughts called Monkey Mind.

With this process, you formally give your brain an “out” to interrupt your meditation. But you also discipline it to get the important stuff out first and then relax. Eventually, you may adjust the timer to 1-2-5 or simply skip the two-minute stage altogether. There is no wrong way to meditate.
Try it and see what works for you.



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First, Second, Third Meditation

I’m a huge believer in “quiet time.” That is, sitting in a chair and taking in the universe without contributing my two cents.

It can be hard to get started with meditation, so let me recommend three easy “starter” meditation ideas. I call it Shut Up, Relax, and Pay Attention.

Digital Visualization Meditation1. Shut Up

This is the first step in any meditation. It consists of sitting quietly, closing your eyes, and simply quieting your mind. Do this for 30-60 seconds. With you eyes closed, notice the subtle sounds of your environment. The clock ticking. A bird outside. A distant car horn. Your heart.

Just listen. Take note of the sounds, but don’t focus on them. When thoughts enter your mind, gently pick them up and set them aside.

It’s quite amazing how three deep breaths can help you clear your mind (and lower your blood pressure).

2. Relax

A great beginning meditation is a relaxation exercise. I love audio meditations for this. You can buy CDs or download MP3s. There are hundreds of options out there. You’ll probably need to try a few before you find one that really works for you.

Relaxation exercises are great because you have a voice to focus on and a task to perform. Generally, you’re going to do a body scan from head to toe and relax your whole body. In longer exercises, you will then have a period of silence to just relax and feel your body relaxed. This might be three minutes, ten minutes, or even longer.

The best audio programs have relaxation exercises of various lengths. They are great for beginners – and you’ll come back to them from time to time even years after you start meditation.

3. Pay Attention

You’ve probably heard of “Mindfulness” meditation. It simply means to be aware – mindful – of what’s going on around you. Mindfulness can be as simple as the two exercises above or go very deeply into a complete awareness of your mind, your body, and your emotions.

We filter everything in our lives. Everything we see. Everything we hear. Everything we experience. Everything we touch.

Filtering our world is a kind of defense mechanism. You can’t focus on everything. You can’t take in all the sensory input or your brain would be overwhelmed. We don’t even pay attention to 1/1000th of what is in front of us. We can’t.

Mindfulness exercises are intended to help your brain to look at things just a little differently. For many people, the exercises consist in stepping out of yourself and trying to understand a different perspective about what’s going on.

Mindfulness exercises ask the question, “What’s actually going on here?” When you open your senses just a tiny bit, there’s a whole new world of experience. You’ll probably never achieve the ability to pay attention to 2/1000ths of what goes on in your world. But the journey from 1/1000 to 2/1000 is amazing.

Many people who meditate do mindfulness exercises every day for decades.

Adding even a little perspective to your world can be a very calming influence on your life.
Remember: You can’t meditate wrong. Relax. Enjoy. Keep at it.


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Meditation Part 3 – Picking the Right Pillow

I hope you looked at the last two posts and started meditating – at least one minute per day. If you try this consistently, it will be easy to get up to five or ten minutes per day. For many people, that’s all you need until you get to a deeper level of meditation.

This post takes a step back and talks about some of the practical elements of meditation. Taken as a whole, you can consider this your meditating environment.

MeditatingWhere Should You Meditate?

Ideally, you will have a regular place to meditate. This is nice because it helps you get into a meditating routine. As you begin settling in, your brain and body with start relaxing even before you sit down. You “muscle memory” for quiet time will kick in.

In the summer months, I have a wonderful spot on my back porch to meditate. It’s got a comfortable chair and a little table for my coffee. It’s not great in the winter, but during the summer it’s awesome.

The rest of the year, I have a specific chair I sit in to meditate. Again, it’s comfortable and everyone knows that that’s my quiet spot.

Your meditation spot should be a place where you can have privacy. You should be able to sit upright with your feet on the ground. Ideally, you want to ignore your body while meditating, so avoid uncomfortable positions that cause you to fidget.

When Should You Meditate?

This is obviously a personal choice. Many people prefer early morning meditation simply because quiet plus relaxing often equals sleep. If you are tired and try to meditate at night, you are very likely to fall asleep.

(As a side note, learning some relaxation exercises you can do while lying in bed is a GREAT way to fall asleep.)

I go to an evening meditation meetup sometimes. Because it’s early evening (6-ish) and doesn’t last too long, I don’t have trouble there. But if I try to do a relaxation meditation at 9:00 PM, there’s no way I can stay awake.

As with everything else regarding meditation, you need to figure out what’s best for you. Many people prefer morning because the day has not rushed upon them with a long string of demands. In fact, many people make a point of meditating before they turn on their phones, check their mail, and get sucked into the work of the day.

What Do You Need to Meditate?

Well, nothing. Some people meditate while sitting on a pillow. I have rheumatoid arthritis and that would not be very relaxing for me. Some meditate while sitting a chair. Some prefer a rocking chair or rocker glider.

Some meditations – like Yoga Nidra – are done while lying on the floor. If you try that, you will probably want to cover yourself with a light blanket. As you meditate, your metabolism will slow down and you might feel cold.

Other than that, you can do whatever makes you happy. You can light candles or incense. You can put up statues or pictures that you find relaxing or comforting. Whatever helps you to consciously slow down and “be in the moment” is good.



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Meditating: Get Started – Part 2

Last time I started with the most basic step: close your eyes and meditation for a minute or two.

That’s pretty easy, no matter how much “monkey mind” you have. Monkey mind is that crazy blur of thoughts that jump all over inside your head when you try to meditate. Today we’re going to talk about monkey mind – and how to deal with it.

14-1113tm-vector2-901You might be tempted to say that you want to learn how to ignore monkey mind. But that’s counter-productive. Working to ignore something really means that you are giving it a lot of your attention. You need to learn to calm your mind. You need to slow down the flood of thoughts. Then you can acknowledge the thoughts but choose not to address them at this time.

Try the basic exercise from Part 1: Sit quietly, close your eyes, and try to clear your mind – for about a minute or two.

Notice that something rushes into your mind as soon as you close your eyes? It might be a worry, a bill, a memory. Whatever it is, you can choose to focus on it or to acknowledge it and set it aside. Imagine that you are taking your hand and picking it up. You might even imagine that you’re removing it from your forehead and moving it to the side. Put it down.

Now another thought enters your mind. Take note, then pick it up and put it to the side.

This is a wonderful strategy when thoughts come to you one at a time. But with monkey mind, you have dozens or hundreds of thoughts rushing in on you. It can be hard to dismiss them all. You can’t even acknowledge them all. Your focus is taken to the overwhelming list of things that need your attention.

Trust me. Everyone who meditates has to go through this. It comes and goes, but it never goes away forever. Here are some tips for addressing monkey mind. Practice them to see what works for you.

1) Acknowledge your busy mind. That is, your first step is to watch all those thoughts go by. Again, don’t try to fix anything or spend time on these thoughts, but do take stock. What does your mind want to bring to your consciousness?

Think of it like this: You’ve wanted to meet a famous person all your life. Now you’ve suddenly been given five minutes with that person. You start blabbering like an idiot, talking a mile a minute, and telling them everything you’ve ever thought about them. Your mind is doing the same thing. You finally sit down to listen to it and it’s going crazy with all the things it wants you to hear.

Acknowledge the thoughts. Take stock. See what you’re mind’s up to. Once it relaxes and understands that you’re going to do this again, the flood of thoughts will slow down.

2) Find something else to focus on. This is a key piece of mindfulness meditation. Pick a thing to focus on instead of the monkey chatter. The easiest thing to focus on is your breath. After all, you’re going to be breathing during your entire meditation! You can focus on the air moving in and out of your nose. Or focus on the movement of you chest and stomach.

When you fill your mind with something to focus on, it is easier to see the wandering thoughts as something other than the object you’re focusing on. That, in turn, makes it easier for you to pick up the thoughts and place them to the side.

3) Be mindful of the speed of thoughts wandering into your mind. When you start, the flood of thoughts is overwhelming. But after a few minutes, the flood will naturally slow down. It’s like when a water dam opens. At first, there’s a rush of water. But it slows down after the initial rush.

Your thoughts will flood your mind at first. But as you pay attention, you’ll notice that there are individual thoughts. Eventually, you’ll notice that there are spaces between the thoughts. Eventually, you’ll notice that there are more spaces than there are thoughts. Focus on the space.

Someday, if you keep practicing meditation, you will see thoughts before they are formed. In other words, you’ll learn what it feels like to begin forming a thought. As a result, you’ll be able to simply hold it off so that it never forms. As you train your mind to recognize the thinking process, it will become easier and easier to keep the monkey from chattering.



For the next week, increase your meditation by one or two minutes per day. If you want to start at one minute, that’s fine. You’ll end the week meditating for eight minutes every day. If you start at five minutes, you might finish the week meditating fifteen minutes every day.

As strange as it sounds, don’t over-do it. Don’t set yourself a goal of meditating 30-60 minutes per day as a beginner. That will be discouraging.

One minute per day is all you need.

Do what feels right for you.

You can’t meditate wrong.



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Relaxed Girl At Peace Smelling A FlowerI have recently talked to several people who are trying to figure out how to get started with “quiet time” or meditation. So I thought I’d give you my recommendations. There are no hard, fast rules here, so relax and enjoy.

I plan to have several posts on this. So go slow and check back often. Your comments and questions are certainly welcome.

The first thing to keep in mind, if you are new to meditation, is that it’s a skill like anything else. If you haven’t done it before, you need to start somewhere. You need to learn how it feel to sit and do nothing. You need to learn how to listen and stop talking.

If you’re one of those people who always has the TV on, or the iPod, iPad, MP3 player, or some other device that requires you to have ear buds in your ears all the time, you will be particularly challenged.


Lesson one is: Be patient with yourself.

You may have heard people say “you can’t do it wrong.” That’s true if you are sincerely trying.

If you are really, truly trying meditation for the first time, I recommend you have get yourself a timer. It can be a kitchen timer or an app on your phone. Set it for one minute. I know that’s not much. But it will seem like forever if you haven’t experienced it before.

Simply sit quietly in a chair, relax, close your eyes, and wait for the minute to pass.

When the timer rings, be aware of your reaction to it. Do you say to yourself, “It’s about time!”? If you do, keep repeating the exercise every day for one minute.

When your reaction becomes “What? Already? I wonder if I set the timer wrong.” – then you are ready to set the timer for two minutes or even three.


Next time we’ll look inside your head and talk about some of those thoughts that come up in meditation.



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