Dan Harris (@danbharris) is a co-anchor of Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America on ABC News. He’s the author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story, about a fidgety, skeptical newsman who reluctantly became a meditator.
The Cheat Sheet:
- If you’re like most people, your deceptive inner voice acts as a malevolent puppeteer — and it doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
- When trying to come to terms with this malevolent puppeteer, meditation is more effective (and much easier) than you probably think.
- Contrary to popular misconception, meditation is more than just thinking about nothing (that’s reserved for Zen masters and dead people).
- Even those of us with short attention spans (like Dan Harris) can learn to focus for the nanoseconds it takes to meditate and use it to come to terms with our malevolent puppeteer.
- The mindfulness found through meditation is a way to view the contents of our mind with nonjudgmental remove — there are verifiable, scientific results, and there’s nothing woo about it.
- And so much more…
Most of us are so entranced by the nonstop conversation we’re having with ourselves that we aren’t even aware we have a voice in our head. But if we don’t pay close attention — which very few of us are taught how to do — it can be a malevolent puppeteer.
On our landmark 500th episode of The Art of Charm, Dan Harris of ABC News and author of 10% Happier takes us through addressing and dealing with that voice, war (in the newsroom and abroad), the high stress of working on an A-list show with some of the biggest names in the history of journalism, depression, drug addiction, and a surprising redemption through meditation by a non-believer.
More About This Show
Almost all of us grapple with a constant, internal conversation with ourselves and all of its negative feedback to the point where it acts as — in the words of ABC News’ Dan Harris — a malevolent puppeteer. “Yet most of us live our entire lives oblivious to this fact and are therefore completely intoxicated with and enchanted by our nonstop internal yammering,” says Dan. “Once you realize this really fundamental fact that you have these thoughts, but they’re not necessarily connected to reality and most of them are negative and self-referential, then you don’t have to get yanked around by them. And it’s hugely empowering.”
If you think you’ve got a malevolent puppeteer with a mean streak, try reporting from a war zone as a greenhorn journalist shortly after 9/11 with Peter Jennings as your boss for an A-list show in a newsroom climate where you’re pitted against not only rival networks, but ambitious colleagues who might take any opportunity to make Machiavellian power plays at your expense at any time. It’s enough to make anyone crack and have a panic attack on live television in front of millions of viewers — just ask Dan Harris.
In Dan’s recent book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story, he tells us how, in spite of initial trepidation, meditation has helped him regain control of himself from the malevolent puppeteer where other methods — namely recreational drugs — failed.
Many people wrongly believe that meditation is simply thinking about nothing. While this may be true for an enlightened Zen master, it’s nearly impossible for a beginner. If you’ve ever given it a try and then immediately given up because you thought you were doing it wrong, Dan would urge you to try again with this advice: “you don’t have to clear your mind,” says Dan. “you just have to focus your mind for nanoseconds at a time on your breath — going in, going out — and then you’re going to get lost a million times, and that’s cool. The whole game is just to notice that you’ve become distracted and just start over.”
Think of the momentary distractions as reps for your brain. They serve to remind you to keep starting over. There’s not some magical, “woo” state you’re supposed to achieve with this kind of meditation, and anybody can do it — even those of us with short attention spans (like Dan). And there’s science to back this up.
“If you think about it like a bicep curl for your brain — every time you get lost, you start again — the results of those bicep curls show up on brain scans,” says Dan. “We see that when you do this exercise, your brain changes. That could be a little misleading, because your brain changes all the time, but your brain changes in a very specific and salubrious ways when you do this exercise — at least that’s the early indication from the research we’re seeing on people who meditate.”
Three Steps to Mindful Meditation
Want to give meditation a try for yourself? Here are Dan’s three easy steps you can use when you’ve got just five minutes of quiet time to spare.
- Sit with your back straight. “People often close their eyes, but you don’t have to,” says Dan.
- Bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out. “Pick one spot where it’s most prominent — either your belly or your chest or your nose. You’re not thinking about your breath. You’re just doing this thing of feeling it. Just…what does it feel like when your breath comes in and goes out?”
- Every time you get distracted (“and you’re going to get distracted a million times,” says Dan), just take notice of it and start over, focusing on your breath. “In that moment of recognizing it, you kind of objectify it. You see that these are just passing phenomena in the mind. That you don’t necessarily need to get carried away by it. And why is that useful? Because then when you’re off the cushion [not meditating]…you might notice, ‘Oh, that’s just a desire that’s passing through my mind. I don’t need to take the bait and act on it.’ And that is what makes you 10% happier.”
Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn more about why we have a malevolent puppeteer in the first place, how happiness and compassion are skills that we can self-generate, why Dan thinks a lot of reckless hope is being marketed rather than genuine self-help in an $11 billion industry (and how he aims to counterbalance it), how meditation trumps positive thinking, hear Dan’s stories about being a workaholic in a high-pressure newsroom (and numerous war zones) under Peter Jennings, find out how it’s possible to be depressed without knowing it, what valuable lessons spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra imparted to an atheist like Dan, and lots more.
THANKS, DAN HARRIS!
Resources from this episode:
- 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story by Dan Harris
- 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics app (iOS or Web)
- 10% Happier podcast with Dan Harris
- Dan Harris at Instagram
- Dan Harris at Twitter
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