9 Tips on Starting a Meditation Practice From '10% Happier' Host Dan Harris
Seven years ago, ABC News correspondent Dan Harris began meditating for five to 10 minutes a day. Unbeknownst to him, the practice would alter the course of his career: His meditation-themed memoir, 10% Happier, was published in 2014, followed by a 10% Happier app, which offers easy-to-use meditation tools.
In March, Harris launched a 10% Happier podcast with ABC News. Episodes feature interviews with meditation teachers and experts—he chats with Dalai Lama in the first ep—as well as celebrities who meditate regularly, like Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo and RuPaul.
“When I wrote 10% Happier, I didn’t think anybody was going to read it or care at all, and the fact that that hasn’t been the case has been one of the most pleasant surprises of my entire life,” Harris says.
Outside of his day job at ABC News, Harris is also working on a second book. He says he started the podcast partly because he thought it “would be a good way to kind of do my reporting in public,” adding, “I realized it would be a good way also to support my broader mission, which is just to normalize meditation in our culture.”
Below, Harris offers a few tips for anyone who has considered adopting a daily meditation practice. Though culled from his years of experience, he adds that his studies of the subject are far from over. “I don’t present myself as an expert or a teacher,” he says. “I’m just a pretty regular schmo who has figured out how to make this work for me.”
1. START SMALL.
“Some people jump into this and really try to do 30 or 40 minutes a day,” Harris says. “I see some percentage of those people fall off the wagon, because their life is not ready to handle that yet.” While Harris began meditating just a few minutes at a time, today he does it for two hours each day. “I was interviewing a neuroscientist the other day who said that some of her research suggested the optimal dosage is 12 minutes a day,” he adds. “[Pick] some small amount that is very doable.”
2. FIT IT INTO YOUR LIFE.
If you have a fairly regular schedule, Harris suggests picking the same time each day to meditate. However, if you try too hard to schedule it, you may lose the benefits. “If you’re not a morning person, don’t do it in the morning,” he says. “Don’t try to cut against the grain too much. Do it at a time that you think is gonna be sustainable.”
3. MEDITATE ON THE GO.
Since Harris has a hectic schedule, he meditates in short increments whenever—and wherever—he can. “You don’t need to have an absolutely noise-free environment,” he says. “I [meditate] in the backseat of taxicabs, on planes, in my hotel room, in my office, in my bedroom, in chapels at airports, wherever I can. And if I get to the end of the day and I still have only done 45 minutes or an hour, I just fill it in right before bed.”
4. STRIVE TO MEDITATE DAILY.
A little meditation is better than none at all—even if it’s just for a few seconds. “I employ what I call ‘the accordion principle,’” Harris says. “If you set a goal—like, ‘I’m gonna do this five to 10 minutes a day’—there are some days when it may seem like too much. On those days, I would just do one minute.” He adds, “Always do something, because if you don’t, then the voice in your head will tell you you’re a failed meditator. Even if it’s just 30 seconds, then you have your foot in the game. And that can lead to an abiding habit.”
5. USE BOOKS, APPS, AND OTHER RESOURCES
If you prefer books, Harris recommends Sharon Salzburg’s Real Happiness, “a super non-sectarian, user-friendly guide.” Apps like Headspace, Calm, and (obviously) Harris’s own 10% Happier also offer help for beginners. Harris adds, “If you live in a major city, you’ll have meditation centers, and going to one of those makes a lot of sense, too.”
6. TRY GUIDED MEDITATIONS.
While Harris mainly meditates by sitting quietly, he also sees value in guided meditations led by others (and has even featured them on his podcast). “Having someone in your ear can wake you up when you’ve wandered off into discursive thinking,” he says.
7. LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
While meditation has long-term benefits, don’t assume five minutes of mindfulness will instantly boost your mood. “One of the mistakes that I think people often get into is they think they’ve failed if they’re not feeling calm while they’re meditating,” Harris says. “I think meditation is not a bubble bath. The point is not to feel a certain way, but to feel whatever you’re feeling clearly.”
8. IF YOU STOP, JUST START AGAIN.
Did you meditate every day for two weeks and then stop for two years? No worries. “A lot of people fall off,” Harris says. “It’s really not a big deal, and nothing has been lost. If you get back into it, it’s not like you will have lost whatever gains you had made while doing it.”
9. BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT.
As cheesy as this last tip may sound, Harris emphasizes that everyone is capable of meditating, whatever his or her age, personality, or anything else. “There are a lot of people who are interested in meditation but think they can’t do it,” he says. “I call this the ‘fallacy of uniqueness’: People think that their minds are uniquely busy, but that’s just not true.”
He adds, “The point is not to clear the mind; that is impossible unless you’re enlightened or you’re dead. You’re not trying to reach some special state. It’s just this repeated bicep curl for your brain of trying to focus, getting lost, and starting over. When people understand that, they realize that anybody can meditate—even you.”
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