Meditation is a very effective practice for developing self-control and focus. Indeed, Greene cites it as one of the primary sources of his creativity. By emptying your mind, you’ll be able to let go of things more easily, control your emotions better, and focus on important tasks.
The following exercise, taken from Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, is a simple method for meditating that requires controlling your breathing.
- Find a quiet spot. Sometimes early morning is best, before others in your house might be awake and making lots of noise. Others might find a spot in a park or on the beach or some other soothing setting. It really doesn’t matter where — as long as you can sit without being bothered for a few minutes.
- Sit comfortably. Don’t fuss too much about how you sit, what you wear, what you sit on, etc. I personally like to sit on a pillow on the floor, with my back leaning against a wall, because I’m very inflexible. Others who can sit cross-legged comfortably might do that instead. Still others can sit on a chair or couch if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable. Zen practitioners often use a zafu, a round cushion filled with kapok or buckwheat. Don’t go out and buy one if you don’t already have one. Any cushion or pillow will do, and some people can sit on a bare floor comfortably.
- Start with just a few minutes. This is really important. Most people will think they can meditate for 15-30 minutes, and they can. But this is not a test of how strong you are at staying in meditation — we are trying to form a longer-lasting habit. And to do that, we want to start with just a few minutes. Even 3-4 minutes is perfect. You’ll find it much easier to start this way, and forming a habit with a small start like this is a method much more likely to succeed. You can expand to 7-10 minutes if you can do it for 7 straight days, then 15 minutes if you can do it for 14 straight days, then 20-25 minutes if you can stick to it for 21 straight days, and 30 if you can do a full month.
- Focus on your breath. As you breathe in, follow your breath in through your nostrils, then into your throat, then into your lungs and belly. Sit straight, keep your eyes open but looking at the ground and with a soft focus. If you want to close your eyes, that’s fine. As you breathe out, follow your breath out back into the world. If it helps, count … one breath in, two breath out, three breath in, four breath out … when you get to 10, start over. If you lose track, start over. If you find your mind wandering (and you will), just pay attention to your mind wandering, then bring it gently back to your breath. Repeat this process for the few minutes you meditate. You won’t be very good at it at first, most likely, but you’ll get better with practice.