How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
What is Meditation?
How to Meditate: Meditation 101 for Beginners
10 Science-Backed Benefits of Meditation
What is Meditation?
Benefits of Mindfulness: Mindful Living Can Change Your Life
Mindfulness 101: A Beginner's Guide
Dan shares how he ‘tamed the voice in his head’ and how you can too.
I'm your host Melli O'Brien.
And with me today, I'm really delighted
to introduce you to Dan Harris.
Dan is a news reporter and he's
also the co-anchor for Nightline,
and Good Morning America.
And the reason that we're talking to him
here today is because he's written this
book called 10% Happier: How I Tamed the
Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without
Losing My Edge and Found A Self-Help
That Actually Works, A True Story.
Now this book is really the story
of how Dan went from being really,
really skeptical about meditation
to being not only a meditator, but a
very public advocate of meditation.
So Dan, thanks so much for
spending this time with us.
Thanks for having me.
So as we just mentioned, you were
really quite skeptical about meditation.
And so I'm curious to know your story
of how somebody who was so skeptical
really even ended up opening your
mind to giving meditation a try.
Could you tell us the story about that?
Well, there's a bit of a
backstory I'll try to tell it in
as concise manner as possible.
I had a panic attack on national
television 11 years ago.
And after the panic attack,
I went to a doctor to try to
get to the root of the problem.
And he asked me a bunch of questions
and one of them was, do you do drugs?
And my answer was somewhat
sheepishly was yes.
I had spent a bunch of time in war
zones as a young year reporter.
And I had gotten depressed and I started
self-medicating with recreational
drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy.
And the doctor explained that even though
my drug use was reasonably intermittent,
it was enough to artificially raise
the level of adrenaline in my brain
and prime me to have a panic attack.
So that was, that was step number one.
I really realized at that point I
needed to kind of get my act together.
So I quit doing drugs and
started seeing a shrink.
But then there was something else that
happened, which was, I was assigned
to cover faith and spirituality
for the broadcast network that I
worked for, which is ABC News, not
to be confused with your ABC news.
American Broadcasting Company.
And I was a lifelong atheist and I
still am really, but through covering
faith and spirituality, I ended up
stumbling upon an Eckhart Tolle book.
I'm sure your viewers
will know who that is.
I had no idea who he was, but he
was the first person I ever heard
talk about the voice in the head
or the ego which was a real, which
was a real wake up call for me.
So I went and interviewed him, found him
to be very, very frustrating, fascinating
and frustrating in equal measure.
I didn't, he didn't seem to have
any sort of actionable advice for
dealing with the voice in the head.
And so then I kind of thrashed around for
a little bit and some, and then I, and
I heard about Buddhism and meditation.
And I always thought meditation was
really just for hippies and freaks and
weirdos and people who are like live
in a yurt and are really into whatever.
But I then heard about all of the
science that shows it can, you
know, boost your blood pressure
and excuse me, reduce your blood
pressure and boost your immune system.
And on some, some days it
boosts my blood pressure.
And, you know, rewire key parts of your
brain and all that stuff, I don't want to
over-hype the science, but it certainly
strongly suggests, it's compelling.
So, so I just started.
I started doing it.
And this was about six years ago.
So well, after my panic
attacks, I started doing it.
And I'm, and I've just found it
to be really beneficial and I
feel like at least in my country,
it has a big PR problem still.
And so I thought that if I talked
about it from my vantage point as
a Type A, ambitious, a person who
swears a lot that maybe some people
who otherwise would reflexively
reject it might get interested in it.
And you talk about, you know, when
you encountered Eckhart and kind of
came maybe for the first time into
this noticing of the voice in the head
now, This reminds me in your book,
you, you were actually thinking of an
alternative title for the book, right?
Which was The Voice In
My Head Is An Asshole.
Now this, first of all,
that's a catchy title.
Second of all, it speaks to
something about our human experience
that I think is worth noting.
And so I was interested in whether
you could explain what your experience
was like of, what's it like to have
a voice in the head that's an asshole?
What kinds of things does it say or
how was that affecting your life?
Well, I think everybody, the voice
in everybody's head is an asshole.
And when the Buddha, the Buddha's
first utterance, you know, in
his four noble truth was life is
suffering, which is a mistranslation.
Suffering doesn't really mean
suffering as we consider it in English.
It basically means that
life is unsatisfying.
It's just another way of saying the
voice in your head is an asshole
because nothing is good enough, we're
always, you know, no, no amount of
pleasure we get ever truly satisfies us.
We're always thinking about the net, the
18th cookie or the next job promotion.
We're always ruminating about the past or
fixating on the future to the detriment
of whatever's happening right now.
And that suffering and that's the
voice in your head being an asshole.
I think mine was particularly bad
because it was actually the voice, as
one of my friends that joked, the voice
in my actual mouth was an asshole too.
So, I mean, I was a really ambitious
young, oftentimes arrogant and brash guy.
And I, you know, I like to joke that my
wife thinks that I should retitle the book
90%, Still A Moron, because you know,
I, I, it's not solved all of my problems.
And that's part of the PR problem
around meditation is that, you know,
it's sometimes, it's sold as this
panacea, you know, quick enlightenment.
It is not that at all, which is
why I named my book 10% Happier.
I think it's, it can make you
incrementally calmer, more focused and
less yanked around by your emotions.
And that's a huge value add, but
it's not, it's not a silver bullet.
And so, you know, in the title of
your book, there's two things that
I, that I'd love to ask you about.
So the first one is, you know, seeing
that you've, you've tamed the voice
in your head to some degree, and so
how is the relationship with that
asshole voice in the head changed?
Is it the way you relate to it
that's different or is it the
actual content that's different?
How has that changed over time?
So the, the title may be a case of
overstatement because it depends how
you interpret the, the, the term tamed.
I, it's not like I took a lion and
made it into a domestic short hair.
So it's not thoroughly tamed.
I think it is by degrees tamed.
And I think what's interesting is
that the first thing that happens
in meditation practice, at least in
my experience, is that not that the
voice says different stuff, just that
your relationship to it is different.
You have a lens, an internal lens, some
sort of ability to see the contents of
your own consciousness so that you aren't
blindly yanked around by the voice.
The second thing that seems to happen,
at least from people I've talked to
and in my own experience is, is over
time, once you clear up a little
bit of space, it does make room for
different thoughts and ideas to emerge.
And so I think it's a two-fold process,
but the first part is the big one,
which is, you can't expect that when
when you start meditating, you're
no longer going to be self-critical,
you're not, you're no longer going
to be judgmental of your neighbor.
What you may be better at is noticing
when anger arises, and then not
saying the thing that ruins the next
48 hours of your marriage, or not
checking your email in the middle
of a conversation with your kids.
That, that is the, I think the
initial benefit and really a huge game
changing skill available to everyone.
And actually, you know, I think in
your book, I feel like you illustrate
that so well, the, the facts that
you would sometimes have a judgmental
thought about somebody and kind of,
you know, box them into one frame.
And then in your book, you really
illustrate quite well the process of
noticing that thought and then questioning
it and saying, well, hang on a second.
Maybe that's just a judgment and
not the actuality of the situation.
So I think that's really, yeah,
really an empowering thing as well.
I mean, I think I'm like the anti
blink, you know, that Malcolm
Gladwell book about the, this, the
sort of wisdom of the subconscious.
My first impression is
usually so, totally wrong.
My subconscious is not wise at all.
So in the process of the book, in
the book, it's basically me, you
know, misjudging people and then
realizing that they were right
all along and I was the idiot.
And then that process, well, maybe not.
I can tell you that
process has not stopped.
I mean, it continues to
happen to me all the time.
I think I'm a little bit better at not
taking so seriously the initial judgment.
So the, the other thing in your book
title that I really wanted to ask you
as well is the part about reducing
your stress without losing your edge.
Now, most of my friends are entrepreneurs,
CEOs, definitely A types and I know
that this is a concern that comes
up for so many of those people.
They, I think, have a concern that
if they start to meditate, that
they're going to calm down too much.
And perhaps there's even a, a subconscious
belief that maybe the stress, the
anxiety, the competitiveness and the
drivenness that's what makes them great.
And so they're afraid if they
stop, you know, that whole area of
their life they're going to fail.
So what would you say to someone,
Dan, if they were sitting across from
you and they said, look, Dan, I'm
not going to do meditation because
I'm, I don't want to lose my edge.
A couple of things to say that first
of all, I understand the concern.
It was exactly the concern I had.
I think when people assume that if
they get happier or calmer, that
they're going to be ineffective.
They're actually mistaken.
They're confusing happiness
with complacency and
they're not the same thing.
It doesn't, I think people think
that they're, when they picture
themselves happy, they're reclined
with 17 women waving palm fronds
at them and feeding them grapes.
That's not the deal.
Happiness is, I mean, first of all,
what's interesting about the English
language is that we, we have our
conflicted feelings about the concept
of happiness are reflected in the
etymological roots of the term.
Happ, HAPP is the same root of
the word haphazard or hapless.
It means luck or haphazard.
It, in that reflects our
view that somehow happiness is
dependent upon exogenous factors.
In fact, this, the, what, what is
so radical and empowering about the
science around meditation is it shows
that happiness is actually a skill
that you can develop in just the way
you can develop your bicep in the gym.
As to on the job effectiveness, you know,
I, I talk about this in the book, but
I, I was raised by a very ambitious dad.
He's still ambitious in the seventies,
who had an expression, which is the
price of security is insecurity.
You know, the more you worry,
the better you're going to do.
And I embraced that with gusto.
And to be honest, I
still think that's true.
However, we tend to make our
suffering worse than it needs to be.
Yes, it is true that if you're going
to be great at anything, there's,
there's a certain amount of worrying
and plotting and planning and stress,
I think, inherent in the endeavor.
But, but we tend to go down the rat
hole of useless rumination and I
think that with mindfulness, the great
gift of mindfulness to an ambitious
person is that it can help you draw
the line between useless rumination
and what I call constructive anguish.
And so maybe on the 17th time, you're
wondering about how well you, you, that
a spreadsheet came out or whether you're
going to miss your flight or whether
somebody else is going to get the job
you want, maybe on the 17th time that
you're worrying about that you can,
you can ask yourself, is this useful.
And I've found that that makes you less
miserable, easier to live with, easier
to work with and work for, and less
caught up in blind reactivity and hatred
so that you're making better decisions.
And don't just take my word for it.
There's a reason why meditation is
now being practiced in the executive
suites at Twitter, Google, Aetna,
Proctor and Gamble, General Mills,
the people who make Hamburger Helper.
And it's now being done by professional
athletes, Novak Djokovic, who won the
Wimbledon recently, is an avid meditator.
Entertainers, lawyers, scientists, very
ambitious people in our culture are doing
this, because again, it goes right to some
core attributes needed for leadership and
achievement, which are focus and emotional
reactivity or emotional intelligence.
And anyway, so that's my take.
And so how long have you
been meditating now for, Dan?
So the book was written, is
it five, is it five years that
you've been meditating now?
And you've also done some
retreat time in that time.
So you've had your regular practice
and you've done some retreat time.
So I'm, I'm curious to know,
you know, what kinds of benefits
have have unfolded in that time?
What kind of insights and realizations
and, and, you know, as time has gone on,
you know, is it a continuing journey?
Is it, has it crescendoed?
What's the journey like these days?
So if anything, I'm more into the
practice itself than I've ever been now.
One of the things that I was looking
forward to after finishing the book
was to doing more practice and doing
less writing about the practice.
And so that didn't happen as quickly as I
wanted, because to my great satisfaction,
the book did reasonably well.
And so then I had a lot of invitations
to go talk about it and stuff,
which was great, but obviously
not really conducive to practice.
So now that things are slowing
down, I've definitely increased
dramatically my daily sitting time.
After a couple of years of not being
able to go on retreat, I'm going
on a 10 day retreat in the Fall.
You know, I have a teacher who I studied
with, Joseph Goldstein, is very well
well-known speaker who offered to
be my teacher and I read a lot and I
take a, I take a class, I, excuse me,
I listen to a lot of Dharma talks.
I read very frequently.
And I also have been taking a class
through a great place called the Buddhist,
the Barre center for Buddhist Studies.
They're in Massachusetts, which is in
the United States and they offer an
online class, which I signed up for.
They just started doing this and
it's about early Buddhism and
what the texts do and do not mean.
And, and so for me, going beyond 10%
Happier and getting into sort of, what
I would refer to as the deep end of
the pool has become really a primary
preoccupation for me in recent months.
And it's, I think endlessly fascinating.
It may be where I lose my audience,
but it is what is happening.
And so the, the sort of just, you know,
the benefits in your work-life, in
your relationships, in any other sort
of concrete, are you more productive?
Do you, is it affecting
What's, what are those
kinds of things like?
It definitely has
affected my relationships.
The most important being
the one with my wife.
We had a good relationship to start with,
and she was in fact the one who, although
she doesn't meditate interestingly, but
she was the one who, after, during my
post Eckhart Tolle confusion, she was
the one who did this key thing of giving
me a book by a Buddhist author named Dr.
And that is what turned
me on to meditation.
And so I think with practice, I'm
definitely much less of a, the
voice in my mouth is much less
of an asshole than it used to be.
Although again, I retain the
capacity to be a schmuck, but I,
I feel like it's less frequent.
So our relationship
definitely benefits from that.
We had a kid eight months ago and, and,
and I do think that having the daily
training of trying to focus on one
thing, getting lost and starting again,
which is basically one description of
meditation, has really helped me just
pay attention when I'm with, the times
when I'm with my child, as opposed to
thinking about what am I going to do
next or what's, what's that email I
didn't answer, et cetera, et cetera.
No, I still do some of that.
I think I'm just better at
it than I would otherwise be.
And I, so I would say right now
the biggest benefit and the most
important benefit is my external
relationship in many ways.
It, it's certainly not perfect.
I have definitely once in a while,
will fire up in ill-advised email
or say something I wish I hadn't
said, but I think my, my, the amount
of time I spend angry is, is vastly
reduced and my apology time quicker.
Is there anything else
that you'd like to, to add?
Anything else you'd like
to share before we close?
So what would I say in
closing, it's worth it.
Stick with it.
The one thing that's really, one of
many things that's really helped me
is, is making sure I do it daily.
And I often employ something called, that
I just called the accordion principle.
which is, even on a really bad
day, I still do something even
if it's two to five minutes.
And I find, I, I, I see people who get
really excited about practice, they
say they're going to do 30 minutes or
60 minutes a day, and then they get
on a bad stretch and then they fall
off the wagon and they're discouraged.
And that's it.
So I just, for me, one of the things
that maybe will help be helpful to
other people is just do something every
day, because it really is in my view,
the daily collusion with the asshole
in your head that helps you fend off
its shitty suggestions, you know?
And so that's, that's, that's
what I, I guess one practical
piece of advice I'd close on and,
and, and yeah, keep it going.
I think it's worth it.
I, I, I don't know anybody who, who has
started a meditation practice, stuck with
it and feels like it's a waste of time.
And I just have one more closing
question that I've been asking everyone
who's taken part in this summit.
And that is, you know, they say that
mindfulness has gone mainstream.
I really think, you know, what's
happened is it's, it's entering
mainstream culture as an idea.
It's certainly being de-stigmatized
thanks to a lot of people like yourself.
If mindfulness would have truly hit
critical mass, I'm talking like,
you know, maybe 50% of the world's
population was practicing, how do
you think that would change things?
I think it would be amazing.
You think, I think it has the
potential to, to have a genuine
impact on the way society functions.
So if you think about public health
revolutions of the past - oral
hygiene, physical exercise, those
both were major public health
revolutions of the 20th century.
They had lots of great
benefits - fewer cavities,
increased cardiovascular fitness.
This is something that speaks,
however, to not only to the
physical health but behavior.
And so if mindfulness were to take
off in a, in a big way, imagine the
impact on bullying, on road rage, on
parenting, on workplace discrimination,
on discrimination at all in the
world, on politics on journalism.
I, I think that it would, on business,
on the climate, on all of these problems
where, and many of these problems,
especially the climate, where it's a sort
of a tragedy of the common issue where
nobody really has the incentive to, to, to
make a change unless everybody else does.
I think that mindfulness has the
potential to have a real benefit.
I, I, I hate the idea of being
super naive or over hyping it.
But I've run this scenario through
in my head so many times and just
extrapolating from my own experience.
I think even if it wasn't 50%, even if
it was whatever the percentage of people
who like belong to a gym now, you know,
maybe that's 20 to 30%, that's a lot of
people having a real effect in the world.
And it makes me very optimistic in a, in
a world in which I get a front row seat
at many trends that make me pessimistic.
This is a good news story.
Well, Dan, thank you so much for
sharing your time with us here today.
And I have to say I absolutely
loved reading your book.
It is so well-written and I
highly recommend all of you who
are tuning in to check it out.
It's a really great read.
So all the best to you,
Dan, and see you next time.
Thank you very much.
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