Today I’m going to show you how to change your thoughts with meditation.
I’ll be discussing my experience with one of my meditation students. Jessica.
Jessica’s story teaches us so much about the mind, meditation, and changing thoughts.
Incidentally, Jessica specifically said that she was happy for me to share her story in the hope that it helps others. Thanks so much, Jessica.
How I Changed The Thoughts Of My Meditation Student, Jessica
Jessica had come to me for private meditation session via my blog. Her first of many.
In my sessions I sometimes simply teach meditation. I sometimes lead people through a meditation technique of their choosing. And I sometimes help them overcome very specific issues.
Jessica’s case was the latter.
We started our session in the usual way. I asked her about her experience with meditation. She told me she’d been meditating with apps, that she mostly did breathing meditation, which helped her to relax. But ultimately she felt disappointed by apps and wanted more.
I explained to Sarah that I understood how she was feeling and shared some research showing that apps do not work.
This is probably the biggest misunderstanding about meditation. Meditating on an app is never going to work. Partly because, by the very nature of being an app on your phone, apps are distracting (after all, there’s nothing more distracting than a cellphone).
I also said to Sarah that if breathing meditation wasn’t working that I could show her many other forms of meditation that might be more suitable for her.
Again, this is a common misconception. Many people believe that meditation is always focused on the breath. In fact, there are very many different types of meditation.
And then I asked the big question. “If you could choose anything in the world, what one thing would you like to get out of our meditation session?”
You see, you can pretty much accomplish anything with meditation. Because meditation gives you a way to edit your mind, to change your thought, emotions, memories, and beliefs. And given that our perception of reality is created by thoughts, emotions, memories, and beliefs, as Psychology Today states… well, then meditation is kind of a big deal, wouldn’t you say?
“There’s this one thing,” Jessica said. “I want everyone to stop judging me”.
This was the hammer hitting the nail on the head. By chatting, I had managed to get Jessica to share her biggest cognitive distortion: The idea that everyone was judging her.
Anytime you experience a thought that includes “everybody”, “always” or other words of absoluteness, you can be confident that it is a cognitive distortion. And you should change it.
Cognitive distortion are habitual ways of thinking that are usually negative, always inaccurate, and always harmful. And if you can find one of these guys and change it it will utterly change your perception of reality.
Indeed, one of the absolute best things you can do with meditation is to find cognitive distortions and change them (I’ll show you how in a moment). This is something I specialise in in my online meditation sessions.
Finding cognitive distortions so you know which thoughts to change
The problem with cognitive distortions (and thoughts in general) is that we believe them. And indeed, Jessica truly did believe that everyone was judging her.
I was getting close to nailing down the exact meditation I would do with Jessica. I just needed a few more details. And so I asked my very favorite question in the world.
“How do you know?” I said.
This question is huge. Honestly. It’s massive. Because to answer this question your mind has to retrieve the evidence of its own erroneous conviction.
“I feel people’s eyes glaring at me all the time'” Jessica said.
So now we had some vital information. I knew that Jessica a) felt judged all the time, b) had memories of people glaring at her, and c) was very sensitive to other people’s eyes.
I explained to Jessica that people didn’t judge her all the time, that she was suffering from a cognitive distortion, and that I would like to change it with a specific meditation technique.
I’ll show you the technique and explain precisely how and why it worked. And you will learn one very powerful way to change your thoughts.
Jessica’s Meditation And How It Changed Her Thoughts
The goal for Jessica’s meditation was to change her cognitive distortion. She felt like everyone was judging her. We needed to change that.
You might like to know the following things about cognitive distortion so you too can change your thoughts:
- Your mind will always default to the cognitive distortion unless you change it.
- When you show your mind that your cognitive distortion is wrong, it will change quite quickly
- Changing your thoughts in this way can have a profound effect on your life
- The trick to changing a cognitive distortion is to show your mind all the evidence that is in opposition to your distortion (for Jessica this meant showing her all the times people didn’t judge her but instead accepted her).
The meditation I created for Jessica was based on compassion and acceptance. For the technical meditators among us, it was a modified combination of Metta and Karuna.
Part of the process of changing thoughts with meditation is knowing which meditation to use. I used compassion meditations for Jessica because they were in opposition to her problematic thought that people were judging her.
One special modification is that I asked Jessica to use Lotus Mudra. Mudras are hand positions that use accupressure points in the hands to stimulate certain mental states. Lotus mudra is used to open the heart and make us more receptive to love and kindness.
I had Jessica practice Anapanasati (mindful breathing) for five minutes. This was essential to promote her parasympathetic nervous system and balance cortisol and noradrenaline. Ultimately this meant that she was calm and focused enough to start to challenge her cognitive distortion and change her thoughts.
Here we get to another common mistake people make with meditation. They believe that the entire point in meditation is to enter this state of relaxation. This is only half the purpose of meditation. Once we have reached that state of calm, we should use meditation to improve our thoughts.
Next I asked Jessica to bring one person to mind whom she was very close to, someone who would only ever show her love and acceptance. Naturally, as this was a meditation session, she didn’t speak and so I don’t know who she thought of.
I asked Jessica to visualize this person smiling at her, showing her love and acceptance, and saying “I love and accept you”. Then I asked her to see this person’s eyes gently looking at her with love and acceptance. The repetition of “love” and “acceptance” was deliberate because those two qualities, love and acceptance, are the exact opposite of her cognitive distortion (that everyone is judging her). And the soft eyes were also essential because when Jessica thought of people judging her she always saw them glaring at her.
This was the heart of Jessica’s meditation. I then had her repeat the above, firstly with people she was close to, then people she felt neutrally about, and then people she felt disliked her. The latter is essential because it trains the mind to see that even in “enemies” there is usually a degree of both like and dislike, rather than total dislike. Indeed, this is why traditional methods like Metta and Karuna include visualisations of compassion for people we do not get along with
Results: After continued practice, Jessica’s thoughts changed
I asked Jessica to practise her meditation every day for twenty minutes, and to come back for another meditation session in two weeks.
When she returned, I asked Jessica how it had gone. She told me that she was suddenly very aware of her cognitive bias and that she was aware that most people were in fact not judging her at all. She was also far more aware of people showing her love and acceptance. Because of this, she felt significantly more confident in social situations.
We continue meditating together to this day. As is the nature of the mind, there is always work to be done. That’s why I ask my students at every session what type of thoughts theyv’e been experiencing recently, so we can continually strengthen their minds.
- We all have cognitive distortions
- Cognitive distortions have a significant effect on our perception of reality
- The key is to become aware or our cognitive biases
- Once we are aware of cognitive biases we can change them by bringing to mind all the evidence that is in opposition to our bias
- This is best done in a private meditation session with a professional coach