ABC News Anchor Dan Harris hasn’t been shy about how mindfulness changed his life. And he’s been on a mission to introduce meditation to the masses in a way that even skeptics can appreciate. His app, 10% Happier, just released a new round of courses from renowned meditation teachers, like Joseph Goldstein, and everyone who signs up also gets access to a meditation coach. In the next few weeks, he’ll go live with a new course called 10% Nicer, featuring Sharon Salzberg. It’ll focus on “loving kindness” meditation, which Dan admits he always thought sounded “hopelessly syrupy” until Sharon changed his mind. Mindful sat down with Dan to find out what else he’s been up to.
Heather Hurlock: First, we need to know, do you use your own app?
Dan Harris: I don’t use the app every day—but that’s not because I don’t think it’s awesome. It’s mostly because I don’t want to have to watch all that video of myself.
Heather: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given about how to quiet that voice in your head through meditation?
Dan: The best advice I’ve gotten on this score is that you don’t have to “quiet the voice,” per se, you just have to learn how to not take it so seriously. Mindfulness isn’t about feeling a certain way (you’re not floating off into blissful cosmic ooze, for example), it’s about feeling whatever you feel, clearly. In this way, perhaps you might come to see that you are not your thoughts. And then, when the voice in your head offers up a terrible suggestion (“go ahead and eat that 18th cookie”) or tries to lead you down a rabbit hole of useless rumination, you might be able to resist—at least 10% of the time.
Heather: Can you give our readers a quick anecdotal story about a recent moment when your mindful brain took the reins and steered you away from acting rashly, or thinking in a harmful way?
Dan: I always prefer to tell stories where I fail. Here’s a good one: a few weeks ago, I ate so many Oreos that I woke up in the middle of the night and puked. True story. Like so many people, I not infrequently fall victim to mindless eating. This, combined with a lifelong sweet tooth, can get me into trouble. Notwithstanding the aforementioned Oreo episode, I have actually gotten a bit better at eating mindfully. I’ve picked up some great tips on this front from my friend, Dr. Judson Brewer.
Mindful: What does your personal mindfulness practice look like day-to-day?
Dan: My friend Sharon Salzberg, who, by the way, is one of the best/coolest/smartest meditation teachers around, recently told me about a guy she knows who set a goal for himself of doing two hours a day. His trick: he allows himself to do it in a limitless number of increments, whenever he can fit them in. So, a few months ago, I decided to give it a shot. So far, with a few exceptions, I’ve managed to keep it up.
Every single time we come out from being lost in a thought, we wake up from being lost, we are having an experience of awareness, of clarity.
Dan’s favorite thing to do right now is interview mindfulness experts for the 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics app. Here’s an excerpt of Dan talking to Joseph Goldstein about how to re-frame that moment when you catch your mind wandering and why that moment is the most important part of mindfulness practice.
Why Being Lost in Thought is a Victory:
Dan Harris: One of the most important judo moves you taught me is to re-frame the moment of waking up. Most of us use that moment of waking up from distraction to beat the crap out of ourselves. In fact, you’re saying we should view it as a victory.
Joseph Goldstein: Exactly. So we’re lost in some thought. And then at a certain moment we become aware of that. We wake up from being lost. And the usual tendency is for the mind to jump in with a judgment: “Ah, I was lost again for the ten thousandth time.” And then berate ourselves for that happening. But the re-frame, which is so powerful and so delightful, is in that moment of going from having been lost to being awake, to being aware—To actually highlight first the fact that we’re now aware again, we’re now awake again. And the beauty of this practice, and the transformation from seeing the wandering mind as a problem to, in some ways, seeing it as a gift, is precisely in that moment. For as many times as we get lost in a thought, that same exact number of times, we awaken from being lost.
For as many times as we get lost in a thought, that same exact number of times, we awaken from being lost.
DH: One of the great tools you’ve given me is, in that moment when wake you up, there’s a little thing you can say to yourself, which is: How amazing. Which takes you right out of self-flagellation and into something much more positive.
JG: It is an amazing moment, when we make that transition from having been lost to being aware of what’s happening. In a way it’s very encouraging because it reminds us that this clarity actually is possible. And we can train ourselves to be in the clarity more and more often.
DH: What exactly should we be reveling in in that moment? What is amazing to see?
JG: That our mind has this capacity to be wakeful, to be aware. And that we can experience it many many times a day. It’s not something that we have to be practicing meditation for twenty years to get a glimpse of. Every single time we come out from being lost in a thought, we wake up from being lost, right in that moment we are having that experience of awareness, of clarity. The problem is that most people just pass over it. They don’t have that moment’s pause to reflect on how amazing it is. So they miss the depth of that transition.
DH: I missed it for years. When I initially heard the meditation instructions, I thought, Oh I’m going win this meditation thing. I’m just going nail it. So I skipped the part where you have to begin again. I was like: I’m just going to stay with the breath, or whatever the object is. I was like. I’m just going kill it. And of course that is a recipe for all sorts of disasters, which I could fill a book with, and in fact did. But if we take heart the notion that we have to begin again, we then open ourselves up to seeing something very powerful.