Making the decision to to spend less and save more requires a long-term commitment to changing habits and shifting perspective. One technique I like is practicing meditation to train my attention. This exercise can be particularly beneficial when pursuing financial independence (FI) and/or planning to retire early (RE). Here are 7 ways that meditation can be beneficial to the FIRE journey:
Note: meditation is a brain-training exercise that is available to everyone, regardless of belief system or faith tradition.
You Are Not Your Thoughts
One thing I learned pretty early in my meditation practice is that I do not need to let the busy chatterbox in my head yank me around all of the time. In fact, when I sit quietly and watch thoughts come and go as passing clouds I see them for what they are. Thoughts are temporary phenomena and it is not necessary to follow all of them. If I practice, I can learn to pay attention to thoughts that are helpful and to let the ill-natured ones go.
When you set a goal as lofty as early retirement it’s crucial that you quickly learn to identify which aspects of your daily life will enable you to move forward and which are holding you back. When you reduce or eliminate roadblocks, it’s a lot easier to gain momentum and clarity of purpose.
I’ve learned from various meditation teachers that consumption is not just about what I eat and what I buy. I also consume with my attention.
You can improve your physical health by carefully choosing what you eat and drink. And you can improve your financial fitness by tracking expenses, observing spending habits, and making more thoughtful purchasing decisions.
You can also examine how your exposure to television, social media, books, and other people affects your well-being.
- Does your daily dose of TV and social media produce fear and despair or hope and inspiration?
- How often do you allow your attention to be hijacked by advertisements?
- Are the people that you spend time with supportive or are they toxic?
A holistic approach to mindful consumption will produce the well-rounded health (physical, financial, mental) that is required to achieve FIRE.
Perceptions Are Often Inaccurate
When I get stuck with a thought that doesn’t feel right, I’ve learned to ask myself, “Are you sure?” Often times the answer is, “I don’t know.” This is because my perceptions are frequently inaccurate or incomplete.
When it comes to pursuing a goal like early retirement it’s important to start questioning assumptions. You may discover, in some cases, that you need to unlearn what you’ve been taught. This process will enable you to find your own answers to questions like:
- How much money do I need to be happy?
- Which are the best ways for me to contribute?
- What material possessions are required to lead a fulfilling life?
- What is the best way to manage my investments?
Silence has a unique ability to teach us about the power of words. What I have learned through meditation about the inaccuracy of perceptions has taught me to carefully consider my words before I open my mouth.
When 2 people are working together toward a major goal, solid communication is imperative. Practicing meditation is a great way to learn about taking responsibility for and working through your own strong emotions before speaking. When your mind is calm and clear, you are better able to clarify misperceptions through thoughtful questions and attentive listening. And it is easier to work through conflict.
The body scan is a common meditation practice. When I sit still or lie down and pay attention I can learn a lot from the various parts of my body that I often take for granted. I smile and the muscles in my face and scalp relax. I rotate my ankle and the pain in my knee disappears. When I’m feeling anger, the muscles in my jaw and chest tighten. The tai chi foundation exercises that I do every day are a moving meditation that helps me check in on my moving parts to see if anything needs maintenance.
Being aware of what is happening in your body allows you to take better care of yourself. The best way to achieve your FIRE (or any other) goal is to be as healthy as possible. Everyone knows about the importance of diet and exercise. What else does your body need? Are you getting enough relaxation and rest? Do you have a good balance of flexibility and strength? Would it be helpful to seek the assistance of a physical therapist, acupuncturist, or other health/fitness professional?
Slow The Hell Down
When I commit to spending time sitting still and reflecting inward, something interesting happens. Obviously, physical movements come to a halt because I’m sitting still. And eventually the flurries inside my mental snow globe start to settle.
What happens when you shake up a snow globe and set it on the table? The cute little fake snowflakes gently drift to the bottom and the little snowman inside has an unobstructed view through the clear water. He can see the world outside his little globe without getting fake snowflakes stuck in his eyes.
Taking time to stop long enough for your mind to settle creates space for clarity that cannot be achieved during constant activity. The stillness of clear vision provides the focus necessary for working toward a long-term goal.
Be Present and Be Grateful
Physically slowing down and stopping also encourages my mind to drop unhelpful concerns about the past and future. What remains is what is happening right now.
When your attention is focused on the present moment, it’s easier to notice and appreciate the small details you might otherwise walk by or take for granted. Next time you take a walk, look at the plants and flowers that you see. Really look at them. Notice all of the colors, shapes, and textures. If you see something that smells good, stop to take a whif. Maybe you’ll be extra lucky and see a fragrant rose, some mint, or a lavender bush. Listen for the sound of birds and look up to see if you can find the source of a pretty song. Even if you just hear a cackling crow, they’re pretty funny to watch. Anytime you see or hear or smell or taste something that makes you smile … stop and smile. It feels good!
Learning to be grateful for the simple (and free!) things in life is a powerful resource on the road to FIRE. If you can be satisfied with what is in front of you, you’ll be less likely to get sucked into the Consumer Vortex which inevitably leads to overspending and undersaving.
Here are 7 meditation benefits I’ve experienced so far on the tour de FIRE:
- Ability to recognize impermanence of thoughts and to release those that are not helpful
- Application of mindful consumption to purchases, eating, and attention
- Shifting assumptions through understanding how perceptions can be inaccurate
- Taking time to choose words carefully to improve communication
- Building mind-body awareness for better health
- Slowing down to gain clarity and focus
- Experiencing gratitude by paying attention to what is happening right now
Recommendations for Meditation Resources
If you’re interested in seeing how meditation might help you work toward an important goal, I recommend these 2 resources for getting started.
- 10% Happier App (free introduction, then $9.99/month for as long as it’s useful)
- Zen Habits 44 Training Program (free; I’m checking it out now and am currently on practice #4 – I like it so far)
Note: I do not have any affiliate relationship with 10% Happier. I just like it well enough to recommend it.
What do you think about meditation?
Have you practiced meditation? If so, what benefits have you experienced?
If you have not practiced meditation, would you want to give it a try? How do you think it would be useful?
Do you think brain training will someday become as popular as going to the gym is now?