Meditation: The Ultimate Keystone Habit

I Can’t Stand Sitting

For most of my life, I’d rather do about anything other than meditate. Shoveling shit in midsummer heat sounded more pleasant than twenty minutes on my cushion alone with my thoughts. I’m prone to anxiety, perpetually attempting to cram ten pounds of stuff into a five pound bag, and always itching to do something physically active. Intentionally sitting still with nothing but the noise in my head is a guaranteed way for me to create instant discomfort.

Dropping the Pebble

A keystone habit is like the stone dropped into a pool of still water — the ripples reaching boundaries far from its origin of entry. These are the habits that either hold other habits in place, or that lead to the automatic and effortless formation of new ones. Exercise is a classic example of a keystone habit. I find that early morning is the only time that works, and I like the energy it gives me in the beginning of the day. Without really intending it, I just created the habit of getting up earlier. Many studies have shown that people who consistently exercise also eat better as a result. Soon enough, the habit of healthier eating decisions has also been instilled. I then discover that my Saturday morning cycling group gives me more enjoyment than my Friday night binge-drinking one. Now I’ve stopped drinking on Friday nights. I start looking and feeling better, which gives me more confidence, and that leads to proactively forming new relationships. So what if there was a keystone habit that went a layer deeper? One that gave you a kind of x-ray vision into how all your other habits get formed? That’s meditation.

Showing Up for my Life

My biggest “why” for keeping a mindfulness practice is the same that prompted me to try a number of other experiments that remove me from my comfort zone: a massive chunk of my life is on autopilot. The reason why so many of my habits get formed unintentionally is that I am usually not very present for much of the experience leading into them. In other words, I am doing one thing, but my mind is somewhere else. I am unaware of the cue, the routine, and the reward of the habit that gets created because I am perpetually distracted, and have no idea what’s going on inside of me. Visit any busy area you’ll witness a sea of little, illuminated screens. People routinely taking phones in and out of their pockets, tapping at displays, and walking around while staring into their palms. Yet, that’s not the crazy part. The really wild part is that this is all happening unconsciously. There’s a slight feeling of unrecognized boredom, so I reach into my pocket and take out my phone. I open up TikTok, Instagram or email and poke around at it for a few minutes. I feel momentarily better about the newness of this content. Ten minutes later, I repeat the process, still not remotely aware of the impetus for the action — not a clue as to what I’m actually experiencing inside. The average person does this with their phone 85 times per day. (1)

The Zombie Apocalypse is already here.

The Practice

There are even more types of meditation than there are articles explaining its scientific validity. Like any wellness program, this abundance of choice can make the entire thing very intimidating. To make matters worse, there are many misconceptions about meditation. For a long time, I thought it was only for hippies, religious zealots or kung-fu masters. However, the biggest misconception, and the one that I bought into and found the most discouraging, is that there is some goal or achievement to be reached. That if I can just get good enough at it, I’ll eventually be able to stop my thoughts and become “enlightened” or at the least, not longer contend with unpleasant emotions. This changed when I reframed meditation from a destination, to a journey and a practice. Professional athletes practice. They do this so that they can work on becoming proficient at a skill during a time without the pressures that unfold during a competitive match. My game-day is everyday life. It’s the place I need the skills of focus, equanimity and self-awareness. My practice field is on a cushion, before the day actually starts.

My daughter, a million years ago, at the Center for Self Realization in Pacific Palisades.



Elijah runs a LA/SLC creative agency focused on the good side of technology. He’s also a mediocre athlete, father, and entrepreneur.

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Elijah Szasz

Elijah runs a LA/SLC creative agency focused on the good side of technology. He’s also a mediocre athlete, father, and entrepreneur.