Today, Core CEO Sarah McDevitt sits down with Adam Dexter, a product designer, start-up founder, event producer, and now coach to early-stage founders. Adam has been a long-time enthusiast in all things psychology, wellness, and mindfulness. In his chat with Sarah, he shares his unique experience with meditation as someone with ADD, his approach to forming new habits, and why meditation is accessible to anyone.
Sarah: How did you get introduced to meditation?
Adam: I must have been in 4th grade when I did my first really conscious meditation work. My best friend’s mom took us to a qigong* class. I got a lot of positive feedback in the session, like “your chi is strong,” and maybe my bullshit meter just wasn’t calibrated then, but it felt authentic.
Growing up, I was diagnosed with ADD, so qigong movement was interesting as a meditation that didn’t involve stillness and specifically involved moving energy. I would do the basic movement, sweeping my hands up and then down. From there I would start to improv, but even this basic movement was extremely centering, calming, and gratifying.
Music was also a meditation for me growing up, and now. I was on Ritalin and Adderall at different points. I’m a very empirical person, and for me, the right music is as effective as Adderall or a Xanax or an antidepressant. There’s different music for different things for me – I can be in a really distracted, sad, or angry state, then put on a particular music and be good.
For me, the right music is as effective as Adderall or a Xanax or an antidepressant.
S: I like what you said about meditation because I think about it as practical. There are spiritual elements you can explore with meditation, but for the most part, with practice it can become a tool in your toolkit.
A: I’m curious how you feel about mindfulness becoming the next overused buzzword. Used appropriately, it becomes this umbrella that covers meditation, but also gratitude practices and things like that, which can also be practices learned over time. I’ve had some of my clients do a very simple gratitude journaling exercise and after 2 weeks they’re like, “Oh wow, I actually feel more gratitude on a regular basis. I’m able to recognize it.”
S: Yes, we as Core think of it as pretty all encompassing. I think of affirmations, visualizations – all of that has helped me develop tools I can have in my mental toolbox to invoke whenever I need it. Some of the meditations I do are repeating affirmations to myself. Is that what a traditionalist would call meditation? I don’t know, but it does the same thing for me. I’m changing my mental and emotional practices by doing that over and over again.
I’m changing my mental and emotional practices by doing that over and over again.
A: When you say tool, I really relate to that a lot. Another tool I’ve worked with is nonviolent communication**. It’s very hard to practice all the time, but there’s magic when I actually commit and do it.
S: I went to a leadership conference to learn some of that more emotional, safe, nonviolent communication. I realized that like all skills, I needed to practice it in order to invoke it in everyday relationships.
Language can be very effective as a trigger for shifting your mental state. My path to meditation involved working with teenagers on the mind-body connection. One thing we taught them about is the evolutionary basis for stress responses. Back when lions were chasing humans, a mental alarm would go off and this would increase a person’s chances of survival. The difference in life now is you have that same acute stress response but there is no lion chasing you. One of the mantras that we used was there is no lion. It triggered this grounding sense that I am not in this danger, what’s bothering me is something emotional. We had cards as reminders: there is no lion, there is no lion.
There is no lion.
A: Cool, yes. I love that.
S: You mentioned being very empirical about how you track different things that you are trying to do for yourself. How do you approach that?
A: When I start something, I am in a ‘play phase’, trying to find the boundaries. I get the initial joy and fun of playing, but then I get frustrated. I think it’s the same with your physical health, or diet and working out – I’m just going to do it. I actually thought about that this morning and I said to myself, “Nope, stop thinking, just get out of bed.”
I know you care about measuring activity, and I do too, but sometimes even that is preventative to me even doing anything. The pressure to set a goal can be paralyzing and counterproductive at times. For me, it’s best to start doing first, then set goals, then measure, and build from there. I can build a better habit by doing it that way, but I often forget it myself. Sometimes I have to continue for longer than is comfortable – it can be really helpful to understanding what I should build next.
Sometimes you have to stay for longer than is comfortable.
S: Yes, you have to really live in the problem space before you can know what your solution needs to be. We like to say, what you can measure you can improve. And there needs to be something there to improve – so just get started first.
A: For me, that’s usually not enough because just getting started is still wildly daunting. Everyone’s going to be asking how it’s going, so I go a step backwards and just start having fun. The fact that I’m doing it is better than not. It doesn’t matter if it’s right, I can just have fun.
S: Yeah, you want the freedom to explore without having goals yet. That’s true with meditation because people put a lot of pressure on immediate results. Sometimes with mental well-being, the exploration phase is just sitting in it. Whatever feelings you’re feeling, you can just feel them.
A: I think that’s right. In popular culture when people hear meditation, they often think of someone sitting in lotus pose being quiet with their eyes closed. For someone who is very high energy, an ADD person, that’s a nightmare. The parallel I would bring in is all the research we’ve been seeing about learning styles – I can imagine the same awareness around Core making meditation more accessible. The Core experience is more guided and there’s more talking.
In popular culture when people hear meditation, they often think of someone sitting in lotus pose being quiet with their eyes closed. For someone who is very high energy, an ADD person, that’s a nightmare.
Have you ever tried a sensory meditation? I know people who hear meditation and they’re like no, fuck that. I’m like, hear me out, you don’t have to sit still, you don’t have to pretend, I just want you to close your eyes and explore your space from a sound perspective. Isolate and pick out sounds. This was formalized by Jon Young; he’s a genius. I’ve found that’s more accessible – I don’t have to be quiet, I don’t have to pretend the world doesn’t exist around me, I don’t have to sit still. I can do it for three minutes. After a week, go to 6 minutes. And then 9 minutes. Build up to 15 minutes.
S: Yes, I love that – helping people understand that there are many, many ways to meditate and a lot of them feel very active and engaged. There’s different gateways into the same world.
A: Yeah and it can click for people – this is meditation. Maybe I’ll try sitting still now. What happens then?
Thank you to Adam for sharing so much with us! We hope to have you back soon.
Do you have a unique approach to meditation? Share your story with us here.
*Qigong can be described as a mind-body-spirit practice that improves one’s mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent.
**Nonviolent communication is a belief and practice that all human beings are compassionate, and thus only resort to harmful behaviors when we are unable to implement different strategies to resolve issues.