The Three Core Skills of Meditation4 min read

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Meditation practice is not just something that we do to relax and calm down. Yes, meditation brings several benefits to our physical and mental health, but more important than that is the fact that meditation trains some essential skills for life.

If you look at meditation just as something we do to get some benefits, then our approach to the practice is very passive: we do meditation for a few minutes every day and then wait for the benefits to accrue over the weeks and months.

But if you look at meditation as a training for important life skills, then your approach is more active. You consider how to integrate those skills into your daily life, which then becomes a continuation of your practice. This is related to the Transformation Pillar of meditation, which I covered in chapter 37 of Mindful Self-Discipline.

Pause, Awareness, and Willpower

To understand what these skills are, we need first to understand the process of meditation. Whenever you are practicing a concentration style of meditation, you are going through the following process:

  1. Hold on to your object of focus (e.g. your breath, a mantra, a feeling, an image), with the strong intention of staying with it moment after moment.
  2. Keep observing your mind, always checking if you are still with your object.
  3. If you notice that your mind wanders away, interrupt that process and bring the mind back to your object.

These three steps are repeated cyclically, for the duration of your practice. This is true for any focused-base meditation.

Step one is about willpower. The stronger your intention to remain focused, the deeper and more sustainable your focus will be. If you get distracted every two seconds, you are not as determined to stay focused as when you get distracted only every twenty seconds (see my article on the power determination).

Step two is about awareness. When your awareness is slow, you are only noticing that you got distracted ten or more thoughts down the line. As your awareness gets faster—that is, more present and continuous—you will notice quicker. With some serious training in meditation, it’s possible to notice distraction as soon as it arises and sometimes even before it’s fully formed.

Step three is about pausing. It is interrupting the monkey mind, and zooming out from that distraction so that you can reestablish your focus via willpower.

Daily Life Applications

Meditation is training all the skills of the PAW Method (pause, awareness, and willpower), only in a different order. The PAW Method is the core technique of Mindful Self-Discipline. Most other techniques in the book are basically “willpower plugins” that we use at the end of this process—different ways of applying our will to shift our state.

Whenever you are facing a conflict in living aligned with your values or taking action on your goals, you apply the PAW Method to shift into a state of mind that will allow you to stay true to your aspirations. If we compare the PAW Method to driving toward a destination:

  • Pause is slowing down your car when approaching an intersection.
  • Awareness is looking at your map, checking where you are, and seeing what path goes to your destination.
  • Willpower is taking the right path, even if it’s a steep hill or a bumpy road.

In applying the PAW Method to our daily life, Pause means taking a couple of deep breaths to interrupt the automatic flow of unhelpful thoughts, negative emotions, impulses, distractions, or conditioning in general. It is slowing things down so you can see what is going on and potentially make a change.

Awareness is about seeing what is happening both in you and around you. Has something just triggered you to react from your conditioning? If so, what was it? See how the triggered reaction is a “-1” in your life, as it is taking you a step away from who you want to be. Become aware if you are moving toward your destination (+1) or away from it (-1), and what are the psychological forces at play inside of you.

Then it is Willpower, which is about making a deliberate effort to shift your state and act in a way that affirms your values and aspirations. This shifting can happen in many ways, depending on the needs of the moment. Thus, the willpower step is extremely versatile.

(For a summary of the PAW Method and a list of willpower techniques you can use, download our free Workbook.)


Meditation cultivates awareness and willpower, two of the key features of our Higher Mind. As such, it empowers us to grow, elevate ourselves, and live a more fulfilling life.

During meditation practice, we train awareness by constantly observing our mind and seeing whether it is still with the chosen object or not. In daily life, we train awareness by observing our behavior and actions and seeing if they are aligned with our values or not.

During meditation practice, we train willpower by holding on to one object despite competing stimuli of thoughts, emotions, memories, sounds, etc. In our daily life, we train willpower by doing what is aligned with our goals, even when that is physically, mentally, or emotionally uncomfortable.

We also train awareness by planning our day around our goals, journaling in the evening, and remembering our aspirations multiple times a day. We also train willpower by making Never Zero commitments and going through willpower challenges.

Meditation will improve your health. It will help you relax, be calmer, and feel more centered. But the deeper benefit of the practice is that it allows you to live a more fulfilling life by training the core skills of pause, awareness, and willpower.

Going Deeper

If you would like to try my concentration-based guided meditations, as well as the interactive PAW Method, get a free trial of the Mindful Self-Discipline app.


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