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A year of following the breath

Does meditation help make a difference?


I’ve been a user of the mindfulness meditation app, Headspace, for a number of years. The recommendation with mindfulness or any meditative practice is to make it part of your daily routine. It’s not a case of ‘start meditating’ and you suddenly ‘feel different’. The changes come with repeated practice over many months.

Incorporating it into your day, every day can be challenging. That requires conscious effort, building momentum towards becoming a habit.

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behaviour becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. — Lally et al. — How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

How do you get to the ‘magic’ 66-day mark? Some people just have the ability to make it happen. Other people need encouragement, be that from friends holding them accountable or just reminders popping up on their phone. Headspace has a degree of gamification in it to help encourage you to keep up the effort, where ‘streaks’ results in rewards. Hit the 30-day milestone and you get a reward. Well, you don’t get a reward — that wouldn’t be in keeping with generosity, rather you’re able to give a gift to someone else. But that’s not the reward of meditation.

In the past, I’d been able to hit 90 days in a row but events had gotten in the way. An early start here, a long day there, travelling for work and the next thing you know, you’ve gone to bed without having meditated that day and the streak is over. Back to the beginning once more.

If you really want to make something a daily practice, you need to make sure that you block that time out each day, protect that time jealously and measure it.

What do I mean by measuring? Record it. Whether it’s the app itself telling you that you’ve got a ‘streak’, using a diary to make a note each day or another app to record your progress, that step of recording helps give you that sense of improvement.

I set myself the target of being able to meditate at least once every day for a year. In order to make that achievable, it meant creating an environment that would help me ensure that I made the time to meditate. In my case, it meant building a morning routine.

  1. Get up, washed, dressed
  2. Breakfast
  3. Kids off to school
  4. Meditate
  5. Drink coffee while reading
  6. Work

Did you notice that ‘check phone for email’ wasn’t on the list? That’s right. Limit the distractions.

Coffee after meditation? Yes — after, not before. Caffeine is stimulant and at least for me, with meditation being there to help calm and relax the mind, my double espresso is exactly NOT what I need. If I do meditate soon after drinking coffee, I found it takes a long time to be able to stop my mind from jumping around like crazed baboon.

Meditation can be a life-long journey for people. You’re advised to ‘let go’ of any expectation and just let things progress but what do you experience? After all, this is all in your head!

You experience one set of sensations and thoughts one day and something completely different the next. For me, I’ve found that the ‘scanning down’ exercise has progressed to the point where I can generate, what I can only describe as ‘buzzing’ sensations, in my arms, hands and feet just be focussing on that part of my body. With the focus on the breath, on many occasions, I’m able to enter what feels like a ‘flow state’ and am able to reside in that state for many minutes. I feel that I’m more patient with the people around me and much more prepared to let go of the trivial, rather than getting wound up by it.

Coming out of meditation, there’s a sense of calm, of relaxation and of change from the state that I was in before meditating. That is rewarding.

Meditation is not for everyone and may not be the right thing, right now.

But keep it in your back pocket.

It’s worth investigating.

Headspace milestones

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Joel Obstfeld is a Curious Integrator @ Cisco, who believes that ‘engineering’ and ‘empathy’ are words that can be in the same sentence. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Originally published at itsyourturnblog.com

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