In August I embarked on a personal challenge to develop a meditation habit. If I could do it every day for a month, maybe it would (finally) become a routine practice.
Inspiration for the challenge came from a conversation with Dan Harris, an Emmy award-winning journalist who discovered meditation as an effective way to calm the voices in his head. As a side hustle from his day job at ABC co-anchoring Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America, Dan wrote a book called 10% Happier and helped develop a guided meditation app with the same name.
Although I’ve tried meditation in the past, I never really “saw the light” and had a hard time maintaining the practice. I kept thinking, “I should really just get to work!”
Dan convinced me to give it another shot, citing scientific evidence that meditation has a whole host of benefits including lower blood pressure and increased focus. So I committed to meditating every day in August, and I recruited 47 side hustlers to join me for accountability.
On the podcast, Dan described the basics of mindfulness meditation in 3 steps:
- Sit comfortably.
- Focus your attention on your breath. (I try and focus on the air passing in and out of the tip of my nose.)
- When you notice your mind has wandered (and it will!), return your focus to your breath.
The “win” is in that noticing and re-centering.
My gameplan was to practice this each night for 5 minutes. I set an alarm on my phone for 9pm to remind me, and then I planned to set another 5 minute countdown clock.
My theory was it will help wind down my day and get ready for sleep. More on that below.
For what it’s worth, I thought Headspace’s “Take 10” 10-day trial was a great introduction to meditation.
One challenge participant, Mark in Chicago, recommended the 1 Giant Mind app: 12 steps and 15 minutes a day to “start feeling happier, more energized, and less stressed.”
So how’d it go?
Here’s what went down in the first week.
My alarm went off every day at 9pm, but I was still doing stuff at that hour — it was disruptive and turned out not to be a good time to meditate.
But what the alarm did do was remind me of the challenge, and I completed my practice each night while lying in bed.
(Which technically violates step #1 of Dan’s practice: “sit comfortably.” Oh well.)
The first few nights were a little weird. Like the side hustle shih tzu kept jumping on and off the bed, the baby cried, or there were other distractions.
So I’d reset the clock and try again.
The next couple nights got off to a better start, where the first couple minutes of my practice I didn’t find myself straying too far from focusing on my breath.
But then I’d catch myself some time later WAY out in left field, wondering how I ever got there. Like Dan suggested though, I’d feel good about noticing my mind had wandered, and using that moment to re-center.
The last two nights, I started my practice and actually fell asleep before my 5 minutes were up!
I don’t know if that “counts” but it sure beats the mild insomnia and being unable to shut off my brain I’ve been experiencing lately.
Sometimes I feel like my head is a pinball machine, bouncing thoughts in every direction.
I’ve stuck with my bedtime mindfulness habit so far, which worked 5 nights out of 7 to put me to sleep before I even noticed my 5 minutes were up.
The nights it didn’t work were the worst “pinball” nights. Like, I legitimately think I’m crazy after the random assortment of thoughts that run through my head in a matter of minutes.
But in recognizing and realizing that, and consciously returning focus to my breath, there’s a moment of “thinking about thinking” … for what it’s worth.
I’m not sure what it all means, but perhaps each of these little “biceps curls for the brain” will help me be more focused and less scatterbrained when I’m working or interacting with others.
On the nights the meditation practice put me to sleep, here’s my theory on why.
Normally my insomnia is caused by too many thoughts rushing through my head. I can’t turn it off.
What’s on my calendar for tomorrow?
What subject line should I use on that email?
Did I follow-up with so-and-so?
Oh, I should add a section about search engines to my book.
And on and on and on…
But when I’m on top of my mindfulness game, I can remain focused on my breath and essentially “lock out” all those other thoughts / doubts / questions for a brief focused period.
At least long enough to drift off to sleep.
What do you think?
The past few days were a little rough for my meditation practice.
It’s weeks like this where I feel like I could benefit the most from a calming / mindfulness practice, but also where it comes the hardest.
Here’s what went down. I’m still doing my nightly routine but on a couple nights I think I only lasted a minute before getting too distracted to even remember to re-center.
A few things have been stressing me out this week:
- I recorded a podcast interview I thought was pretty “meh”, which is always awkward and leads to the stress over what to do with it. (Air it, heavily edit it, re-purpose it, or scrap it.)
- My slides for my FinCon presentation are due next week. They’re probably 25% complete.
- I’m 3 weeks late on my self-imposed deadline for completing the draft of my book.
- We have mice. In a podcast episode last year I think I mentioned this is one my most irrational fears but having these little critters in the house gives me a lot of anxiety. I’ve caught 3 so far, and was ready to declare victory this morning until I noticed one of the traps I set was licked clean of the peanut butter. Ugh.
- My car has this annoying habit of thinking doors are ajar when they aren’t, and then thinking they’re closed, and then thinking they’re ajar, and over and over again. Thankfully it still runs fine but when it gets into a fit the non-stop warning chime really grinds my gears.
- I attempted to update a couple of my sites, including Side Hustle Nation, to SSL (the little thing that gives you an “s” in https://), with the understanding it theoretically gives you a small SEO boost. It’s caused a bunch of warning messages and another headache that probably can wait until another day.
So that’s what’s been on my mind, and I wish I could say the meditation practice is helping.
Well, maybe it is … who knows how stressed I’d be without it? Hard to say, but can definitely see the importance of mindfulness with all this going on.
The good news is none of this is life-threatening. These issues are all temporary and solvable; I just have to knock ’em out one step at a time.
I’ll be honest, at least one night I think I totally forgot about it. But the rest of the time it seems like a decently established bedtime habit.
In any case, this is definitely my longest streak of consistent meditation practice. So am I feeling any more mindful, focused, relaxed, and happier?
If anything, I think the practice has helped me become aware of just how un-focused I can be. And maybe recognizing that is the first step in harnessing it?
On the happiness front — that’s the big picture goal, right? — I do actually have some data to share because I’m a huge nerd.
At the beginning of June, I added a form field to my nightly “I Done This / Gratitude check” email that asked on a scale from 1-10 how happy I am.
Basically I get an email at the same time each night asking what I got done today, what made today awesome, what could have made today better, and the happiness question above.
I set it up for free using Google Forms and a tool called Nudgemail. If you’d like, here’s how you can set up something similar.
I added the happiness question so I could “split test” the impact of little experiments, like the meditation challenge.
- For June and July, I averaged 7.42.
- For August, it was 7.83.
Not quite “10% happier” but an improvement. And totally scientific too :)
In fairness, there are a million and one variables that go into happiness, but the biggest two are “love and work.”
(That’s a Sigmund Freud quote.)
In the end, this definitely wasn’t a life-changing, enlightenment-on-the-mountaintop-producing challenge, but I’ll keep at it. And in fairness I probably could have put a little more effort into it. I prioritized it exactly enough to not dedicate any specific time or displace any other activities.
I’d love to hear your findings and results! Are you a meditator?
What was the biggest hurdle for you in establishing the practice? Do you use a guided meditation app? Do you see any concrete results from your meditation habit, or do you consider it a Slight Edge practice where the benefit comes from the continued execution?
Let me know in the comments below!