I don’t know about you, but it seems like you can’t go a week these days without coming across an article extolling the benefits of meditation. You know it’s supposed to be good for you, you understand in theory why you should do it, but try as you might, that 21-day meditation challenge appeared to leave zero impact on your daily mindfulness or concentration. What gives? In my experience, it’s possible to unlock the benefits of meditation in other ways. And that is perfectly OK.
Benefits of Meditation
Numerous productivity experts swear by meditation. Productivity Project blogger Chris Bailey summarizes it nicely. Meditation:
· “Defragments” your mind—basically, it helps you better store information you’ve acquired so that you can access it more readily later on
· Saves time by clarifying your priorities
· Increases focus
· Helps you relax
· Teaches you perseverance.
For those seeking to improve their personal productivity, the above list of benefits is practically mouthwatering. I was eager to sit on a cushion, close my eyes, and achieve inner peace.
What Happened When I Tried to Meditate
I checked out a 21-day meditation challenge book from the library that was designed to start off slowly, with 2 minutes of meditation per day, and then gradually work up to 15 minute intervals. Some productivity experts swear by 20-30 minutes of daily meditation. Ever the overachiever, I was determined to at least be doing 10 minutes per day by the end of the challenge. The reality was anything but.
It should have been a clue that this wasn’t working when it occurred to me that I sucked at meditation. (The idea that you suck at meditation is antithetical to the meditation concept.) I did what the book said to do. When my mind wandered, I worked to bring it back to a singular point of focus. I didn’t get upset with myself when my mind wandered; I let it happen and worked to refocus. What I mean when I say I sucked at meditation is that, after 21 days of diligent practice, I didn’t feel one iota of difference. I didn’t feel calmer, more focused, less stressed. I didn’t feel worse. I just felt like I had wasted my time. I concluded I was doing it wrong and gave up. Maybe my brain was wired differently from the rest of the population, but I was not accruing any benefits from this exercise.
What I Noticed Instead
While sitting on an uncomfortable cushion for 10 minutes per day seemed to have no discernible impact on my stress levels, I noticed that neglecting other activities did have a detrimental effect. I do indoor cycling 2-3 times a week, usually to blaring pop music, at 6:00 in the morning. When I skipped my cardio, I became irritable, stressed, and prone to outbursts at the office. I was still lifting at the gym during this time—but the missing combination of pop music and insatiable cardio wreaked havoc on my stress levels. I realized that I often used my spinning sessions to let my mind wander and mull over issues that I was experiencing at the office or in my personal life. After the class, I would hasten to my phone to log my new bursts of inspiration in my trusted capture system. When I arrived at the office, I buckled down to a productive day of focused work, with the memories of crooning boy bands still bubbling in the background. Cycletherapy was my meditation.
Likewise, I noticed that writing afforded me quiet time for reflection that I couldn’t necessarily achieve otherwise. When I went a week without venting in my personal blog, tackling my inner demons via my novel, or figuring out better ways to manage projects, I had a lot less tolerance for my colleagues’ foibles or the barista’s microaggressions.
So, the next time you feel guilty for not joining the meditation bandwagon, keep in mind that you may be along for the ride after all—just in a different way than that of your fellow passengers.