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Now on to your regularly scheduled programming:
I am a person who generally makes decisions based upon logic and rational factors. As such, I avoided trying meditation for a long time. How could doing nothing for a stretch of time every day actually help me?
But then the studies started coming. Science turned its attention to this ancient practice and decidedly said, “Matt is an idiot.”
So I jumped on board. I’ve been meditating using the Headspace app since January. I haven’t seen all of the benefits suggested by the research but I think overall the addition of meditation into my life has been a net positive.
Here I want to talk about some of the scientific studies around meditation and then give you my own personal take.
Plus, the benefits of stress reduction extend beyond simply being less annoyed by stress. The stress reduction resulting from meditation lowers blood pressure and helps prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Another huge benefit to meditation is an increase in focus. This makes sense. If you can train yourself to focus only on your breath, then you can improve that focus muscle for other activities.
In a similar vein, meditation helps you avoid multi-tasking, which, as we learned previously, is counterproductive. Again, this makes sense. If you can take five or ten minutes out of your day to focus on your breath without checking your phone or your email, you can build up that muscle for productive use during the rest of your day.
Other related benefits include ability to focus under pressure, and increased learning ability, memory, and self-awareness.
Meditation can also boost your creative problem solving abilities. The explanation behind this is that meditation helps you think outside the box by reducing “cognitive rigidity.” This finding could actually end up being much bigger than just boosting creative problem solving, as cognitive rigidity is linked to depression, suicide, alcohol dependence, and eating disorders.
Okay, so studies show a lot of benefits to meditation. But everybody loves anecdotal evidence, so what have I found through practicing?
First let me say that it is hard to disentangle what is actually caused by meditation and what is just correlated (do I need to break out the charts again?).
Before starting meditation I spent a lot of time working on becoming better at managing stress. (The most useful method has been studying Stoicism. More articles on that will follow.) So I was already on that path when I added meditation to my life.
That said, I am certainly better at managing stress than I was when I started meditation. Make of that what you will.
I do think that meditation has helped me greatly in focusing and limiting multi-tasking. Part of this is that meditation helps you learn to be more present, which affects your mindset in other aspects of your life. Part of it is just having dedicated practice in focusing.
When I first started meditating I could not make it through the whole ten minutes without peeking to see how much time was left. I would catch myself running down the to do list of things that I would jump right into as soon as this stupid session was over.
But I got better. I lasted longer until finally I could do a whole session. Then I started doing longer sessions. (This is not to say I am great at it…just better. My mind still wanders often. But less often.)
This practice at focusing helped make it easier to exercise that same focus in other areas of life. I can work on a single task longer. I can read a book longer without jumping to other things I need to do. I no longer feel the need to check my phone when I am in the presence of other people.
Unrelated to the research, I have found that meditation is just a great way to start the day. For much of the year I would get into work, check my emails, prioritize my tasks for the day, and then meditate. When I finished meditating I had far more energy, focus, and initiative to actually dive into that first task than I ever had going straight from checking email to working.
(I have recently switched this up so that I meditate immediately after I wake up and follow that up with a one page variation on morning pages. If people are interested I may at some point follow up with how that routine has worked.)
So overall, meditation has been a net positive to my life and is totally worth the time that I sink into it. While I may not have benefited exactly as the science predicted, I have still benefited.
Have you given meditation a try? If not, why not? And if so, what have you found? Join the conversation in the comments!