Better Habits

The Why and How of a Daily Meditation Habit

Practicing meditation is a new habit that I want to develop and add into my daily schedule. I tried this earlier in a casual whenever-I-find-time kind of a way but it didn't work. Thus, I have decided to create a more formal plan this time. Hopefully, you can use these steps to create a new habit for yourself, whether it be meditation or something else.

 

THE WHY

The first critical step is to answer the question of why do you want to build the habit. At certain times in the habit forming process, you will have weak moments where you would want to give up for various reasons. Your answer to 'The Why' should help you persevere through the struggle against quitting. And the more objective this answer, the more undeniable the benefit of the habit becomes.

A few years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of daily meditation. This was because I couldn't see a tangible causal relationship between meditation and improvement of life. At worst, I thought of it to be an elaborate scam. And, a placebo at best. This idea changed because of two Whys.

First: To improve my life by 10%. Where did this number come from? It is an arbitrary number which is the bottomline of the book 10% Happier. I don't claim that it is scientific by any measure, but I am willing to believe it to be true if it is backed by something less subjective such as my second why.

Second: All the positive results of the scientific studies conducted on the benefits of mediation. Some highlights of the findings via Headspace:

  • According to Neuroscientists as you continue to meditate your brain physically changes, even though you’re not aware of it re-shaping itself.
  • Research has found meditation to promote ‘divergent thinking’ a type of thinking that allows many new ideas to be generated.
  • Neuroscientists have also found that, after just 11 hours of meditation, practitioners had structural changes in the part of the brain involved in monitoring our focus and self control.

Further Reading on Science behind Meditation: Buffer BlogForbesWikipedia

I got one such test done myself when I was at Auroville. My brain activity chart as compared to a regular meditator looked like a busy intersection of an urban city at office hours. It was messed up. 

Along with this, I read personal experiences of people and spoke to some friends who sing praises of the technique - technique, yes, that is what it is. Once I started thinking of it as a technique to sharpen the mind, along with the scientific studies to back the claim, my rational mind warmed up to the idea.

So, I thought of giving it a shot. And it felt pretty good. Not like out of the world good, but decent. Like my life became 10% better. If something which takes up only 10-15 minutes of my day (which is about 1% of the day) makes my life 10% better, I think it is a good deal to take. So, now that the intention is set, motivation is high, let's find the next step.

 

THE HOW

1. Trigger

If you read my post about creating an exercise and reading habit, you would know what I am talking about. A trigger is an activity which is already present in your daily schedule that is followed by your new habit. For example, my exercise is triggered by brushing my teeth. Or my morning reading is triggered by the end of my exercise. When the trigger goes off, I instinctively know what I have to do next since it is already planned. I save myself the struggle of trying to find ways to fit it into my schedule. 

Meditating at the start of the day makes my morning too rigid and leaves me with a late start to work. So, here's what I plan to do: I will meditate in the evening right after having a shower. It is a perfect time for me since that is when I usually take a break from work and go have a bath. The meditation right after shower will hopefully refresh me enough to take on the second half of my workday with more energy.

The Trigger = Taking a shower

2. Quantity

I'll start small. Not an hour a day, or 30 minutes or even 15. I am going to start with 10 minutes a day. I want to gradually increase it to 15, then 20 and top it off at 30 minutes. 10 minutes isn't actually that small for a start. If you were to do it, I would recommend starting with ridiculously smaller amounts like 1 or 2 minutes. But since I have been doing it infrequently over the last few months, I know that 10 minutes is good for me.

3. Accountability

While building a new habit, it helps to have an accountability partner. It is someone who you feel answerable to if you feel like taking a day off. Even though I am the kind of guy who likes to be self-reliant and likes to do things on his own, I realised the usefulness of this while trying to quit smoking. My girlfriend is my accountability partner there and she keeps reminding me certain things whenever I have the urge. By writing this post and sharing it with you all, you have become my accountability partners. We may not meet or speak frequently, but I would know that I have promised to do something and hopefully it will keep me on track. 

4. Tools

I plan to use an app called Insight Timer to keep time and track my progress. It is a nifty app which shows how many people are meditating at the same time as you. It's a nice touch and helps me stay on track.

There is another useful app for guided meditation called Headspace. Or you can use Coach.me for tracking other daily habits.

5. Technique and Study

From what I read so far, there seem to be multiple techniques of meditating. I am going to start simple by focusing on my breath. As I progress, I plan to learn new techniques and include them in my practice.

The study is optional for a meditation habit. But, I recommend it and it comes from my philosophy that learning about a trade deeply improves the experience. For example, if I enjoy a movie, I tend to go online and read about the stories behind its production and trivia associated with it. I spoke about it in an earlier post called How to Have More Fun at Fun.

 

END NOTES

Much like the rest of our body, the mind needs exercise as well. You could solve puzzles or do brain games & training. Meditation is another such thing to strengthen and train your mind. I would recommend giving it a try and then judge it based on your own experience. I did a meditation session yesterday and it was tough. 10 minutes seemed long. I felt both physically and mentally uncomfortable. But, I'll treat this as the initial pain when the brain muscle is jerked awake from its sleep and I'll persevere. 

Any regular practitioners out there? Would love to hear your experience so far.

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Read Next:  Mindfulness - An Introduction

Start With Art

Over the past few weeks, I have formed two new habits to kick-start my day. One of them is Exercising. I had tried it before, but I was never disciplined. Two things have helped in changing that: 

  • I have a designated trigger to exercise - brushing my teeth. Choosing a daily activity as a trigger to another one is a proven technique to form a new habit. As soon as I am done brushing, I know that the next thing I have to do is exercise. There is no struggle to find the time or the right mood, since the moment after brushing arrives every day.

Recommended reading on forming new habits: Leo Babauta's book Zen Habits.

  • I ignore my mind - What I mean by this is that I get on the exercise mat on an autopilot mode. I don't let my mind rationalise and tell me to skip a day. There are days when it tells me that I am tired or taking a break just this one day wouldn't hurt. But, I have learnt to ignore it. It sounds simple, but is powerful. I have written about it earlier in the post The One skill to stick to your resolutions.

My exercise regime isn't too fancy by any measure. It resembles the popular 7-minute workout with a fair measure of stretching exercises on top. Additionally, I do a few stretches specifically for my upper back since I spend most of my waking hours on a chair.

But, this post is not about exercising. It is about what I do next - 

I read a book.

It doesn't seem like a big deal, but it has become one of the most important activities of my day. I call this start with art - Begin your day with reading a good book for whatever amount of time you can spare. I do it for about an hour and it has improved my life considerably. Allow me to explain how.

A good book fills me with inspiration and a desire to do something great myself. There have been many times when I read a page or two and the sheer beauty of the language spurred me on to write something of my own. I would then promptly close the book and sit down to write at a furious pace. New ideas would crash against the walls of my brain racing each other to be the first ones to appear on the blank page. 

Reading a nice book lifts you up and propels you into action. I recommend reading good literature in the morning. Life stories of great men and women isn't a bad choice either.

You could have chosen 'doing' versus 'consuming' art. If you can do that, go for it. But, my morning reading is like a cup of coffee which flicks on a light inside me. This 'consumption' makes the 'doing' easier.

The end of my exercise triggers the start with art. And my sheer love for reading has come in handy to form this habit. If you need suggestions, here's my reading list.

Give it a shot. You have everything to gain. And do tell if it works for you. Do you find yourself filled with more energy and endeavor to grab the day by its balls and carpe the fucking diem? I would love to hear if you have any other method to start the day that works for you.

Cover Image via Unsplash

Related Posts

  1. The Catharsis of Creation
  2. How to Cure Boredom
  3. How to Live Life

The Catharsis of Creation

Write, paint, stitch, shoot, make something. It seems hard at first, but once you actually get started, it feels wonderfully relaxing. It relieves you of negativity, exhaustion and boredom.

Last night, I felt really tired and confused, as if in a daze. That was how I had been for most part of the day. There was no apparent reason for me to feel this way. But, emotions never arrive in tune with our concept of logic. To disengage myself from this feeling, I tried to find means to entertain myself. 

I picked up a book but reading seemed labored. Then, I put on the latest Apple Keynote, but it looked boring. Talking to someone didn't interest me nor did taking a walk. Something was amiss. 

It was still early to go to bed so I decided to sit down and finish up some of the pending tasks for my blog. Gradually, I found myself in the groove of creating and moving things. One and a half hours later, I found myself fresher and more attentive than I had been throughout the day. And, I was able to pen down a draft of the post you are reading right now.

Creation is cathartic. 

By creation, I don't mean that you have to do Big things. You don't have to create an epic novel or a magnificent painting, or the most ingenious movie ever. You don't have to do it all right away. 

  Post-Its with small Haikus on my wall

Post-Its with small Haikus on my wall

When you are stuck, start small. Maybe, write a couple of lines on a post it and stick it on a wall.

Paint a bottle. Take a video as you cook something, edit it in an editor.

Or just spend time playing with creation tools online like Incredibox.

  Little Buddha on an Old Monk bottle - Not my work

Little Buddha on an Old Monk bottle - Not my work

It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to exist. You created something where nothing was present earlier. There was zilch before you put your skills into it to bring something to life. Pat yourself on the back, it's a big deal. 

Don't worry about creating something small, casual or flimsy. Creation doesn't have a quota that you would not have enough left in you to make something serious. Quite the contrary. Creating these small projects could actually serve as a fertile ground for you to build your next big thing. 

I had planned that I would not publish another new post on the blog until I release the book. I imagined that this would allow me to pour all my energy into finishing up the book. But, I felt something stuck inside of me which affected my writing process. Perhaps, I should have realised that I would derive energy from the simple act of writing whether it is on the book or not is irrelevant.

Brewed Green Tea. Made and edited a video

The energies you derive from doing these small, off the cuff projects, coalesce to support your big dream project. Human race has been moved forward by people who created, in their small chambers, irrespective of what is going to happen to their projects, simply for the joy of creating. 

 

It is almost addictive like a drug whose fix you need regularly. Once you experience the high it gives you, you can never turn back. Only that it is much more beneficial and progresses us towards our quest to find meaning in our lives.

10 Steps Guide to Mindful Online Reading

Have you seen Death Note? It is a brilliant Japanese Anime series that I am watching these days. One of the characters, L, has a habit of sitting on his haunches. This, he says, increases his deductive reasoning capacity by 40%. I don’t know how true this statement is but this was the position I was sitting in while reading an article on controlling our attention by Mark Manson. If you haven’t read his blog yet, you should. I had included it in my simplified reading list and I don’t ever regret doing so.

A combination of his thought provoking article, and the feeling of over-consumption that I've been struggling with lately, led me to a chain of thoughts which culminated into this post. While reading an article online we have a habit of jumping from one to another, sharing and commenting without even reading through the whole thing and in general, rushing on to finish it off the checklist. I figured, there has to be a better way instead. So, without further adieu, here is the 10 step ‘guide’ to mindful online reading. Perhaps, try out these techniques with this post and let me know if it was useful.

  1. Keep your laptop away from you, preferably slightly more than one arm distance that you have to stretch a little bit to touch the keyboard. Our fingers have a habit of being finicky and they keep bouncing around clicking here and there and in general making a nuisance of themselves.
  2. Finish reading what you have on the screen and once you’ve done that, move on to the next scroll. Don't keep scrolling after every few lines (unless you have a problem viewing what's written at the bottom of a page). The constant flickering of the screen causes a major distraction.
  3. Keep your phone at a distance. 
  4. Keep open a notebook/pen, an Evernote window or anything else you use to record your thoughts. You don't have to record anything though, no pressure.
  5. While reading, feel free to take breaks - not to check a new message or notification but to think through what you’ve just read or simply just to take a deep breath.
  6. Your mind will wander off every once in a while - to that conversation you had with someone in office, or that thing you have to do tomorrow. Gently bring it back to present. 
  7. After finishing, take a few moments to think through the message and if it resonates with you or not.
  8. Share your opinions and the article with a friend - not on Facebook or Twitter, although you can do that as well. But, share it in person, or over a phone call or in a private message. Have a thoughtful discussion around it.
  9. DON’T jump on to the next article right away. Do something else, walk about a little bit aimlessly.
  10. Respond to the author with your thoughts about it. Hearing from their readers is one of those things which writers cherish a lot. And some of the best connections start with a single email.

The purpose behind this step by step guide is to ensure that your really immerse yourself in what you are reading. I acknowledge that this borders on the line of being too painful to go through for everything your read online. But, every once in a while, for a really good article you find, try following some, if not all of these steps. 

 

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Simplifying Reading Habits

Recently, I’ve been in a constant quest to simplify my life. Reducing clutter and keeping only the things that interest me the most, the ones which add the most value in my life instead of aimlessly consuming everything that comes my way has been my intention. I want to control my life and the experiences I get. Doing this but without sacrificing the chance serendipitous moment is also to be taken care of.

One of the biggest things in that regard is controlling what I read. I’ve been an information junkie for as long as I can remember. From Pustak Mahal’s amazing series of Children’s Knowledge Bank which I used to buy from the book stalls on railway platforms, buying books from the Scholastic book fairs held at my school to the Internet. Consuming information feels good to me, it helps me grow. But, there are days when you feel as if you’ve consumed so much but at the end of the day you still feel hollow. That is why I have decided to control what I read. Hence, now, I’ve unsubscribed myself from all reading lists except a few. These are the few blogs which I admire and like to learn from.

1. Aeon Magazine - In this fast paced world of fast food articles, Aeon is slow journalism. They publish just one single, in depth, well researched article from the subject matter experts a day. Covering various genres, it is one of the best places to get an introduction on some new subject.

2. Zenhabits - It is a perfect, simple blog by Leo Babuta. A one man show, it has quickly become one of the most visited blogs on the internet. Leo’s daily insights from his life experiences are deeply thought provocative. One of his write ups, which is also pinned on his home page is Breathe and I absolutely swear by it.

3. The Minimalists - I have been a fan of minimalism philosophy and these guys are living it where we just dream about it. They are guys just like us who used to hoard stuff earlier but have now realised the importance of keeping only the stuff that matters and nothing else.

4. Art of Manliness - A man’s guide to everything manly. Need I say more?

5. Books - Not restricted to any particular category, but reading books is always a pleasure to get lost into. It takes time, but you come out of it feeling as if you have learnt something which is going to stay with you for longer than just any random article on the internet.

6. Hacker News - A geek’s default place for everything that is new, groundbreaking and exciting. Comments from the contributors are equally and sometimes even more informative than the articles themselves.

7. Mark Manson - Mark is a digital entrepreneur who has travelled the world and shares his experience in well written, insightful articles. No fluff, pure gold.

Having written this article, I feel that even this list is a little much and I need to cut down. I probably will. I hope you find some of these sites as useful as I do.

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