The alarm goes off. The shower is turned on. The coffee run follows shortly after. Then it's emails. Then it's small tasks. Then it's off the races with meetings and writing these blogs.
That's how my typical morning looks on a good day. On the bad days, everything just seems to get delayed. This problem is compounded by the fact that I work from home and basically start work before the sleep has even left me.
So, when Aley, my partner is crime and marketing, said that we should slow it down and try to change our morning routines by meditating for about 10 to 20 minutes before we jump into work to see what would happen. I was intrigued, yet skeptical.
Would meditating really change the way my day went? Would it give me some sort of mental clarity for longer? Or, would it just feel like another task that I had to get out of the way before I could complete my more pressing tasks?
We decided to put it to the test with both of us dedicating 10-20 minutes to meditation before work for two weeks. Here's how it changed the way we worked.
First Off, What Do People Say About Meditation?
Before we jump into our results, I think it's important that we set up some groundwork so that everyone's on the same page about meditation on a very basic level.
Meditation is one of the things that's become increasingly more popular over the last decade or so. Some studies and researchers claim that there are powerful benefits to the practice (though there are the detractors, too).
I'm not here to argue the scientific understanding of meditation or what it does to your brain. Instead, I looked at this challenge as a way to have a gap in my day that falls between running to get coffee and actually starting work.
Getting coffee is basically my commute because I work from home. I actually started this fun, yet financially irresponsible, practice to do the same thing I hoped that meditation would. I don't like the idea of waking up and groggily walking to my desk to start working for the next eight-ish hours. Instead, I take a shower, get dressed, and pretty much pretend I'm going to work even though it's just about a half a mile each way to get coffee (probably even less than that).
If you've never meditated before, it's a deceptively simple process. You sit in a comfortable position (in a chair or on the floor - you could probably even lie down if really wanted to), close your eyes, and follow your breath as it comes in and out.
This gentle motion is easy for your mind to hold on to because you can control it and there is a physical sensation of breathing that we typically ignore. For some, counting breaths is great. For others, simply being mindful (a word that will be coming up a lot) of your breathing does the trick. You can also extend your focus to your surroundings, parts or your body, and other things.
That sounds super easy, right?
It's just breathing and concentrating, after all. Nope. It's impossible. Your brain goes a mile a minute even when you're just sitting there. A sound from the other room. A car going by. What task you want to do right when this is over (my biggest issue). Guessing how long you've been sitting there and how much longer you have left. These thoughts come along and worm their way into your head, causing you to momentarily forget that you're supposed to be counting breaths.
Then, what I like to call the snowball happens. You notice you're not paying attention. You try to regain that focus but by doing so you start to focus on trying to focus and it's all downhill from there.
But that's the wrong approach. As these thoughts come up, you acknowledge and let them pass. Then you return to your breathing or whatever your guided meditation is focusing on. To think that you can sit down and literally turn your brain off is a fool's errand.
It sounds weird but being bad at meditation is meditation.
Okay, that's enough about meditating on a practical, physical level, though. I'm not trying to become some guru here or sell you a weekend retreat.
Let's get into how we felt after performing exercises like the one I described above.
Our Challenge and the App
To make our challenge a little more streamlined, Aley and I decided that it would be best for both of us to use an app to stay on track. We won't cover too much of what the app was all about here, but I will relay some details about how it worked.
In short, the app allowed us to choose a path that we wanted to follow. There are also features for users to do random practices, too, but we mainly stuck to one curriculum for the two weeks.
The app featured a soothing coach who walked us through each of the meditations, starting with one that helps you orientate yourself to your body. You basically start by focusing on the top of your head and scanning downward to your toes. Then, you turn around and go back up again. It was fun and, for me, a lot different that the breath-counting methods I've been exposed to in the past.
This method allowed me to stop trying to meditate on my breath, which was a welcomed change. Over the course of the two weeks, there were many other guided sessions that took on similar, but different, approaches. All in all, if you want to start meditating or just want to give it a shot for fun, I recommend finding an app within your price range (or one that allows you to try it for free).
Okay, now that all of the little details are out of the way, let's see what really happened.
Week One: The Struggle
The first day was a little weird for me, not going to lie. I sat down and opened the app to get started with the guided meditation and it well for the most part, but my mind kept jumping back to work. Specifically, my mind went to the task that I would do immediately after the session. What email would I send? What do I have on my to-do list? Is there a sales meeting today?
These thoughts would cascade by and I had to remember to let them pass (don't push them away) and return focus to my body.
It was really hard to push these thoughts out of my brain once they arose. I knew this was normal and just part of the process, but I still found myself trying to meditate instead of realizing that this was, in fact, the meditation. It was like I was expecting something to kick in.
After the session I decided to give writing a shot because that's probably the most tiring thing I do every day (on a mental level). I was actually surprised that the words came pretty easy despite my later than normal start. I was also able to focus on more tasks after writing, which is usually a challenge after cranking out 1-2,000 words or more.
I found that this mental clarity happened throughout the week, too. For example, even after being pulled away from tasks a bunch of times in a row, I was able to easily pick back up where I left off, which, according to science, is very challenging to do.
I asked Aley how she felt about the first week and she had similar thoughts. The first couple days it was about getting into the routine of doing it before work (Aley meditates and does other mindful activities like yoga far more than I do).
She found that she was better able to manage the normal stresses of the day. The stress was still there, of course, but she was able to push through it and almost dismiss the stress just like you would a thought during a meditation session.
Upon hearing that, I realized that that's what I was doing, too. I wasn't worried about getting the word count out that day. Instead, I was just kind of happy to be writing and was able to continuously come back to the task without the worry that I've been completely derailed.
Another thing we both shared in our experience was the fact that we both found it harder to continue the practice later into the week. On Monday and Tuesday, though our minds were racing more than on, say, a Friday, it was easy to sit down and do the meditation before jumping into work. Later in the week, it seemed like we both felt like we'd rather just get some stuff out of the way.
Still, the benefits of the first week were surprising to me. I was a bit calmer and clearer. Now, I'm not saying that this is a magic bullet or anything like that, but I do think that having a gap between when I wake up and when I start work that is mindful about various things, helps you get into the working mode better than just jumping in.
Maybe, and I'm not sure if there is a lot of research about this, it was the fact that as I sat there meditating I thought about my day even though I didn't want to. Maybe this pre-gaming helped me better organize those tasks and prepare for them. It seems like it might have.
Week two was a lot harder for me to get into. I don't know what happened over the weekend but I wasn't feeling like meditating at all that morning. The only thing that got me through was the knowledge that it was only 10-15 minutes of my time. I think we all have mornings like this where you simply don't want to do anything at all.
Despite the sketchy start, I did find that the same positive benefits extended to week two. Aley found the same. She also found that it helped her stay motivated longer into the week. She calls this loss of motivation that she pushes through every week her dark passenger, which, to me, sounds like something that you'd mistakenly call forth from a Ouija board, but it's in fact a real thing (that comes from the TV show Dexter).
This passenger is just a way of thinking where something in the back of your mind is like, "enough of this. I'm done." We all have that, I think, especially when we've had worse weeks or more tasks to do.
I'm kind of the inverse of this, though. I find getting back into work after the weekend to be the struggle (as you can see from how I reacted to having to meditate that first day back). This fades for me over the week. I guess my dark passenger forms in my brain on Sunday nights or something like that.
In both of our cases, I'd say that our dark passengers were thwarted somewhat by meditation even though they are on different ends of the week.
Other that, week two was kind of uneventful all in all. We meditated every morning and made it part of our routine. For me, it still felt like an extra thing, though. I'm sure if I stuck with it longer, it would become a normal thing I just do.
The Results, a Summary
In the end, we both found that meditation helped us have clearer minds for longer. We were able to recognize our stress and then let it lie. We didn't fight the stressful feelings or look at the tasks laid in front of us with anxiety. Instead, everything was just a bit easier to manager.
Sadly, I haven't kept up the practice after the experiment, but Aley has. She says that she doesn't always do it before work. Instead, she fits it where it needs to go. For example, if she needs to clear her mind for a meeting or a particularly grueling task, she pops open the app and does a session.
I'd like to try this out for myself because it takes meditation and makes it a tool. I, for one, am not trying to seek enlightenment or ego death during my meditation. I'm happy with it just rebooting my brain for a second even if all it's doing for me is helping me look at my day in a different light.
Again, I do feel like the results I personally experienced over the last two weeks were generally because it allowed me to organize my mind in a meaningful way. Instead of running around like a headless chicken, I took tasks as they came, finished them, and moved on. If something popped up in the middle, I'd address it and dismiss it, too. This, I think, is the key here.
In case you missed it, Aley recently challenged herself to stop saying sorry. You can check that out here. Do you have a challenge for us? We'd love to hear about it. Drop us a message on Twitter or Facebook with your ideas.