Getting some headspace – My journey into meditation and mindfulness

One of my work colleagues told me recently that she’d gone to mass for the first time in a few years and had a strange experience. Other than probably not knowing when to rise for communion, she found it difficult to be disconnected for 45 minutes, stuck in a WiFi-less church and unable to check Twitter, email or Facebook for such an incredibly long period of time!

While that’s a small, anecdotal snapshot of our distraction culture, it’s also an indication of an overwhelming urge to be constantly connected. We’re cultivating a deep addiction to technology.

Personally, I’ll readily admit I find it difficult to live without my phone, constantly checking in during life’s downtime. My brain rarely switches off, and it’s not rare that I could spend 10/11/12 hours per day looking at a screen that’s constantly being refreshed with mounds of juicy information.

Dimming concentration

I’ve written here before about my battle to essentially re-learn how to read, and my dimming concentration span. It’s something that I’ve been very aware of for a while now, even a little scared as to what it might be doing. Nicholas Carr’s ‘The Shallows’ is a book that goes into greater detail on how the internet and this constant connection is shaping our malleable, plastic minds. It’s frightening stuff.

I’ve also suffered from poor sleeping patterns since I was young. That’s been exacerbated recently, and the struggle to tear myself away from the circadian rhythm damaging blue light of my smartphone at night is almost certainly a part of that.  Needless to say, I was looking for something to change things up a bit.

Mindful

I’d been aware of meditation for quite some time. I’m an avid follower of Tim Ferriss (4 Hour Workweek) and particularly his ‘Random’ show with Kevin Rose, and both had spoken of their surprise at the power of an app called ‘Headspace‘. I also recently saw Dan Harris, an ABC news correspondent who turned to meditation after an on air panic attack. So I decided to give it a try.


Now most think meditation is new age bullshit for hippies and Buddhists, but the science behind it is pretty positive.

Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness. People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at these things. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness.

The Willpower Instinct

The first thing I’ll say is that keeping an open mind is absolutely vital and Headspace certainly helps with that.

Headspace was started by mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe and his excellent Ted talk is a good place to start if you’re skeptical.


It’s a simple theory – by building up healthy habits of the mind, our behaviour in daily life changes. Our anger and stress levels decrease, clarity and grey matter increases and we make better decisions.

App

Offering a free download and 10 day trial, the app is simple to use, uncluttered and really helps with habit forming. Users asked to donate just 10 minutes per day for a quiet state of simple guided meditation. Andy’s dulcet English tones remind us to focus on our breath and observe all the sensations that occur as we breathe, basically emphasising being ‘more present’ in our lives. The idea is to calm our mind and free it from its usual chatter, enabling us to be more peaceful in our daily life and not to worry so much. It makes us more compassionate and mindful.

As a marketer, I also couldn’t help notice how beautiful the Headspace’s UX is. This is a major plus, and seems to open the whole mindfulness/meditation space to the layman. The initial course is easy to follow, habit forming and regular animated videos even pop up to make our experience even more enjoyable.

 

So has meditation and mindfulness worked? I can tell it’s probably not for everyone, but 1 month and 17 sessions in, I’ve found it a revelation. After the initial 10 sessions, I couldn’t wait to graduate to the next level, and with a cost of 5.99 per month, it’s a steal.

Honestly, for less than a Netflix/Spotify subscription you could be giving your mind something much more valuable.

Since starting, I’ve found myself being a lot more calm in work, and a growing ability to basically reset my mind in stressful/frustrating scenarios. It’s almost as if the mind’s operating system is being re-written. Any anxiety or depression is reduced and I’m certainly a little sharper. I’m also sleeping better and while some of this is certainly related to decreasing a caffeine habit and the placebo effect, meditation has definitely had an impact.

If you, like me, are a technology addict who might be a little worried about how that’s impacting your brain, I’d highly recommend you at least trial Headspace. As knowledge workers, many of us don’t even think of treating our mind right, like an athlete would think of his body.

You owe it to your overworked, under appreciated brain to offer a daily rest. Trust me, it’s worth it.