If you want your mind to be less distracted, you have to practice the skill of un-distracting yourself.
That is meditation. It is a technique for training the mind to return from distraction easily. That is different from trying to focus. Trying hard does not work very well to increase attention span. It sort of backfires. Meditation is more like accepting a certain amount of distraction, but practicing bringing the attention back. The mind inevitably becomes distracted and it takes a lot of practice to sense that when that is happening and gently correct it.
In her book The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal talks about using meditation to increase willpower and self-discipline. It’s part of her recommendations for building stronger habits. Another book, The Power of Habit, also mentions meditation as an option to help solidify good habits. I strongly agree. If you want to wake up easier, build better routines, and learn to avoid the mental states that cause procrastination, meditation is a really good tool.
I’ve been learning with a website called Headspace. Headspace will teach you to meditate in about 10 days. You can learn more at their youtube page, too. Their free program has 10 sessions of 10 minutes each. If you like that, you can pay a yearly subscription fee and get access to a pretty extensive library. With the subscription, you complete the ten 15-minute sessions and the ten 20-minute sessions. Once that is done, it unlocks hundreds of topic-focused guided meditations. Buying a subscription also gives you access to the mobile app. It can download sessions for use even when you don’t have an Internet connection.
On the other hand, it’s not like it takes a fancy app to meditate. If you don’t want to pay for a subscription, you can do the free section and then find innumerable guided meditations on Youtube. Some are very cheesy. It’s just as reasonable to set a timer and repeat the exercise you learn from Headspace. There are also some nice timers out there. If you Google “timer” you get a little web-app that works. More sophisticated timers let you set up dings and gongs at separate intervals like this one: http://www.fungie.info/bell/.
Since I started Headspace I have had two noticeable benefits. First, I wake up at 7:30 AM without an alarm and don’t feel the oppressive need to go back to sleep until the last minute. I get up and read or do Headspace and have a leisurely breakfast and still get to work at 9:30. Secondly, I recognize when I start to surf the ‘net to procrastinate. It seems like other people experience this effect, too. I notice when I head to Reddit instead of to the work at hand. Being aware of the impulse before an hour goes by surfing nonsense makes it easier to avoid. I think, too, meditation forces me to be aware of the underlying mental turmoil that motivates it.
Originally published: 2015/05/29