What I learned from my meditation experiment

At the end of last month I wrote about how I was going to start meditating every day for the month of November. Remember how I said I was making it an experiment, not a challenge, because that way I couldn’t fail?

Friends, if this had been a challenge, I would’ve failed miserably.

I missed a few days here and there in the first two weeks, and over Thanksgiving I didn’t meditate a single day. I’m still at over 50% success rate for the month so far, but I don’t know that it’s much higher than 50%.

Luckily though, this was an experiment, which means I haven’t actually failed! In addition to not-failing, my month of haphazard meditation has actually taught me way more than I was expecting.

Perhaps I should’ve meditated while out on the lake over Thanksgiving?

The power of time

Things felt like they were going well when I was only meditating for eight minutes at a time. Some sessions were harder than others, but for the most part meditation wasn’t an exercise in frustration. So I was cocky when a week and a half in I decided to up that time to 13 minutes per session.

Fifteen minutes is a long fucking time. Have you ever sat still and tried to focus on your breath for that long? I haven’t—I’m still at 13 minutes. But even that’s frustratingly hard, and for sure during some of the time I’m failing to focus only on my breath I’m busy wondering just when exactly those 13 minutes will be done. Am I done yet? Surely I’ve been sitting here breathing for almost that long, right?

This is a good reminder that most days I’ve got a lot of seemingly useless pockets of time in between things. Normally I write off 15-30 minutes as not being enough time to get anything done, but perhaps I can start changing that mindset (even if it’s just an opportunity to get my meditation in for the day!).

Don’t set yourself up for failure

Weekends when I don’t go to a barre class that requires me to set an alarm to be up in time (slash also yesterday morning when I forgot to turn my weekday alarms back on after Thanksgiving and ended up oversleeping by an hour and a half…) have taught me that I need more sleep—waking up actually feeling refreshed, even on the weekends, is a rare occasion.

I didn’t elaborate on this in my mental health post, but yes, I’ve got ongoing sleep issues. I’m still trying to work through them, even though there’s a night and day difference between how I slept before I saw the sleep specialist and now. It’s an amazing feeling not remembering waking up multiple times during the night/sometimes not being able to get back to sleep. I’m still working on the grogginess/alertness issues during the day, but it’s so much better now.

I should probably start going to bed at least half an hour earlier and seeing if that makes a difference. I should probably also drag myself back to the doctor and maybe get that sleep study done that we’ve been talking about, but one step at a time.

This also means that trying to fit meditation in at the very end of the day is a horrible idea. For one, if I’m actually going to start going to bed earlier, I don’t need something else on the list of things I need to do in the evening. When I’m tired I’m more prone to falling asleep during the session; that’s definitely happened at least once. I’ve also balked at the idea of meditating for 15 (or 8 or 13) whole minutes before I can go to sleep and set a timer for 5 instead. That’s lip service to meditation at its finest.

Gaining a bit of mental clarity would likely be most effective at the beginning of the day, before the background noise and rush rush rush of work and my personal to-do list have set in. But the solution probably isn’t to meditate first thing in the morning since anything over 10 minutes would require me to wake up a bit earlier. That’s not going to happen, either, and there’s no use pretending to myself that it will. So I need to find a good time in my day, maybe before lunch, where I can just sit and breathe for a bit. Once I’ve actually got the habit down, then I can play around with what time it happens.

Momentum is powerful

My barre instructors sometimes say at the beginning of class that the hardest part is over: just by putting on our workout clothes and making it to class, we’ve set ourselves up for success over the next hour. Getting started is difficult, with money, with making changes, with things we know are going to be hard to do, with building new habits; but momentum builds on itself. Once I made the decision to meditate on November 1st, it wasn’t as hard of a decision to do it again on November 2nd.

Likewise, that works in the opposite direction, too. If I missed meditating last night, I’m way more likely to skip it tonight because I don’t feel like it or am too tired. Getting started again becomes that much more difficult each day that passes.

Routine is your friend

My life was a bit crazy this month, and it definitely affected my diet, my sleep, and how much I’ve written. I’m not complaining—it was absolutely my choice to work a ton at my second job and take a petsitting gig right before Thanksgiving. It was also a good lesson for me about my limits: I tend to be an all-or-nothing person and jump into things with both feet, and I definitely overcommitted this month in pursuit of saying yes and making more money (in addition to fun health scares). Now I know.

What I also know thanks to this month is that it’s way harder to start a new habit when your life is chaotic. Even before traveling for Thanksgiving, I remember being frustrated while petsitting that between driving to Virginia from work, feeding the animals, walking the dog, managing to make and eat food for myself while fighting off the overly inquisitive cats, and being a jungle gym for three needy animals, that there wasn’t really room physically or mentally for me to meditate during the evening. I also had to get up an hour earlier than normal to walk the dog/feed the animals/drink all the coffee/fight traffic to get to work on time, and I’m exhausted just remembering all of that.

I’m looking forward to a more normal upcoming couple of weeks back to my mostly walkable life, with many more “boring” evenings of working out, making dinner, blogging, and reading. Predictable days should make it easier for me to find a time to meditate each day.

Why I’m doubling down

Now that I’ve actually talked about my depression and anxiety, I think it’s more clear why I’m trying to introduce a daily meditation practice into my life. So, despite the frustration and the failure to build a habit and stick with it so far, I’m not giving up on the meditation experiment. In fact, I’m extending it through the end of the year.

That decision was inspired by Mrs. Adventure Rich’s #ARStreak Challenge to streak towards the end of the year by doing something every day that improves your general well-being (or wealth).

I love her point about not waiting until you make New Year’s resolutions to start doing something good for yourself, especially since the end of the year tends to be a season of excess. I arbitrarily started this experiment on November 1st but could’ve chosen any old day. And sure, January 1st is the ultimate in nice, round dates on which to make changes. But it’s been a year of personal growth and development for me, so why not end it with more of the same?

I thought maybe I’d do a yoga practice for the #ARStreak challenge but decided a few days ago to continue my meditation experiment instead, especially since I’ve learned so much over the last few weeks. I missed November 23-25, but that’s no excuse to give up and not do it at all! So for the rest of the year, I’m committing to a regular meditation practice. I’m not going to commit to building up the time each week like I did in the first experiment post, especially since I’ve been struggling with the time. I’m just going to meditate once a day, plain and simple.

Now that I’ve stayed up way too late finishing this post, I’m off to fit in a quick meditation session before I go to bed…

5 Replies to “What I learned from my meditation experiment”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I don’t meditate by the official definition, but I find that on my long bike rides or my long runs I practice a kind of mental meditation. I think the nature of longer endurance activities where you’re really pushing hard forces you to dig deep into your brain and start to flush things out. All I know is that after these activities I tend to feel mentally refreshed.

    1. I love those unofficial meditation sessions! I don’t do a ton of long endurance activities, but I definitely get that mentally refreshed feeling after a hike.

  2. Oh yeah, momentum though. “Intertia is a property of matter” and thoughts, and actions… definitely easier to stick with a streak, whether a good one or a bad one. I’m fighting hard to keep my good diet streaks going and not allow slip ups to duplicate!
    If you do decide to give yoga a try, I love yoga w Adrienne yoga camp, each video is 20-40 minutes with a different mantra each day. Sometimes I have to stop it halfway bc I hit sooze and I can’t do a whole 40 minutes, but it’s better than zero.

    1. You’ve definitely convinced me that if I do yoga, those videos are going to be the way to go. And you’re so right about some being better than none!

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