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Habits

60 Days of Meditation With The Muse Meditation EEG Device

We all know someone who meditates. And we all wonder if it actually does anything for them. And more importantly, if it would do anything for us.    

I’ve tried meditation a few times but it never took. I figured it was because either I couldn’t stick with it because I can’t seem to stick to anything or because I was doing it wrong.

So when I saw the Muse Brain Sensing Headband, I thought it would be a great opportunity to challenge myself to dive further into meditation.

I set myself a challenge. Meditate everyday for 60 days and see what happens.  

Why the Challenge

The potential benefits of mediation 

  • Increased ability to concentrate
  • Increased emotional resilience 
  • Better mood 

See if meditation would become a habit

Studies have indicated that it takes about 60-90 days of regular practice for something to become a habit. This challenge was an opportunity to see if meditation could become a habit

The chance to observe how meditation changes as I get better at it  

In a previous post, I discussed how skill changes the experience of things. Part of the attraction of this challenge was the chance to observe how my experience of meditation would change over the course of the challenge.

See if I could be consistent

Meditation is a great challenge for people who struggle with consistency because it requires so little. No need for fancy clothes, or equipment. No showing up to a gym or studio. All you need is a quiet place, a timer and time. In other words, No Excuses!

Of course, I made things slightly more complicated than that but the point is that you don’t have to.

How I Did It

Meditation Type:

Breath Awareness – There are many types of meditation. Being acquainted with breath awareness meditation, that’s what I decided to do. If it’s good enough for Yuval Noah Harari, it’s good enough for me.

Wim Hof Breathing – I used the Wim Hof breathing method as a way to prime myself before meditation. Numerous people have expressed that doing this prior to meditation improves their experience of meditation.  

Tracking Tools:

Google Sheets – Google sheets is my favorite tracking tool by far. It’s on my phone and any computer that I can get my hands on so there’s no excuse for missing a day. I put together the below simple spreadsheet for tracking my daily meditation practice.

It has columns for the date, duration of the meditation, Muse % calm score and notes. In the last few days of the challenge, I added column to record my own subjective score of how the meditation session went.

Muse Headband – This headband is a EEG device. It measures your brainwaves and translates the results into sound. Ideally, this sound provides feedback that tells you when you’ve fallen out of a meditative state so that you can bring your attention back to whatever your object of concentration is.

Using the Muse brain sensing headband was an opportunity to add an objective measure of meditation progress to what is usually a highly subjective experience.  

Notable Results

Muse headband data 

One thing I was hoping for was to observe a trend in the results provided by the Muse headband that aligned with my subjective sense of my meditation performance. No such thing occurred.

To the contrary, I had many sessions where the Muse headband indicated I had been calm for a high % of the session when in fact my mind was all over the place or I was daydreaming.  

I’m convinced that the Muse headband has little ability to detect whether or not someone is in a meditative state. It can detect if you’re moving around or materially distracted but it can’t tell the difference between daydreaming and meditation, at least for me.

The Phenomenon

By far the most interesting result occurred towards the beginning of the challenge.  

Specifically on day eight, in the hours after the session, I experienced what I can only describe as a deep and profound sense of well-being. It was a feeling seemed to encompass my entire body, a relaxation into the concept that everything was ok and I was happy to be where I was.

This feeling lasted for only an hour or two but it was so distinctly different from my normal state of existence and unique in that I could not account for it by anything other than the morning’s meditation.  

Looking back, it’ impossible to say whether this was a placebo effect or a real change in my mental state as a result of my meditation practice. I continued to hope that the phenomenon would repeat itself but it didn’t.  I did have some good meditation sessions but nothing like what experienced that day. 

I can say though that if that feeling could be an even intermittent result of a meditation practice, then I would say sign me up for two!  

Missed three days

I missed three days during the challenge. No excuses, I just forgot. The best way to combat this happening was to do first thing in the morning. Life tends to get in the way otherwise.   

Sitting down became easier 

Once change I noticed was that sitting for long periods became easier. At first, just doing a 15 minute session would leave my back and knees screaming. By the end I could easily sit for 20+ minutes without experiencing a distracting level of pain. 

Wim Hof Breathing

Wim Hof breathing method definitely seems to make meditation easier and/or more pleasurable. Doing the breathing beforehand felt like clearing the mental palate before sitting down. I was still prone to distraction and it didn’t make every session a success but it helped prime me for what could feel like a daunting task, especially when going over 20 minutes in a session.  

Diet, Sleep & Time of Day Matter

Diet, sleep, and time of day seem to meaningfully affect the quality of my meditation sessions. If I’d been eating poorly or had a long weekend of drinking, it felt much more difficult to concentrate. It was also harder to just get myself to sit down at all.

The time of day also seemed to play a big role. If I was tired I would often slip from meditating into dreaming. Most of my meditating was done first thing in the morning and I found that on many days my anxiety seemed to mount as the session progressed. 

This might be the result of rising stress hormone levels first thing in the morning. The effect could also possibly be attributed to a waning of whatever psychological state is induced by the Wim Hof breathing exercises I did before the session.

Whatever the cause, I still recommend doing meditation first thing in the morning if you can. 

Increased concentration

I can’t say that my concentration improved in any objective sense. But I can say that I did notice that when I got distracted I would remind myself that just as in meditation I needed to return my focus to the work, even though it wasn’t the most interesting thought in my head at the moment.

It would be interesting to find an objective measure of concentration and test it over the course of another challenge. 

Habit Not Formed

Meditation did not become a habit for me as a result of the challenge. While I’m definitely less intimidated by the prospect of sitting in silent concentration for 20+ minutes, I have no desire or compulsion to meditate when I wake up in the morning. Maybe it takes 90 days for me to make something a habit or maybe I need to try a different form of meditation. 

Overall thoughts

On some days doing 20+ minutes of meditation actually felt good but I didn’t see enough benefit in my day-to-day living to convince me that meditation practice was something I have to keep doing. Nor did it become a habit as I hoped it might. 

That said, I remain fascinated by “The Phenomenon” experience described earlier. If a believable person could convince me that, that type of feeling was the inevitable result of a meditation practice, then I would definitely sign up for another challenge.

What I Would Do Differently

Give yourself a subjective score

I wish I’d given myself a subjective score for each one of my practices. Even if you have an EEG device, a subjective score can be a useful tool for making a relative comparison of your results over time.

Increase the intensity

If I could do this again one variable I would want to experiment with is the intensity of my practice.

The book Altered Traits seemed to suggest that breakthrough levels of skill often occurred when meditatiors went for intensive retreats. Perhaps it’s necessary to immerse even more deeply in order to “level-up” at meditation.

Get a coach

Over the course of the challenge, I noticed a persistent anxiety as to whether or not I was doing things “right”. Despite reminding myself that the challenge was more about consistency then performance, it kept creeping back into my thoughts.

Next time, I think getting a coach would be helpful for allowing myself to feel like I was on the path to getting better at meditation. 

Resources For Doing This Yourself




Ray Dalio On How To Run A Meeting & Other Business Tactics

Reading a book is easy. It’s much harder to take what’s in the book and incorporate it into our lives. I like to tackle this problem by distilling books down to a few tactics that I can implement quickly. 1

In a previous post, I outlined 4 ways that you can make better decisions using Ray Dalio’s life principles. In this post, I’ll outline what I think are the most impactful and actionable tactics from Dalio’s work principles.

Here they are:

1) How To Run A Meeting

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate.” ― Dave Barry

Dalio often describes his organization as an intellectual version of the Navy Seals, and it’s clear from his Principles that like the military, he has an affinity for structure. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he thinks the most important part of running a meeting is to be clear about who is in charge and what the meeting is supposed to achieve:

Make it clear who is directing the meeting and whom it is meant to serve. Every meeting should be aimed at achieving someone’s goals; that person is the one responsible for meeting and deciding what they want to get out of it and how they will do so. Meetings without someone clearly responsible run a high risk of being directionless and unproductive

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – A

Dalio’s second Principle for running effective meetings is to assign someone to keep track of both responsibilities and the conversation flow. Said person ensures that any tasks to be done are assigned to specific people and not forgotten. They also ensure that the meeting doesn’t veer too far off topic.

Be careful not to lose personal responsibility via group decision making. Too often groups will make a decision to do something without assigning personal responsibilities, so it is not clear who is supposed to follow up by doing what. Be clear in assigning personal responsibilities.

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – H

Watch out for “topic slip.” Topic slip is random drifting from topic to topic without achieving completion on any of them. One way to avoid it is by tracking the conversation on a whiteboard so that everyone can see where you are. (Emphasis mine)

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – F

Applying Dalio’s tactics may make people feel uncomfortable at first, but in the long run, it will reduce peoples anxiety about meetings because they’ll know how they’re expected to behave and that their time won’t be wasted.

2) Use Standing Meetings

Our true priorities are defined by where we spend our resources, and that most often means where we spend our precious time. Too often though the distractions of daily business pull us along low-value tangents that take ours and others time away from where it would best spent. Dalio has found that the best way to avoid these distractions is to habituate your time allocations by setting standing meetings. For instance, if your company priority is sales, you should have a weekly sales meeting.

Use standing meetings to help your organization run like a swiss clock. Regularly scheduled meetings add to overall efficiency by enduring that important interactions and to-do’s aren’t overlooked, eliminating the need for efficient coordination, and improving operations (because repetition leads to refinement). It pays to have standardized meeting agendas that ask the same feedback questions in each meeting, (such as how effective the meeting was) and nonstandard meeting agendas that include things done infrequently (such as quarterly budget reviews).

– Principles, Work Principle 13.3 – D

3) Use Daily Updates To Stay In Sync

Use daily updates as a tool for staying on top of what your people are doing and thinking. I ask each person who reports to me to take about ten to fifteen minutes to write a brief description of what they did that day, the issues pertaining to them, and their reflections. By reading these updates and triangulating them, (i.e., seeing other people’s takes on what their doing together), I can gauge how they are working together, what their moods are, and which threads I should pull on.

-Principles, Work Principle 10.6 – C

Imagine if you woke up every morning instantly knowing what everyone in your company intended to work on that day and everyone else knew the same thing. Appealing, because of how incredibly efficient that might make everything, right? And, at the same time, kind of terrifying because you don’t want everyone looking over your shoulder judging what you intend to do every day.

The latter concern was why I first resisted using daily updates. I told myself, “I’m competent. I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder to do the right thing.” But now that I’ve been using it for a few months, I’ve come to see the value in it.

For me specifically, it’s as simple as sending my colleague a list of things I intend to work on each day. And in addition to it being a useful communication tool, it helps me organize my day and prioritize what I need to work on first. By contrast, my old habit of jumping into my email first-thing would lead me down a rabbit hole that didn’t necessarily reflect my priorities.

4) Use Process Flow Diagrams

Dalio’s ideal is a company that runs like a machine. At its core, a machine is a set of processes. Using process flow diagrams can help you visualize the different processes that make up your organization. These visuals help managers understand how resources will be allocated and interact with each other. But more importantly, they help ensure that everyone understands how the organization is expected to run and their role within it.

Understand that a great manager is essentially an organizational engineer. Great managers are not philosophers, entertainers, doers or artists. They are engineers. They see their organizations as machines and work assiduously to maintain and improve them. They create process flow diagrams to show how the machine works and to evaluate its design. They build metrics to light up how well each of the individual parts of the machine (most importantly, the people) and the machine as a whole are working. And they tinker constantly with its designs and its people to make both better.

– Principles, Work Principles, 10.1 – B

Process Flow Diagrams. Just as an engineer uses flowcharts to understand the workflow of what they’re designing, a manager needs a Process Flow Diagram to help visualize the organization as a machine. It might have references to an organizational chart that shows who reports to whom, or the org chart might supplement the Process Flow Diagram (PFD). Ideally the PFD is made in a way that allows you to both see things simply at a high level and drop down to low level. 

– Principles, Appendix

Since reading Principles, I’ve used process flow diagrams to visualize a number of personal and professional activities. I find that creating visual representations allows people to communicate more effectively about complex processes then they could otherwise.

Here’s an example of how process diagrams can help you visualize things. This was made using Lucid Chart:

 

 

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If you enjoyed this post, check out these other posts on Ray Dalio’s Principles:

Ray Dalio’s Principles – 4 Steps To Better Decisions

Ray Dalio’s Secret Sauce – The Truth Machine & The Good Life 

  1. The difference between tactics and strategy is strategy tells you what you should do, tactics tells you what to do. In other words, a strategy is the more general goal and tactics are the things you do to make that goal happen.


Ray Dalio’s Principles – 4 Steps to Better Decisions

In a previous post, I described Ray Dalio’s Truth Machine and formula for a good life. For those who haven’t read it, “Truth Machine” is my term for the core process Dalio has used to become a billionaire investor and achieve everything else he has in life.

One drawback to Dalio’s process is that it involves multiple steps and coordination. Such complexity makes it tempting to dismiss it as a method that’s only suitable for sophisticated organizations. I think that’s a mistake.

In the interest of making the process actionable for regular humans like you and me, here are four things you can do today to help implement Dalio’s process in your own lives:

1) CREATE AN ADVISORY BOARD

For most of us – myself included – critical feedback even with the best of intentions, often feels like criticism. We have a natural tendency to dislike people who criticize us and because other people want to be liked, they often refrain from giving us the kind of feedback we need. Thus we have dynamic where people don’t like getting critical feedback and people don’t want to give it. As a result, we often have situations where we don’t get good outside input when we should.

This dynamic is similar to the problem people face when it comes to exercise: e.g. because we don’t exercise, we have no energy, and because we have no energy, we don’t feel like exercising. And as in the case of exercise, the best way to break the cycle is to create a habit or ritual out of the thing we’d rather not do.

To make a habit of critical feedback, I suggest creating an advisory board. Write down the names of at least two other people whose opinions you value. You don’t have to tell them their new roles, just schedule recurring discussions with these people at least once every three months. Buy them coffee and ask them for their unfiltered opinions when it comes to your most important decisions.

But remember, most people won’t automatically give you the kind of honest feedback you’re looking for. You have to ask for honest feedback and demonstrate that you’ll accept it as a way of improving yourself and your decisions. Don’t make people regret being honest with you.  

2) USE PERSONALITY ASSESSMENTS

“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

A core principle of Dalio’s process for getting what you want out of life is that you must know yourself. But because our egos make it difficult see ourselves objectively this is much easier said than done. To paraphrase the great Richard Feynman, you must know yourself, and you are the hardest person to know.

Personality assessments are the best tool Dalio has found for building a base of self-knowledge. These tests are useful because they take the conversation about how we are out of own heads and into a space of more objective measures. Dalio has had himself, his family, and every employee at his firm take multiple assessments to help them better understand themselves and one another.

Start by taking one of the following three tests that Dalio has his employees take. 

Myers Briggs Type Indicator

Link: https://www.mbtionline.com/TaketheMBTI

Cost: $50

Time: 15 minutes

Workplace Personality Inventory – II

Link: https://us.talentlens.com/workplace-personality-inventory-ii

Cost: $24-$28

Time: 30 minutes

Team Dimensions Online

Link: https://www.discprofile.com/products/team-dimensions-profile/

Cost: $39.95

Time: Unknown

Once you’ve completed an assessment, examine your results and see how they match up with your self-image and personal track-record. Then consider asking trusted friends or colleagues if they think your results paint an accurate picture of you.

3) FOCUS ON CONSEQUENCES NOT DIFFICULTY

For most problems, we decide whether we need help based primarily on how difficult it feels to determine the right answer. Instead, we should use how important it is to make the right decision as the test of whether we seek other people’s input.

Really bad outcomes are likely to happen not because the decision was hard, but because we were overconfident about an important decision that seemed easy. Shifting the focus from how hard the decision feels to how important it is to get right can help us determine when to call in reinforcements and ultimately make better decisions.

Even when a very important decision feels like a no-brainer, it’s worthwhile to ask for help.

4) BEGIN A MEDITATION PRACTICE

When Ray Dalio was in his 20’s, he punched his boss in the face on New Year’s Eve and was subsequently fired. Clearly, emotional self-control was not his strength then. And yet today the ability to rise above our emotional selves is an integral part of Dalio’s process. For his transformation from brawler to master truth seeker, Dalio credits his practice of transcendental meditation.

Meditation is complementary to Dalio’s process because it is fundamentally self-awareness training. By resting our attention on an unstimulating rhythm like the breathing or chanting a meaningless word, we can observe how subconscious thoughts arise and create emotional experiences. Through practice we learn to recognize and separate our attention from the emotional pull of our thoughts. That separation allows for better focus on the quality of our ideas and more open-minded dialogue with others.

Following Dalio’s example and beginning a meditation practice is something anyone can do to set the stage for better decision making. Having said that, although meditation can seem as easy as sitting on a pillow, developing a practice takes time. Below I’ve listed some helpful resources for taking the first steps to beginning a meditation practice:  

Oak Meditation (Free)

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/oak-meditation-breathing/id1210209691?mt=8

Headspace (Paid)

Link: https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app

MUSE Meditation Brainwave Detector (Paid)1

Link: http://www.choosemuse.com/

Transcendental Meditation (Paid)

Link: https://www.tm.org/

 

  1. I hope to have a post reviewing this item soon


My Favorite Tools For Escaping Social Media and Taking Back Attention

Social media is addictive. That it’s addictive is not an accident: Social media is built to be addictive. In the same way casinos design slot machines, the companies behind services like Facebook, Tinder, SnapChat, and BuzzFeed spend billions of dollars researching how to maximize your time spent on and continued use of their products. After all, more time on their sites = more advertisements served = more profits – it’s just good business.

But what’s good for Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth is not what is good for our lives. Social media habits can rob us of our ability to concentrate, to get sh*t done and even disrupt our relationships.

The good news is there are new tools that can help you take control of both how you use social media and your ability to focus. After a few weeks of experimenting with a number of these tools, I’ve achieved a level of social media use that lets me get the most out of what good these services do offer while maintaining control over my attention during the most productive hours of my day.

Here’s what I’m using:

Freedom App (Paid) 

An app called Freedom is the best tool I’ve found for taking control of media use and attention. Using VPN technology, Freedom allows you to control when and what you can access, across all your devices. Freedom lets you to block not only apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat but also specific websites, as well.

What really makes Freedom powerful is the level of control it gives you. It allows you to create customized lists of blocked services and then associate those lists with schedules that can be specified to times of day, days of the week and different devices.

For example, I created the above Blocklist titled “SansGmail” to block a number of social media services. I then associated that Blocklist with the below schedule to restrict those services from  6:30am to 8:00pm, Monday through Saturday, just on my phone.

 

By scheduling blocked-out times in advance Freedom allows you to stop relying on your finite supply of willpower to change. I made progress changing my social media use before using Freedom, but this app is what has allowed me to automate those changes to the point that they now feel like a habit

Strict Workflow Chrome Extension (Free)

The Strict Workflow chrome extension is a simple but effective tool for re-training yourself to focus and avoid mindless content while working. The app inserts a timer icon into your browser that will block any websites you specify for a set amount of “work time”, followed by an interval of “break time”, when nothing is blocked. For example, you would set the timer to block Facebook, Twitter and other news sites for a 45 minute work interval, followed by a 15 minute break interval.

After just a few months of using this extension, my ability to concentrate has improved dramatically. That said, at least once a week I still find myself reflexively going to Facebook or Bloomberg and I’m happy that all I have to do is press the timer to cut me off and keep me focused.

Turn Off Notifications (Free)

For anyone who wants to decrease their social media use turning off all notifications is an easy first step. Let’s face it, there’s no reason for your phone to buzz every time someone likes the latest photo of your lunch.

Similarly, moving social media apps from the first page into the depths of your phone can make it easier for you to resist the urge to sign into these services. If nothing else, having to swipe or click through numerous screens will make you more aware of how often, and how much time you spend reaching for social media dopamine hits.

Deleting Apps Method (Free)

Ok kids… time to turn off the Instagram……

Do you remember when your parents would tell you to turn off the TV for the night? I do. And I’ve adopted a similar strategy for tuning out habit forming apps like Instagram. I delete the app every evening, reinstalling it during my approved viewing hours at night, then delete it again before going to sleep.

I started doing this because I became so disgusted at how reflexively I checked Instagram. I realized that just seeing the Instagram app on my screen increased the likelihood that I’d try to open it, whether it was blocked or not.   

Airplane Mode (Free)

When I first started to take control of my ability to focus I used a combination of the Strict Workflow app and my phones airplane mode. Many people will balk at the idea of being completely cut off from their cell-phones. But if you do any kind of thoughtful work it’s more important for your career that you find a way to keep your attention on producing quality then it is to take every call the instant it arrives.

Placing your phone on airplane mode and setting a timer for 30 minutes is a great way to begin practicing attention and deep work habits.

One Day At A Time  

Habits are hard to change. It’s a rare person who can go to sleep one night saying they are going to be different and jump out of bed the next morning a changed man or woman. In reality we change incrementally: Bad habit’s don’t just stop, instead they are modified or replaced with more benign ones – one day at time.

I wrote this post because using these tools to change my social media use and take back my attention has changed my life. Being free of the mindless urge to look at Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is like having a whole other compartment of your brain freed up. I couldn’t be happier with the results and I think you will be too.

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So… have you tried to quit or change your social media use? If so please share your experience in the comments.

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