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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




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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Brett Victor – Building Technology to Human Dimensions & Being Conscious of The Adjacent Horizon

The Humane Representation of Thought from Bret Victor on Vimeo.

 

At almost 1 hour the above talk by Brett Victor is both long and incredibly thought provoking. In it he explains how our current technological landscape utilizes only a narrow band of humanity’s capacity for thought.

People like to talk about where technology is going and what it will do for us but as Mr. Victor demonstrates, technology doesn’t move towards its highest expression by improvements in processing power or market forces alone. Instead it requires people equipped with the intentionality to design technology that work with and across the scope of human capabilities.

 

For me his point about the needs for intentionality in how we design technology speaks to a larger issue in our society. That is, the misguided assumption that outcomes are driven by market forces through a competitive evolution towards their most useful and desirable incarnation. This is naive, many things are shaped almost irrevocably by the design decisions at their beginnings, or to use the technical term they exhibit path dependency. The way that cities are designed is a good example of this.

This is worth talking about because only once we acknowledge this reality that things won’t take care of themselves can we begin to look at the edges of what might have been, and what better future might be on the adjacent horizon, but only with our help. As Mr. Victor eloquently ends his talk:

Humane won’t just happen. This not just like Sussman’s technology that is going to happen because there’s already really powerful forces at play. Humane is never a default. And humane only ever comes out of deliberate and conscious design work. If you do the incremental thing, and just ride the current wave of technology and let technology lead you wherever it leads you it’s going to lead you to a tighter and tighter cage…

 

 




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