In the past few years I have become aware of how short my attention span is. I don’t really have longer than 30-50 minutes of attention on one task without a great deal of energy. I have compensated for this by doing a few things differently. I usually only watch 30-60 minute shows instead of movies, I do Crossfit because it is constantly changing (and running bores me to tears), and I schedule my days in blocks of 30 minutes. Related to, or the reason for my short attention span is the underlying issue of my racing mind. I sleep pretty well most nights but Sunday my mind is in 1 million different directions.
Now there are strengths that off-set this for people with shorter attention spans. Often their personality types are fast, engaged in a lot of different things in life and maybe decisive (can come in handy). Yet I decided I wanted to work on it somehow, if not for me then for the sake of others (actively listening to someone in a longer conversation, sitting in meetings in class for 60+ minutes, etc.). I decided to try meditation.
The benefits of meditation are pretty well-proven. According to headspace.com (a great app), meditation can improve creativity, reduce stress, improve focus and teaches you how to work with anxiety. There are thousands of articles on the web that provide greater detail around the benefits.
I had an image of meditation in my mind. Burning incense, sitting on a pillow, “ommmm”, loose tea and maybe even a yoga pose for good measure. Before you really start to think the Travis you used to know is now gone, my meditation didn’t start this way nor is it this way today.
I started by downloading the headspace app and I also use an app called Insight Timer. I usually sit in my chair in my living room at 5:15 a.m. and do it for 15-20 minutes in mostly darkness with a set of headphones. I find doing it before the kids gets up is the best time and it really kickstarts the day. No candles, no incense, no pillow, just sitting quietly and focusing on mindful breathing for a small part of my day.
The first few times I meditated it was really painful. My mind was all over the place like a black lab in the woods, chasing squirrels and smelling stuff. I got frustrated and gave it up frequently. Then it happened…
Eventually the periods of time sitting in stillness became less painful. I started having longer and longer time-frames where I actually was not thinking about the past or the future. Then I started to depend on it and look forward to it as a way of re-setting myself after a full day or before a full day.
I started to see things differently once I got into a rhythm. It is tough to explain but when meditation or mindfulness works, it is as if you are watching your thoughts and not taking them too seriously. There comes a certain ease as you can see those negative thoughts, acknowledge them and then let them go rather than getting stuck in them (I have included a great Ted Talk by Founder of Headspace at bottom of article). I felt more in control of my focus, it taught me how to breathe deeply when I was about to perform a mental or physical task and I like to think it has made me a better listener (lots of people may disagree).
Download and app onto your phone, sit quietly with headphones and choose a guided meditation of around 10 minutes to start. Try it for a week, once per day at least. As I said, sometimes I do it in the morning to focus for the day and start in control rather than chaos. But then there are my Saturday meditations where I might do it late afternoon quietly and then have some beers with friends or a nice night enjoying my family.
What do you really have to lose?
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes per day, unless your too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
Old Zen saying