I’ve meditated every day for more than a year now. At first, before the one year mark approached, I fantasized about how I would release that news into the world and the praise that I would get from my audience. They would be interested in how I did it, I thought. They would be impressed, I thought.
Instead, the one year mark came and left without much fanfare. I had been obsessively checking my streak before then, so I knew that it had happened, but when I posted the screenshot of “having mindfully circled the sun” from the Headspace email, I didn’t get as big of a fanfare as I thought. I was disappointed, but kept on meditating anyways, because I enjoyed the effects of what was happening in my mind, even though I did not have a way to articulate it at that time.
It’s been some time since that marker was hit, and I’ve stumbled across the first bit of insight that I can fully articulate. And that is this: live every moment with intention. The meditation track had always told me occasionally that the time in which I sat down to meditate was not separate from the time that I spent actually living my life, to which I had always nodded to subconsciously while focused probably a little too much on trying to stay calm. I never really understood it until I was speaking to my therapist about why I felt so exhausted all the time, even when I was supposedly not doing any work.
“Well, what are you doing?” she said, in that annoying but necessary open-ended way that therapists do sometimes.
I rattled off a list of activities and then spit out the magic words:
I’m still doing work, just in different ways.
It was then that I realized that those of us who have active minds don’t quite really know how to rest.
My brain naturally defaults towards creating something, whether that be writing or podcasting. Not video games or TV or coloring, all of which are pleasurable activities that I enjoy too, but I never really quite default towards at the end of the day.
I don’t mean to brag or come across as a freak. This realization and the timely coming out of an article on Headspace about why people are struggling to unwind after work propelled me to write on this topic today.
A 2016 study looked at more than 130 people who enjoyed two kinds of time off: time when they remained on call and time that was entirely their own. The study found that workers were more tired and agitated after a day on call than they were after a day to themselves. Workers also registered higher levels of cortisol, the primary hormone associated with stress. The finding held whether workers had to respond to a lot of work calls or just a few, suggesting the mere prospect of work can be just as draining as work itself. “The results demonstrate that non-work hours during which employees are required to remain available for work cannot be considered leisure time because employees’ control over their activities is constrained and their recovery from work is restricted,” the study noted.
The first problem was that I used to obsessively check my email on my phone at home, sometimes necessary when there were emergency projects, but sometimes wholly unnecessary. And even though I then took the step of eliminating such obsessive checking, I didn’t realize that I was simply replacing one destructive app (email) with another destructive behavior (IG).
Hey, I know I come across as a Luddite in some ways, or coming out as railing against social media. That isn’t the point of my article today. I still think being on social media is wonderful; it does connect you with people in a specific way; it drives marketing and can have a lot of benefits for a brand. I’m not suggesting we get rid of it entirely.
I think the key for me was realizing that I had to sit down with intention every single time before I touched technology, so I would just do exactly what I had set out to do, nothing more, on the computer or phone.
My time spent with technology looks like this now: before I sit down, I think about precisely the actions that I want to engage in: write a Medium article, check email, and read the news. If there is more than one task, I’ll think about writing it down. If the activity is amorphous like “read the news,” I’ll set a time in which I should stop doing the activity so as to not get distracted. By the way, it’s never easy for me to stick to a timeline given all the rabbit holes that the Internet contains. But at least I’ve put in my brain in advance a stopping point that will hopefully keep me from being sucked into mindless hours of scrolling.