It was one of those days that’s tougher than most…. I struggled out of bed at 5:45, plunging myself into a cold shower before wolfing down breakfast, and hitting the road. The day was wall-to-wall. Six meetings. Major project milestones. IT issues. Big dinner with a significant potential client. Frantic.
I got home after 11pm, exhausted to the point I could barely talk. I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow. Next morning, I realized what I’d missed….
Flash back to August 22, 2016—the day my friend Andrew shared a discount code to a new app that was taking iPhones by storm: Headspace. I’d tried meditation during my university days, inspired by my studies of Chinese philosophy. In the tough year after Junxion had closed our office in India, Headspace was exactly what I needed! So I gave it a try for 30 days. Then extended to 90.
Take 20 minutes each morning, and just see what happens….
It seemed a simple thing to take 20 minutes each morning and just see what happened. The first 100 days or so felt light and new. I was listening to brief reflections before sitting quietly, focusing on breath, or visualizing sunrays, or imagining a clear blue sky…. There were many new ideas and useful metaphors; all seemed to be worthwhile and valuable.
The second 100 days, as the micro-lectures seemed to get repetitive, my internal dialogue was at the centre of my focus. I started to get more familiar with the voices in my mind—the ones we all think nobody else has…. The ones that say we’re not good enough. That we don’t belong. That we said the wrong thing, again. Do you recognize some of those?
By the 400th day, my daily sit had become a permanent fixture in my calendar. Don’t get me wrong…. It wasn’t for me lotus position on a cushion! Most days it was sitting in bed in the early hours of the morning, half-sipped coffee by my side. Some days it was in my car in the parking lot near my office. Once, it was three minutes at 11pm in the bathroom during a party at Judy Wicks’s home in Philadelphia!…
And then it was December 2, 2017…. I woke up early again, thinking back on the exhausting day before, still feeling harried and fast, when I realized I had missed my daily meditation.
After 466 straight days, December 1, 2017 was the day I broke my “streak.”
That’s what Headspace calls them: “streaks.” Sort of a gamification of meditation. An odd collision of ancient and contemporary. Naturally, I had to sit with that for a couple of days.
Every year, I use the month of December to reflect on the year that was and set intentions for the year that will be. Last year, I shared some of the questions I like to contemplate. What an interesting coincidence that my long run of daily meditation should come to an end on the first day of my month of reflection. I took this as a sign. What was the lesson? It didn’t take long for me to take away a simple message….
A habit is not a practice.
I see now, looking back, that my daily sit had become habitual—not unlike that first cup of coffee, sipped on autopilot. Certainly, it was good to take the time for myself, and let my monkey mind settle into the day. But how much more benefit might there be if I’m more intentional? More purposeful? If I took it not as a daily habit, but as a practice of self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-development?
How different would work and life be if we could all remain purposeful in our pursuit of self-improvement? If we could remain conscious and cognizant when our egos are at play? If we could hear the internal critic, and act courageously anyway? How would our thinking shift? How would our relationships with ourselves shift? How would our productivity, focus, and capacity shift?
Shift your thinking. The benefits are astounding.
As I’ve settled this year into a new practice, the benefits are astounding. I’m more present. I’m more consistent. I’m more focused.
Now, rather than simply reflecting, I’m contemplating ways to exhibit my newfound awareness. Case in point: I made a big mistake last week when I saw a problem emerging and failed to recognize it in the moment. I’m sitting with that this week, knowing that my need to forgive myself sits in balance with my need to hold myself accountable to do better.
What would you hold yourself accountable for, if you were fully honest with yourself? How might your capacity, focus, and productivity increase, if you took a few minutes every day for structured reflection and awareness-building?
I’m not advocating for meditation, though it works for me. I’m not advocating for a daily practice, though again, that’s worked for me and for countless others. What I am advocating for is the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness.
Through countless centuries, across dozens of cultural traditions, self-improvement has always been a vital part of a life lived purposefully.
How might you embrace learning every day?
Mike Rowlands is President & CEO of Junxion. He has been described as a “peace warrior” and thought leader on issues of social importance. This is one of a series of letters he’s writing as he seeks to embrace transparency, step in to courageous conversations, and be in service to a new era. You can reach him via [email protected].