How I handle uncomfortable emotions

How I handle uncomfortable emotions

There I was, sitting at a conference table with the CEO, CFO, the VP of Finance, one of the members of the board, and my Supervisor.

Prior to meeting my Supervisor mentioned to me “Since you did most of the work would you mind taking the lead on this?”

“No,” I thought quietly to myself. But I knew that wasn’t really an option.

I had a feeling this would happen. That’s why I prepared for this moment.

We just finished our compliance audit of this company. Now I had to present all of our audit findings.

My mind raced.

These men and women were in the 50s and 60s. All of them had more years of experience in their fields than the number of years I’ve been alive. And now I have to tell them people all the things they did wrong.

No pressure.

As I was about to present the findings, my nerves were getting the best of me. My stomach was in knots. I wanted to be anywhere else but here.

I used what knowledge I had of mindfulness, and tried to turn this situation into a positive.

“No sweat,” I thought. “Focus on this feeling you have inside yourself. Embrace this feeling. This feeling is merely a guest. Treat it so.”

I used whatever mind hacks I could to get into the proper frame of mind. I asked myself “What’s good about this?”

My mind searched and searched for answers.

“For one, I don’t normally feel this way. Embrace this discomfort. It’s going to go away soon.”

“Be mindful of the feelings going on inside of you. What are they telling you? Should they be avoided?”

“No, they shouldn’t be.”

Months after this presentation, I came across something fascinating. While reading “Search Inside Yourself” by Chein Meng Tan, a great point was brought up.

The key to let go is two things: grasping and aversion. Grasping is when the mind deliberately holds on to something and refuses to let it go. Aversion is when the mind desperately keeps something away and refuses to let it come in…Grasping and aversion together account for a huge percentage of the suffering we experience, perhaps 90 percent, maybe even 100 percent.

He goes on to state:

The theory is that aversion, not the pain itself, is the actual cause of suffering; the pain is just a sensation that creates that aversion.

The idea is that the pain isn’t what causes suffering. Rather, it’s how we choose to respond to the pain.

This echoes many of the ideas I’ve read in unrelated fields. Tony Robbins, for example, states that you can’t always choose the situation you’re in. What you can choose is how you react to the situation.

Much of this relates to letting go. I didn’t choose to be in this situation. It just sort of happened. However, I did choose how to respond to the situation in a novel way.

I didn’t get angry that my supervisor put me on the spot. I knew it was a possibility.

I didn’t let my nerves get to me. This feeling was only temporary.

I didn’t try to escape the knot in my stomach. Instead, I decided to embrace it.

I embraced that emotion building up inside of me. I welcomed it as if it was a guest in my house. I danced with it.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

-Marcus Aurelius

I chose not to give more power to my emotion than it deserved. After all, it was just a physiological response that probably evolved over thousands of years. What’s the point in trying to change that?

I hadn’t read anything about grasping and clinging prior to doing this presentation. All I knew was that I would choose how I would react to the situation. And running out of the room wasn’t an option.

So I took a deep, mindful breath. I felt those emotions inside of me one more time. Then…

“I want to thank you all for joining us today…”

It was one of the best presentations I’ve ever given.

I was calm. I was composed. All because I didn’t escape my feelings. I welcomed them, embraced them, and danced with them. I try to do the same in all uncomfortable situations.

When was the last time you were in a situation that made you uncomfortable? How did you (or could you have) put a positive spin on it? 

Be More Greedy With Your Time

Be More Greedy With Your Time

I tried everything. I tried creating a to-do list. I tried creating a detailed plan point-by-point plan for the day. I downloaded an app call Accomplish that would schedule out what I want to do, when I want to do it, and how long I want to do it for.

I realized something. I was trying to do too much. I was overwhelmed. There’s so much I want to do. But there never seems to be enough time.

But I’m wrong. There is plenty of time.

I was spending so much time focusing on what I wanted to do. When really I should have focused on generating more time through the process of elimination.

Here’s how I did it 

First, I identified the biggest time wasters.  What was I doing that was consuming a majority of my leisure time? Second, I identified the lead domino, which I’ll elaborate more on in a second. Finally I ruthlessly eliminated those activities that I identified.

What is leisure time spent on?

There’s plenty of time in the day. I need to stop feeding into the false narrative of telling myself there isn’t enough time.

Have you ever found yourself telling someone you can’t do something because there aren’t enough hours in the day? “If only the day was 30 hours long I’d be able to do x, y, and z”

I have recited that story many times.

Truth is, there is a load time throughout the day that isn’t utilized in an effective manner. According to bls.gov Americans spend an average of 5.1 hours per day on leisure as of 2015.

However, of those 5.1 hours, 2.8 are spent watching TV. Also, according to businessinsider.com the average worldwide user on Facebook is on Facebook and related apps (i.e. Instagram) for an average of 50 minutes per day. Just these two activities alone reveal approximately 3 hours per day that could be opened up by eliminating certain activities.

Facing reality

Realizing this, I sat down and I was honest with myself. I asked myself the following questions:

  • What things do I engage in during my leisure time that I don’t really care about?
  • What things do I do that cause a ripple effect, leading to me wasting more time than expected?
  • What can I eliminate to help create more time for myself?

I spend quite a bit of my leisure time reading, going on long walks, and cooking and taking care of my fitness. However, I spend the remainder of that leisure time:

  1. Watching TV (usually some sporting event)
  2. Perusing Facebook
  3. Getting sucked into  reading clickbait articles
  4. And indulging my curiosities by getting lost on the rabbit hole that is the internet.

These are the things that I spend my leisure time on each day, in order of the time I spend doing them.

So it I were to eliminate activities, I should start at the top of the list and go from there. Right? I don’t quite accept this answer. Instead I ask myself a better question.

What is the lead domino, knocked over all of the other dominoes?

I asked myself “what are the things that I do that lead me to waste more time than I intended?”

In other words, what activities are the lead domino, that sets off the chain reaction to time waste? What are those things that I do initially that lead me to waste even more time?

By changing the question a new answer arose.

While watching TV and using Facebook consume much of my extra leisure time, they aren’t the lead domino that was causing me to waste time. As a matter of fact, it’s my curiosity that was causing me to waste a lot of time.

If you don’t know me, I am a very curious person. I like to learn new things. I think of questions or thoughts about the world. Naturally I feed this curiosity by going on Google and Wikipedia for answers.

The lead domino in action

How does the curiosity rabbit hole look?

An idea or question pops into my head. I get on my computer and go on Google and search for the key terms are related to the idea.

I then open one to five tabs that have articles related to what I’m thinking about. I skim through the articles. Then at the end of one article I see a catchy headline for another article about something else kind of related but not really.

Naturally I click on that article and read it. Then I see another catchy heading on something even less related to what I was originally looking for. I click on it anyways, read a few sentences, then move on.

Then I go to my address bar in Chrome, type the letter F, hit enter. Now I’m on Facebook. I start browsing whatever’s on Facebook, go through a few more clickbait headline articles, and watch a video or two (sometimes more!).

What happens is that my curiosity led me to the internet. This led me to satisfy my question. Which ultimately led to me wasting 15 minutes or more on Facebook and other web sites.

Now I know where to focus

I don’t spend much time searching for things on the web. However, this is the thing that sets into motion me wasting. As a result, I’m more aware of what to fix first before eliminating those biggest time-waster.

I need to limit my curiosity searches online. I can approach this from two angles.

  1. I can avoid searching for things that make me curious all together or
  2. I can create a rule for every time I indulge my curiosity.

The rule is this: once I’ve found what I’m looking for, close the laptop and step away. Simple but not easy.

When I adhere to this rule I eliminate other activities that waste a lot of time. I notice that Facebook was just becoming a habit due to this routine. As I said, every time I click in that address bar type the letter F and Facebook was is the first thing that pops up (is this true for you too?).

Once the lead domino has been identified and a rule put in place, what next?

Facebook was even becoming a habit whenever I was on my phone. At work, with a few minutes of free time, I would naturally gravitate towards the Facebook app and that little red notification icon.

So I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Part of it was to free up some time throughout the day. Part of it was to break that habits. And part of it has much to do with the recent election.

It wasn’t easy. I deleted the app from my phone three separate occasions in the past. But this time I’ve been able to stick to it. I still go on Facebook on the web browser. But even just that shift alone has cut down on my Facebook time by 50% or more.

One last tweak…

I also spend a decent amount of time watching TV. So I set up a few rules here as well.

Rule one: No channel surfing. This leads to that rabbit hole I was talking about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself getting sucked into horrible reality shows because I believed I had nothing else to do.

Rule two: Watch with a purpose. If I don’t have an intention (a particular show or event to watch), then I’m not turning it on.

I do my best to watch TV with a purpose. I’m a big sports fan. Naturally I want to watch whatever big game is on or when my team is playing. So I plan my day accordingly and I know that a few hours of my day are going to be spent in front of the TV. And I’m perfectly okay with that.

A curious discovery

I was trying so hard to manage every minute of time. By focusing on what to eliminate, I’ve created a void to fill. I found that cutting those leisure activities created more time in my day. There are moments in my day where i’m just sitting around doing nothing because I’m adhering to those rules.

I feel inclined to fill the time with something to do. I’ve been writing more frequently here at FreeThinkr. (My goal is to post at least a couple times per month.) I’ve been meditating more often. I’ve been going on longer walks. I’ve been listening to more podcasts and audiobooks on those walks.

It feels more natural. I don’t feel pressed for time. By eliminating activities, I realize there is more than enough time.

What are some things you do in your leisure time that you could go without? What is the lead domino in your life, leading to lost time?

This past year opened my eyes

This past year opened my eyes

My boss was retiring. Everyone was sad to see him go. He was a great boss.

This was the man that hired me 3 years ago. It was the man that trusted me to take on a project after only 8 months on the job. It was the man that everyone respected and trusted because he always had our backs.

He didn’t mingle in our work. He didn’t nitpick and ask us why we didn’t do all of these tiny, minute details. He trusted our work.

My new boss took over. She’s nice, but she’s new and learning. She’s also very concerned that everything was done right, even the tiniest of details. This caused some hard times for me.

This year I took on a new project. This project would force me out of my comfort zone. I would be responsible for more than ever before. I would have to lead others. I would have to educate our new employees.

It was a tough project and it didn’t go smoothly by any means. It seemed like something went wrong every day. I didn’t get the data I needed. I didn’t get the feedback I wanted from the new boss. I didn’t get the help I needed from my team members.

Much of the blame for this falls on myself, I acknowledge that.

Reaching my boiling point

There was something else that drove me crazy. After completing this project, I was sent out of town to work on a completely different project in a city across the state.

While my project was being reviewed, and while I was in a different city, I was getting bombarded with questions and “suggestions” for things that I could do better. Or, even worse, things that I had to completely redo.

This drove me crazy. I was going back and redoing things that I thought were done. I was doing things multiple times, and wasted my time.

I was irate. I was overwhelmed. I was doing the best I could, and all I felt like I was being criticized the entire time.

I didn’t deal with this well at first. I felt anger. I had outbursts. Stress levels were through the roof.

I need to do better

In this moment I realized that I still have a lot of room for improvement. Getting so angry and stressed was not something I was normally doing, so this was a wake up call.

It made me think about what I could fix. For one, I could become less reactive. I shouldn’t let these outbursts take over my emotions.

It made me realize that I should take inventory of the emotions I’m having and try to understand them. In order to do this, I challenge myself to write down what I’m feeling in the moment, and then explore the root of what is causing this emotion.

The way I do this is by writing down the emotion, then asking “why?” then exploring the root cause while asking “why?” at least 3 or 4 times.

The internal dialogue goes something like this

“I’m feeling really angry right now. Why?”

“Because I’m stressed from work and all of the things I have to go back and do.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t feel like I should do them again.”

“Why?”

“Because I felt like what I did was good enough.”

I keep going until I get to the root cause. Afterwards I evaluate my reaction. I looked at what I did, look at what my boss suggested, and then I asked myself, “Okay, what can I fix personally and what can I learn from this situation?”

Lesson Learned

This experience has taught me to deal with uncertainty more. Having a new boss was an adjustment. I haven’t really experienced these types of challenges the way I have in 2016.

I learned to deal with more uncertainly (not knowing what to expect from a new boss), learned to deal with discomfort (dealing with others who rant to me or dealing with disagreements with others).

As a result, in 2016 I stepped out of my comfort zone and grew as a person. This year I took on more leadership roles.

I learned what it means to lead, did a very poor job (but I’m improving) this year. I also learned how to better harness my presentation skills and how to deal with presenting in front of groups of individuals with vastly more experience than myself.

As for my goals from 2016 and for 2017…

One of my goals was to continue learning every single day. One way that I effectively have done this is by challenging myself to learn at least one new thing each and every day. This is a small commitment that I was able to stick to and will be able to continue to stick to it no matter what.

The way that I’m able to apply this idea is by asking myself mindful questions. When I read an article or book I ask myself “how can I apply this to my life?,” then I extract the ideas or concepts that are most relevant to my life.

“Without knowledge action is useless, and knowledge without action is futile.”

One other thing I attempt to do is make the information actionable. I want to make the information applicable to my life as soon as possible.

For example, say I read a book and learn a lot of information that is relevant to my life. I’ll ask myself “What can I do to act on this information today? What can I do to act on that information this week? What can I do to act on this information this month?”

I find these questions force me to come up with action items I can use in my life. There are times where I find myself learning a new concept that’s irrelevant because I’m not thinking in terms of how I’m actually going to apply it to my life.

Helping others improve a little bit every day

Another goal for 2016 ways to help others improve. I feel I’ve done a good job of doing that in the current year. I’ve helped train 4 new employees while also helping my superiors as well.

I also believe Freethinkr has been a good platform for me to help others improve. I like to share my experiences and lessons I’ve learned in hopes that someone can derive some sort of value from when I write.

I believe this unselfish goal helps me focus outside of my own happiness. I know if I’m able to help others improve it will help me feel more accomplished and give life more meaning.

My final goal was to generate more income from eCommerce. This is actually been going pretty well this year, but there’s a lot more room for improvement. Sales have been high considering this is my first year but margins have been extremely low.

My goals for 2017 are more of the same:

  1. Learn one new thing every day
  2. Go out of my way to help others
  3. Continue to grow my side income
  4. Be more aware of my emotions and manage them more effectively

How about you? What is one lesson you learned from 2016? 

My average meditation session is far from perfect

My average meditation session is far from perfect

“I haven’t meditated all day. Let me take a few minutes and do myself a favor.”

I check the clock and it reads 2:08 pm.

“I’ll meditate until about 2:20,” I tell myself.

I sit down in the office chair in my bedroom. I close my eyes and sit still. I allow my mind to do whatever it pleases.

A few minutes go by. I think about the gifts I have to wrap. I think about a text I got from my friend that I need to reply to. I think about the desserts I was going to bake for my family tomorrow.

Each time my mind curates one of these thoughts, I take a step back. I acknowledge the thought as it happens.

It’s a meta experience. Looking at thoughts from a third person perspective. But that’s the practice.

My mind continues to wander around. Just like a dog on a lease, I let it go where it may, but never straying too far.

Another idea pops into my head. I follow it. I acknowledge it’s existence. I then let it go as best as I can.

I don’t judge the thoughts that pop into my head. I merely observe that they are there, from a third person perspective, then watch them leave. After a few minutes of this the chatter begins to quiet.

The key is to not react.

As I think this, I imagine how good it would be to get up and stretch. I resist the urge. I acknowledge this thought, but I choose not to react to it.

A few more minutes go by. The chatter dies down further. I feel more at peace.

“This is a good place to stop.” I think to myself.

But I never stop when I think I should. I like to go a few more minutes to challenge myself. I like to push on just a little bit further.

I believe these extra minutes are where the true magic happens. Because I’m resisting the urge to end the session. That is the ultimate example of non-reactivity.

A few more minutes go by.

“Okay, I feel pretty good now. What time is it?”

The clock reads 2:19 pm. Not too shabby.

Why should anyone care what I think?

Why should anyone care what I think?

Anyone can do what I do.

Everybody knows already knows that.

I don’t want to write about that, everyone’s writing about that.

What am I really contributing?

Is this something that people are even going to read?

These questions occupy my mind when I sit down to write. This is the battle I fight.

It’s time to break free from this mentality. It’s time to steer away from this train of thought.

The thing about most people

You have a message you want to share. It seems obvious to you.

“It’s not like anything I write is actually going to contribute to the world.”

But what if?

What if someone doesn’t read the books that you read?

What if someone doesn’t watch the same videos that you watch?

Most people haven’t experienced the same things as you. Most people haven’t learned the same things as you.

Maybe they didn’t have the time. Maybe they’ve never heard of those books or blogs. Or, maybe they read them, but came away with a completely different perspective.

Writing for one

If you don’t share what you learned, your interpretation of it, and its applicability to the real world, you’re doing the world a disservice.

If you’ve learned something and you understand it, you have an opportunity to teach it to somebody else.

Yesterday I was listening to a  podcast featuring Seth Godin, author, entreprenuer, former VP of Direct Marketing at Yahoo, and creator of Squidoo. I was reminded that I need to visualize who I’m writing for when I do this blog.

One fun trick I use is creating an avatar of my reader. I ask myself:

  • What does the reader enjoys doing?
  • What kind of person are they?
  • What are they trying to accomplish in life?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • What are their dreams?
  • What do they fear?

The goal is to get inside this person’s head. I create an avatar – the person that I am communicating to as I write.

Sometimes I take it a step further. I’ll give that avatar a name and a face. I imagine having a conversation with them. What questions are they asking? What should I tell them?

I used this technique while writing this article. The person I’m imagining is a woman named Lauren. She’s in her mid-to-late twenties. She’s an avid reader and enjoys writing. But, she lacks confidence when it comes to sharing her ideas with the world.

Lauren doesn’t feel her ideas are unique. Lauren feels that everything she says has already been said before. And now she’s coming to me seeking advice.

It’s easier to answer to one than to many

This applies to podcasters. This applies to YouTubers. This applies to business owners.

It’s easier to target one person that you know intimately well then it is to target the masses.

Writing for many is a recipe for disaster. When I attempt to write for too many people, I have a tendency to worry that someone somewhere has already read what I’m about to write. And that makes me not want to write.

What is your smallest possible audience?

Seth Godin talks about this as well. He advocates that you find the smallest possible audience, and then please that audience so that they love you.

Often, we get sidetracked when we forget about “smallest possible.” If you make the audience you’re initially serving too big, you will dilute the very thing you set out to make, avoid critical mass, and compromise the magic of what you’re building. You’ll make average stuff for average people instead of something powerful for the few.

Can’t see the forest for the trees

I become self-conscious at times. I don’t want to be a parrot. I don’t want to write something that people already know. This gets me into a mentality that everything that I write has to be 100% original and unique.

I’m too close to myself. Things that seem common and obvious to me may not be as common or obvious to others.

I need to remind myself: my message is unique to someone somewhere. Most people haven’t read the same books as I. Most people haven’t watched the same videos and documentaries as I. Most people haven’t listened to the same podcasts as I.

Try if for yourself

If you have trouble sharing your ideas because you feel like they are not unique, try out the techniques in this article.

Focus on your audience of one.

Think of a person who could use your unique perspective.  

Think of someone who hasn’t learned the same things you have.

Then create something for them.

Have you ever experienced this feeling when you sit down to write? What do you do to deal with it? What other advice would you give others to overcome this feeling?

Make your goals more robust by doing this:

Make your goals more robust by doing this:

I knew the exact path I would go down once I escaped high school. Get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in accounting, conquer the CPA exam, and get a good job with benefits.

That was my goal from day one. Every day in school this goal was in the back of my mind.

I thought about getting to the end of the road. I had my eyes on the prize, and imagined how my life would be better once I reached the finish line.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. In an early undergraduate accounting course my school required a minimum grade of a B before moving on to the next course.

I messed up on the first exam. My world almost came crashing down. Everything I was focused on almost disappeared. The future I dreamed of was slipping away. (In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. But in that moment, that was my whole world.)

Goals are great, but can be burdensome

I’ve been a fan of goals since I was young. They kept me accountable. They gave me a something to shoot for. They helped me zero in on what I needed to do.

Goals are important. But they are not the only thing that matters. (In case you were wondering, I had to retake that class, got an A, and lived happily ever after.)

The missing ingredient

In “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg explores the depth of how humans function, including the neurological patterns that govern our habits.

He defines the habit loop and divides it into three elements: cue, routine, and reward.

According to Duhigg, cue and the reward are neurologically intertwined, creating a sense of craving. This is why some folks crave certain actions, like smoking a cigarette or eating that candy bar. What we really seek is the reward from the routine.

What can we do with this knowledge of habits?

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, wrote “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” where he explores the idea of goals and habits with a unique twist.

According to Adams, there are two types of people in the world: those who are goals-oriented and those who are systems-driven.

(For the purposes of this article, I use habits and systems interchangeably.)

Adams believes that goal-oriented people always exist in a state of pre-success or failure; there is no in between.

However, systems driven people look at the familiar in new and different ways. Those with a system in place succeed every time they implement the system.

For example

In honor of NoNoWriMonth, let’s say I have a goal to write a book. My hope is to achieve this goal in the next few months.

Thinking of this goal, I see a gorilla of a task at hand. Writing an entire book? Sheesh, that’s tough to do.

Now imagine this: Say I get 70% of the way through the book, but can’t do it anymore. I’m a failure. All of those hours were merely a waste of time. Unless…

I have a system.

What would your system be?

My system would be writing for a minimum of 10 minutes first thing in the morning. In those 10 minutes, write at least 500 words. It doesn’t matter how good or bad those 500 words are. The system is merely the act of writing within this time frame.

These mini-goals, or systems, are what is going to help me reach that long term goal of writing a novel. By writing for merely 500 words per day, I could easily have a draft with 45,000 words within 3 months. That’s the power of systems.

Systems also make it so you never truly fail

The system is writing for 10 minutes, first thing in the morning. What would I hope to accomplish with this system? Well…

  • I want to improve my writing skills
  • I want to improve my editing skills
  • I want to share my thoughts with the world

With my system in place, I would achieve bullets 1 and 2 every time I write. The 3rd bullet allows me an out even if you never finish writing the book. How so?

Let’s go back to the scenario earlier. Say I’m 70% of the way through the book and decide I can’t finish it. I just wasted a bunch of time.

But, if my goal is to share my thoughts with the world, I can still accomplish that!

I could break up the book into bite-sized pieces and share it with the world through articles my blog.

Systems increase your chances of success

Scott Adams looks at systems as a technique to increase your chances of success. It’s not simply success or failure, as it is in the goal-oriented frame of mind.

Instead, with the right system in place, you can succeed a little bit each and every day. These small wins drive you closer to accomplishing your goal of writing a book.

Adams actually recommends that you set up systems all throughout your life in order to accomplish those things that you want and increase your odds of success.

Another system example

One such system that I’ve implemented into my life is having 10% of my paycheck transferred into my retirement accounts every single month.

Instead of setting some audacious goal (say saving $1 million) and the obsessing over it every single month, I have a system in place that operates automatically. This one simple habit helps puts me on track for success. This system operates every single time I get paid.

Going back to the habit loop, the cue is receiving my paycheck, the routine is having it automatically transferred. What’s the reward? Checking my investment accounts and seeing the balance I’ve managed to accumulate.

This is one instance where having a system in life increases my odds of success. By creating the habit of saving, I don’t blow through my whole paycheck.

Instead, I slowly invest my cash that will help me reach my eventual goal of financial freedom. Do I know when I’ll reach that goal? No, but the system in place takes it from a pipe dream to a realistic probability just like that.

Systems-driven thinking

Systems influence your mindset. The right systems allow me to become mindful and focus on the present moment. Instead of thoughts about some future audacious goal, I focus on that task at hand.

I focus on what it is that I have accomplished already. With systems, the accomplishment is taking action. It’s writing 500 words today. It’s saving 10% of my paycheck every pay period.

The system becomes routine, and there’s no obsession on the end result.

Goals and anxiety

Personally, goals make me worry about the future to the point of anxiety. Goals can be overwhelming, especially if they aren’t expected to be accomplished for years or even decades.

Systems are a form of mindfulness, present state focus on the moment. They allow you think about what you are doing right now. You don’t think about how far away you are from that goal. This frees up your mental faculties so you can do deep work and do the best you can now.

Systems keep you grounded and present. They allow you not to obsess over the progress bar.

Don’t rob your present state awareness with audacious goals about the future. You can still reach them, you just need the right system.

What systems (or habits) have you implemented in your life that have had a big impact? Are there any systems you think we can benefit from by implementing into our lives?

How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

How I use music as meditation to improve clarity and focus

Music is a powerful tool.

Humans are hard-wired to respond to music. Studies show music could help patients heal from Parkinson’s disease or stroke.

Meditation is also a powerful tool.

I’ve discussed the effect meditation has on myself. Meditation helps me focus and maintain present state awareness.

Jumping on a trend

So when Tim Ferriss wrote about how other’s use music as an external mantra, similar to Transcendental Meditation, my ears peaked up.

Tim Ferriss, host of a podcast with the same name, deconstructs leading experts and thought leaders, and provides actionable information for his listeners.

One piece of advice he has hit on with a number of his guests is the use of music as a mantra, if you will, to focus and become aware in the present moment. They do this by listening to one song or one album on repeat, while doing what they are skilled at doing.

This sort of use of music can be for anyone from Amelia Boone, three time winner of the World’s Toughest Mudder contest, to Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress.org.

Accelerating your flow state

According to Mullenweg, listening to the one song on repeat helps him get into flow states when he’s got a tough problem to tackle.

It helps him get into a state of hyper-focus and concentration. In a flow state, the sense of self is dissolved. You become immersed in your work and nothing around you seems to exist. You become one with what you are doing and nothing can get into your way.

Mullenweg says that music helps accelerate his entrance into these states of hyper-focus.

Joseph Mosby explored this idea as well. After hearing about it from Matt Mullenweg, he figured he would give it a shot for himself.

So, he got to work late one night when his brain was starting to fall asleep. He sat down to tackle some programming challenges that he had been working on.

So he put a playlist with a couple of songs on repeat to help him get into a focused state. He was shocked by the results.

It was effective. He found himself getting into flow faster than normal and cranked out his work without a second thought.

So why does this work?

It appears that repetition is the key. When you repeat something over and over, you tend to enjoy it more. This is what psychologists call the mere exposure effect.

People have a tendency to develop a preference for something just because they find it to be familiar. The repeated stimulus increase perceptual fluency, or the ease with which a stimulus is processed. This positive affect puts you into a good mood.

Not only that, but Elizabeth Margulis has done some research on music and its effects on the brain. Margulis, the author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mindstates that “Musical repetition gets us mentally imagining or singing through the bit we expect to come next.”

As a result of this anticipation, “A sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. In descriptions of their most intense experiences of music, people often talk about a sense that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved.”

That’s right, the boundary between music and yourself dissolves.

More on the dissolution of self

Dissolution of self is one thing that happens when you enter into a flow state. Not only does the boundary between yourself and music dissolve, but the boundary between yourself and your work dissolves when you are in flow.

Being a bit of a skeptic, I tried this out for myself last Friday at work.

“One more day until the weekend,” I thought to myself. Friday’s aren’t usually the most productive day of the week. I’m going through the motions, thinking about the weekend ahead.

I picked Debussy’s Claire De Lune as my first song, hit it up on Spotify and then went to work. I was in the zone. I listened to the song on repeat for about an hour straight.

My focus skyrocketed. I was cranking out work. Time slowed down to a crawl.

I was completing tasks more efficiently than normal. I couldn’t believe how much I got done after an hour!

After a solid hour of work, I took a short break and then got back to it.

This time I picked John Coltrane’s In a Sentimental Mood and proceeded to continue to crush it at work for the day.

I continued this cycle for the most part of work on Friday. By the time it was 2, I was only at work for 6 hours but I felt like I completed twice as much work.

This works great!

I tried this at home yesterday to motivate me to clean my room.

I had been putting off cleaning my closet for a solid month. So, I picked one song, and got to it.

I’ve also tried this while working out today at the gym. I tried it while going for a run. The results are stunning to say the least.

Not only does listening to the same song on repeat help me maintain focus and clarity, but it helps me stay present in the now. On top of that, it helps me crush my work.

More to come

While I haven’t tried this technique during meditation, I can certainly say that I have seen some positive effects in my on life in other areas by doing this.

From work to cleaning to working out to running to researching and writing this essay, these tasks were completed while listening to one song on repeat for an extended period of time.

As a matter of fact, I wrote this entire post in less than an hour, from researching to writing, on a Saturday afternoon, with the help of this technique.

Have you ever tried listening to the same song on repeat to get yourself into the zone? How did it make you feel? Would you be willing to try something like this? If so, let me know with a comment below!