Have you ever noticed when you get that “lightbulb” moment, you are usually walking, driving or showering? That’s because you’re doing something that is physically meditative while thinking about a single, well-defined problem. In this blog, we’ll explore how this happens as well as identifying a practice to implement into your daily life.
For those who are new to the mindfulness and meditation world, here’s what they are defined as according to the book Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non judgmentally”1. This kind of attention brings greater awareness and clarity to our reality. Meditation provides a simple route to allow us to regain control of our thoughts. Meditation is “learning how to get out of this current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us rather than to tyrannize us”2. The effort to cultivate the ability to be in the present moment is called a practice.
Concentration is the key to every mindfulness practice. Concentration is the “capacity of your mind to sustain unwavering attention on one object of observation”3. Jon Kabat-Zinn summarizes the connection between mindfulness and concentration perfectly:
“You can only look deeply into something if you can sustain your looking without being constantly thrown off by distractions or by the agitation of your own mind. The deeper your concentration, the deeper the potential for mindfulness”4
In an effort to adopt these efforts into deep, meaningful work, Cal Newport, author of Deep Work uses the term Productive meditation. He says that the goal of productive meditation is to take a moment where you are occupied physically– walking, driving, showering– and focus your attention on a single professional problem5. This helps to strengthen your distraction-resisting muscles and forces you to push your focus deeper while sharpening your concentration. Like all forms of meditation, this requires practice to perform well.
Depending on your profession, the problem might be a tricky business proposal, outlining an article, developing a new strategy or any problem at hand. Productive meditation is an easy way to integrate deep, concentrated problem solving into your life. Finding time for this practice is as easy as walking the dog or taking a shower. In his book, Newport said he used to practice productive meditation at least once a day during his walking commute to work in Boston. He would work out chapter outlines for his book and made progress on technical problems in his academic research. However, when he first started his walking meditation, he found himself very distracted and it took him at least a dozen sessions before he began to experience results. He offers two suggestions to his readers:
Suggestion #1: Be Wary of Distractions
As you begin a productive meditation session, your mind will often wonder to more interesting thoughts. When you notice your attention slipping away from the problem, gently remind yourself that you can return to that thought later on, and then redirect your attention back.
Suggestion #2: Structure Your Deep Thinking
After you have focused your mind, start with a careful review of the variables for solving your problem. For example, if you’re writing an outline you could think about the main points you want to make. Once these are identified, define the next-step question that you need to answer. In the outline example, the next-step question could be, “what content will I begin this outline with?”. With these variables and questions in mind, you now have a specific target for your attention.
The more that you practice productive meditation, the more you will improve your ability to dive deep and ease into concentration. If you don’t walk to work, you might consider scheduling a walk during your workday specifically for practicing meditation. If this doesn’t work for you, try this during your daily commute or shower. A serious session isn’t needed every day, but at least two or three sessions a week can improve your productivity.
Asking yourself why you meditate or why you want to meditate. Don’t believe your first answers. Just write down a list of whatever comes to mind. Also, inquire about your values, about what you honor most in life. Make a list of what is really important to you. Ask yourself: What is my vision, my map for where I am and where I am going? Does this vision reflect my true values and intentions? Do I practice my intentions? How am I now in my job? How do I want to be? How might I live my vision and values?6
1“What Is Mindfulness?” Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hyperion, 1994, p. 4.
2“Simple but Not Easy” Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hyperion, 1994, p. 9.
3“Concentration” Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hyperion, 1994, p. 72.
4“Concentration” Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hyperion, 1994, p. 73.
5“Embrace Boredom” DEEP WORK: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by CAL NEWPORT, GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING, 2016, p. 170.
6“The Bloom of the Present Moment” Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hyperion, 1994, pp. 79-80.
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