Monthly Archives: January 2014

Honest Reflection and a Meditation Challenge

In reflecting on my first month of daily meditation, I realized that the morning is not an ideal time for me to meditate.   In some ways it fostered procrastination; it became a way to delay starting my work day.  I realized that meditation would serve me much better at night when I need to wind down. So, for the second month,  I am making a commitment to shut off the TV and computer at 11 PM and meditate every night, Sunday thru Thursday.  I plan to continue doing a brief 5-10 minute meditation every morning, but the longer 20-30 minute meditations will be reserved for nighttime.  I have carried out this plan three nights in a row and did not even feel tempted to turn the electronics back on when I finished and also went to sleep earlier than usual, so I think I am on the right track.

iStock_000002128470XSmallIn the book Real Happiness at Work, Sharon Salzberg describes procrastination as willingly deferring something even though we expect the delay to make things worse. Avoiding what we don’t want to do in favor of something more pleasurable is a common way of dealing with performance anxiety, perfectionism, fear of failure, and/or a history of  deprivation. It is also common for people who have attention deficit disorder and other problems with executive functioning skills, such as organizing, prioritizing and perceiving how much time it takes to do things.  In Real Happiness, Sharon points out that meditation helps us strengthen and direct our attention through the cultivation of concentration, mindfulness and compassion.  Our capacity for focused, stable attention can then be harnessed, so we can sustain and shift our concentration as needed, without giving in to distraction and procrastination. 

During the month of February, Sharon Salzberg is inviting people to participate in a 28-Day Meditation Challenge based on practices found in her books: Real Happiness, and Real Happiness at Work. The meditation challenge begins on Saturday February 1.  I have made a commitment to participate in this 28-day challenge. I hope you will join me by making your own commitment to 28 days of meditation practice. 

For further information on the meditation challenge go to: http://www.sharonsalzberg.com/realhappiness/blog. Also, please leave a comment below to let me know if you plan to participate.


What is an Interoceptive Body Scan Meditation?

iStock_000002128470XSmallI have completed my first month of daily meditation and it is going very well.  I have been doing a combination of breath awareness, body awareness and lovingkindness meditation. 

The body scan is a form of body awareness meditation that involves shifting attention from one part of the body to another, observing any sensations that you become aware of with an attitude of curiosity about your somatic experience, while systematically covering the entire body.  I have been doing a variation of the body scan taught by Dan Siegel, author of the books Mindsight, The Mindful Brain, and The Mindful Therapist.

Dan Siegel incorporates interoception into his body scan.  Interoception is the skill of sensing our internal bodily states. He refers to it as our sixth sense and a crucial aspect of our self-monitoring function, that also serves as a gateway to our ability to attune to others.  So in addition to focusing on external body parts, his body scan includes tuning into internal organs, etc.  I have created my own version, that also incorporates aspects of HeartMath heart coherence training.

Heart rate variability is believed to be an important indicator of autonomic nervous system (ANS) balance, physiological resiliency and behavioral flexibility, which reflect a person’s capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances.  The two branches of the ANS (the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches) are continually in the process of speeding up and slowing down the heart, like the accelerator and brakes of a car. That is why the interval between two successive heart beats is never identical. This heart rate variability (moment-to-moment and beat-to-beat variations in heart rate) is a sign that the accelerator and brake are working properly.  Too little and too much variability in heart rate are both detrimental.

Heart coherence training is like giving your heart a tune-up.  With practice, you can develop a finely tuned brake that can be counted on, even when circumstances are difficult, because the ANS is more flexible and responsive and easily adjusts to stressors.

The steps of the HeartMath Quick Coherence Technique are as follows:

  1. Heart Focus- Focus your attention on the heart region of your body
  2. Heart Breathing- Imagine breathing through your heart
  3. Heart Feeling- Think of something or someone for which you are grateful

Here is an audio excerpt of my body scan meditation:

 andrea_goldberg_body_scan_meditation_excerpt

I would love your feedback about this post. Anybody who leaves a comment will receive an audio file of the full 10 minute version of my body scan, as a token of my appreciation.


Realistic Optimism is Key to Success

It was more difficult to maintain my meditation practice this week.  I did fine until Thursday when I was running late for work and didn’t get a chance to meditate until the afternoon.  Then Friday I had to leave early for an all day symposium and didn’t get up early enough to meditate before I left. To my credit, I set the intention to meditate that night, but then had company until late and only did a few minutes of meditation before I fell asleep.  The following morning I almost forgot to meditate.  Only two days’ disruption to my meditation schedule and already I was slipping.  How easy it is to lose momentum!

Today, I had an early appointment again.  This time I made a commitment to make sure that I had enough time to meditate before I left. I am happy to report that I succeeded!

iStock_000002128470XSmallSo, the good news is that I got right back on track. The glass is more than half full. I meditated 6 out of 7 days this week. 

I used to get down on myself when I fell short of a  goal and tended to see the glass as half empty, so I doubted my ability to succeed and it ended up being harder to motivate myself to keep trying. Then I became so accepting of my difficulties that I stopped trying to improve. Even though I saw the glass as half full, it didn’t feel possible to fill the other half, so I accepted the status quo as good enough.  Now, when I fall short of a goal, I try to give myself credit for the steps I have taken towards the goal and recognize where there is room for improvement.  This helps me to be realistic about my accomplishments and obstacles and feel optimistic about my capabilities. Recent research indicates that this type of realistic optimism helps maximize success.

Sophia Chou, an organizational psychology researcher at National Taiwan University, presented her research findings at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in August, 2013. She discovered that realistic optimists have a positive outlook about the future and an accurate perspective about current challenges, They tended to be more successful than idealistic optimists who had positive illusions rather than accurate appraisals of their capabilities or pessimists who were realistic but had negative expectations for the future. Chou found that realistic optimists had more confidence in their self-control and influence over relationships, so they could stay hopeful about the future, even while acknowledging present challenges. For further information on this study: http://www.livescience.com/39128-optimistic-realists-do-best.html.

 Are you a realistic optimist, idealistic optimist, or a pessimist?  How do you think your perspective impacts your ability to achieve your goals? Is there anything you now want to change? What first step can you take to help develop a new perspective?


One Good Habit Leads to Another

Last week I wrote about my intention to take my meditation practice to the next level and make it a daily practice.  I have now successfully finished my second week of daily meditation and I’ve noticed something. Even though I planned to wait to work on being more consistent about exercise so I could dedicate myself to developing one habit at a time, I ended up going to the gym twice this week anyway.  I just felt like doing it.

iStock_000002128470XSmallIn last week’s post, I mentioned research that showed that self-control was like a muscle that can get tired and needs rest.  However,  according to research by Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng, participants who exercised self-discipline on a regular basis in regards to one habit,  also  showed  improved willpower with other habits.  So self-control also resembles a muscle in that it strengthens with exercise.

There is another way that I had more practice this week.  I was more distractible a few mornings this week, so I had much more practice bringing my attention back to my meditation over and over again, which gave me a lot more practice in self-discipline.

Even though I successfully exercised twice this week, I am still not committing to exercising regularly yet.  I am going to continue my plan to work on one habit at a time to maximize my success. This raises the question, how long do I need to continue my daily meditation practice before it becomes an automatic habit? 

According to success coach and best-selling author Jack Canfield, it takes 30 days for a new neural pathway to be established. He recommends 30 day experiments to try out new behaviors, and an additional 2-3 months to reinforce them. According to Loretta Breuning, PhD of MeetYourHappyChemicals.com, our brains need 45 days of repetition for a new habit to start feeling normal.  And according to a University College London study, it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become an automatic habit, depending on the complexity of the behavior, among other factors.  Given the above, I decided to give myself two months to develop my meditation habit before I move on to focusing on other goals.

Since the literature does not yet have a consensus about how long it takes to establish a new positive habit, I am curious to know what your experience has been. How long has it taken you to develop a new habit? Has it taken different lengths of time for different types of habits? 


A New Blog for the New Year

iStock_000002128470XSmallThe New Year is a time of reflection and rededication to striving to overcome  bad habits.  In reflecting on my own personal growth journey and the areas that continue to challenge me, I decided it was time to work on it in a more disciplined and structured way.  My old way of approaching things has helped me only so far.  Now I have decided that I need to shift the balance.  Up until now, I emphasized acceptance over change, when it came to personal habits.  I accepted my own difficulty maintaining structure and the need to keep starting over and over again.

This new blog is part of the new plan.

Setting my intentions and committing to them publicly is a way of holding myself accountable and receiving support for my efforts.  I also plan to be more systematic in my approach.  Instead of trying to change several things at once, I am learning from my experience.  What I noticed is that when I focused on being more disciplined about one thing, it became harder to be more disciplined about another thing. Recently, I was going to the gym twice a week and exercising at home other mornings.  When I tried to be more structured in my meditation practice, my exercise routine suffered.  So I intend to focus on one goal at a time and to stick with that goal until it is a more automatic part of my routine before trying to change something else.

There is some research to back up this approach.  In a review by Mark Muraven and Roy Baumeister in the 2000 edition of the Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 126, No. 2) entitled, “Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources: Does Self-Control Resemble a Muscle?”, the authors concluded that the inhibition component of executive functioning relies on a limited, consumable resource, that needs replenishment.  Resisting temptation to indulge in extra sleep or go on the computer instead of meditating in the morning, for example, would make it harder to exert self-control to follow through on exercising.

So once meditating is more of an automatic habit, then it won’t be using up my self-control reserve and I can apply it to become more consistent about exercise.  So far, I have meditated every morning for the past week.  I am off to a good start!

Now the question remains, how long do I need to work on meditation before I can move on to focus on exercise? More on that in next week’s post.

 What intentions are you setting for the new year?  What strategies are you using to try to achieve your goals?