Motivation, mindfulness and meditation

Note: As of this writing, over a hundred million Americans are under stay-at-home orders due to a pandemic of COVID-19, a disease caused by a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Unemployment claims are through the roof as non-essential businesses have been told to close, and some businesses that were allowed to stay open are starting to close as the customer base stays home.

For a lot of people, it’s a really hard time to get motivated to do anything. A lot of people haven’t been working their day jobs for the past month. People who work day jobs outside the house are doing their best to stay away from people they work with and for. And some people who work day jobs out of the house — many medical professionals and first responders, for example — are living on the opposite side of the house from the rest of their families.

People who can work from home are trying to balance work with homeschooling their kids, or simply keep their not-yet-school-aged children busy and themselves sane.

Extroverts who need groups of people to recharge are surrounded by only their families. Introverts who need to be alone to recharge have their families around all the time.

In other words, life is not what people have become accustomed to.

When most of what you know disappears, how do you get motivated to do even the day-to-day stuff, never mind extend yourself to reach new goals and try new things?

It starts with finding some peace of mind. Which starts with mindfulness. Which starts with (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) meditation.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Miracle of Mindfulness, wrote something that finally connected to me: “Do the dishes to do the dishes.”

Feel the water on your hands, smell the soap, feel the dishes return to their clean state. If you’re thinking about sharing dessert with your friends and family while you’re washing the dishes, what are you going to be thinking about when it’s time to share dessert?

Be where you are, do what you are doing. So simple, but not easy.

When we were writing about finding more empathy for other people, meditation came up.

When we were writing about bringing more happiness into your life, meditation came up.

When we were writing about finding your creativity, meditation came up.

Focus, confidence, patience … meditation keeps rearing its head.

A study recently found that meditation kills motivation, but I think there are a couple of design flaws with the study.

Subjects were either given a guided meditation, or told to sit and let their minds wander. Then, they were given busywork. The people given the meditation were really unmotivated to do the work.

The two biggest problems I see here are:

(1) The tasks were consecutive. Chances are, if you have a meditation practice, the thing you do immediately following your meditation is generally not some focus-based busywork task — more than likely, you’re going to bed, or making coffee, or brushing your teeth.

(2) The assigned tasks were someone else’s tasks. If you’re already not motivated by anything other than the paycheck to do the work your job assigns you, nothing else is going to help you get motivated to do it — especially when the thing you’re testing is something that generally relaxes you.

But what about when the task is something you’re trying to get up to do? What if it’s a new exercise regimen? Doing more cooking at home? Writing a book? Designing summer programming for your children?

Meditation can absolutely help you.

But a meditation practice needs to be a practice. Do it every day. Start small. Give yourself some grace to let it take time for your practice to solidify. Let yourself have bad days.

When you meditate day after day — even just five minutes at a time — that quiet that you invite in becomes accessible. You can summon it when you want to be focused, or creative, or happy, or motivated.

And right now, when so many of us are out of sorts, accessing quiet within us is really important.


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