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Don't Have Time to Meditate? Try Micro-Dosing Mindfulness (Here's How)

focus meditation productivity Jul 17, 2020

Originally Published in Inc. Magazine.

In spite of all the studies showing the amazing benefits of meditation, most people fail to turn this practice into a habit for one simple reason. I call it the myth of "monk-style meditation."

It's the myth that, if you want to become a "real meditator," you need to seal yourself off from the world for long periods.  This myth tells you that you can't just meditate for five or ten minutes a day. You have to do it for at least 30 minutes or an hour each day.

This myth arises from the early neuroscience research on meditation highlighting the superhuman brains of "experienced" meditators. In one such study, the average participant had around 19,000 hours (that's about six and half years of meditating for eight hours a day).

A 2018 study conducted by researchers at Mass General and Yale University, however, shows that you don't need to quit your job and move to a monastery in Bali to experience the benefits of meditation. Even short bursts of meditation can deliver powerful benefits.

These researchers wanted to understand whether people micro-dosing meditation (doing it for just ten minutes a day) would still experience its benefits. After running two separate studies, they found that these small doses of meditation enhance cognitive performance.

Those with no prior meditation experience who meditated for just ten minutes each day showed faster response times, greater accuracy, less distraction, and an enhanced ability to sustain attention.  As they concluded, "we tested the boundary conditions of brief mindfulness meditation, and showed that even a very small 'dose' can have beneficial effects in individuals with very little or no practice."

How to micro-dose meditation

If you don't have an hour each day to sit alone in a quiet room, then it's worth trying this scientifically-validated micro-dosing approach.  Here's how to do it.

1. Find a comfortable seat, anywhere

You don't have to sit on a fancy meditation cushion, sealed away from car horns, sirens, and other distractions. You can do this practice anytime, anywhere. Do it on a park bench, on an airplane, or in the waiting room at your doctor's office. Lifting the constraint of having to be in a quiet, undistracted, undisturbed place makes it much easier to fit this practice into your day. 

2. Start by building the muscle of attention

Here's my method for meditation micro-dosing. I start with training focused attention. For the first ten breaths, I count each inhale and exhale. For example, I think "one" on my first inhale, then "one" on my first exhale, then "two" on my second inhale, and so on until I get to ten without losing focus.  If I can't make it to ten, I go back and start all over. 

3. Cultivate the skill of meta awareness

Once I make it to ten (which might not happen if I'm really distracted), I shift to training a slightly different quality of the mind, what psychologists call "meta awareness." This is your ability to stand back from the thoughts and emotions racing through your mind. To do this, I shift from counting breaths to focusing on the sounds, sensations, and sights (if my eyes are open). It's a lot like watching a movie called "Life." You just relax into a state of watching the movements of the mind, noticing sensations, thoughts, and sounds come and go.

4. Close with an altruistic intention or wish 

Here's a great way to wrap up your meditation micro-dosing practice. In the classical traditions, it's called "giving the merits." End with an intention that extends beyond yourself. "I want to be kind." "I want to be of service." "I want to listen and act from this bigger, less reactive, perspective."

The best thing about this practice is that it's portable and ultra-efficient. You really can do this anywhere. And, as we now know, the science shows that you aren't wasting your time by only meditating for five to ten minutes. These short burst of meditation can help you sharpen your mind throughout the day, increasing your focus, productivity, and overall wellbeing.

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