Begin with the End in Mind(fulness)

I’ve recently (re)taken up meditation. I used to share the misconception that meditation is about “clearing the mind.” That is, until I spent the first part of 2016 helping my friends re-build their awesome meditation app*.

What I learned from my sudden deep-dive into the world of mindfulness is that the point of such meditation is training your brain so you can “observe & respond rather than react,” and if you take some quiet time to simply observe what your mind is spontaneously concerning itself with, you’ll realize the vast majority is unhelpful non-sense — memes arising and falling from the white-noise of your wet-ware consciousness.

Even more disconcerting than just observing the content & frequency of the memetic noise, is realizing how much of your day to day choices and reactions are driven by those happenstance thoughts, and un-critically conditioned habits. That you, this mighty, autonomous, sovereign intellect you are… has so many of his life’s choices dictated by things arising from noise.

Oof, humbling.

As an arm-chair neuroscientist, this seems like a “System 1 vs System 2”* battle for your intentions. Do you allow noise & System 1 lizard-instincts to influence and dictate your choices, or can you slow down just enough to shift some greater percentage of your day into System 2 thinking and deliberate planning? And if you could, how much would that positively compound over the years?

Our lack of a consistently applied System 2 is most apparent when we over-indulge — the supporting battlecry from our inner & outer demons being “live a little!” and “that’s what makes us human!” Surprise, turns out System 2, enabled by our recently evolved neocortex, separating us from mostly instinct-driven animals, is actually what makes us human.

My favorite piece of advice which fits neatly, is from Stephen Covey: “begin with the end in mind”*. I use it as a quick hack for stopping in the moment, asking “what is it I’m actually after?,” forcing myself to slow down, and engage System 2’s planning capabilities a little more deliberately. Mindfulness in action. The more I practice meditation, the more of those opportunities I create for myself.

And sometimes a blog post.

Great reads & resources:

Finally, I’m an ardent atheist (in particular, because it rhymes) so when meditation or any self-help steers toward the spiritual, I rapidly eject. Thankfully, there are increasingly many secular resources & supporting science, so if you share the same aversions I do, fear not.