It’s 5:30 AM and I’m anything but awake. I have a long day ahead of me with lots to do. However, I made a promise to myself to meditate first thing in the morning.
Every. Single. Day.
On my Oak meditation app, it says that I’ve meditated for 279 sessions, 95 of them in a row. In terms of badges, I’ve achieved all 10 in just a few months. (I moved from Grasshopper to whatever is beyond Infinity.) I’d say the gamification of this app worked.
According to the European Journal of Social Psychology, on average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. Not 7 days. Not 30 days. Over two full months. It makes sense that if you did something every day for 66 days, it would stick. In my case, it’s true: Meditation is definitely a habit for me.
But more importantly, I’m grateful for how I feel in the morning and the productivity it brings.
The Early Morning Grind
Before this app, my mornings were unproductive and stressful. I’d get up, mess around online, and then finally get to task #1 for the day. I would often waste an hour just getting into the swing of things. For someone who wanted to race up the career ladder and attain an incredible salary, this was not the way.
One day, I decided to set a precedent. I would begin each morning on the right foot and meditate. My idea was that in doing so, I would build up enough productivity momentum to at least get me to lunchtime.
The first thing I did in the morning was the most important thing — to get clarity and focus in my life. With that, I felt I could do anything the rest of the day required. And I was right. I felt refreshed after meditating for just a mere 10–20 minutes. And the positive energy did snowball well past lunchtime.
All Because Of An App
I’ve tried nine other meditation apps and only one worked for me. (What can I say, I’m a thorough app reviewer. And no, I’m not getting paid to write this.) As mentioned, the app I use is the mighty Oak app. I think it’s perfect. It uses light and serene watercolor illustrations. The background music flows, and the guided meditation voice is a soft welcoming voice.
The whole user experience is calming: exactly what you want to have early in the morning. Most mediation apps miss the boat with that and they require you to sign up immediately. I found that intrusive. Most apps also want you to take a quick survey/diagnostic and then give you options to sign up for expensive upgrades.
There is only one thing to upgrade on the Oak app and it’s not even promoted. The Oak developers just want you to meditate and keep it simple. That makes the app a breeze.
It wasn’t always this good though.
You see, the Oak app was designed by Kevin Rose’s team and then redesigned by a company called AJ&Smart in Berlin. This redesign team specializes in Jake Knapp’s methodology called The Design Sprint. Those familiar with the startup scene might see design sprints as the best parts of The Lean Canvas and The Value Proposition Canvas.
It might seem kind of geeky and meta, but the intentional design of the app reflects the intentional design of your meditation ritual. Everything is mellow, positive, and reinforcing.
Learn How To Meditate Correctly
The genius of the app is the course: “10 Days Of Mantra Meditation” (a one-time $5.99 upgrade and vastly under-priced). That short course taught me more about meditation than any book did. Don’t get me wrong, the three free meditation options are awesome. I used them a lot in the beginning. However, to really understand meditation I bought the course and it made a world of a difference.
In ten sessions, a guide with a soothing voice takes you from what meditation is to how to do it right. In every session, there is time to experiment with a little guided meditation. But as the program teaches, real meditation doesn’t have a voice telling you what to do. It’s your job to take over your mind and listen to yourself.
That is, guided meditation is a sham.
As the famed Tibetan nun Pema Chödrön points out in her book How To Meditate, “You are your own meditation instructor.”
The best meditation sessions happens when you control it, start to finish. The only thing you need is a quiet place and perhaps an app like this that provides calming background music. I use guided meditation as a warm-up, but then I try it on my own in silence to take it up a notch.
In the course, it tells you about the common pitfalls of meditating and how it’s okay if your mind occasionally wanders — and it will. The advice is to accept that things like this happen all the time and it’s up to you to catch it and redirect your mind. Every lesson teaches you skills to eventually do the whole meditation by yourself. Lesson 10 is almost complete silence. This was huge for me because I didn’t think I could sit still for 20 minutes, but I did. I ran the whole show in my head!
The result of this heightened sense of awareness made me incredibly focused, positive, and productive. Over time, it became easier to wake up and meditate. When I arose, within minutes I was in another room immersed in my meditation practice.
From there, I either got a glass of water or went right to my desk and began working. I’m a writer. After reading habit books like The Miracle Morning, I decided that writing is the most important and first thing I have to do in the morning.
The outcomes of this experiment were that I doubled my writing output, got total clarity in my day, reduced stress significantly, and maintained my weight. That’s a lot for me and I’m grateful for the experience (which is still in practice).
My Exact Morning Ritual
I don’t believe in goals. They seem like a one-time event that under-emphasizes the necessary process to complete things. That process takes time, energy, and dedication. So for me, it’s better to create a couple of rituals in life than to create goals. And when I mean ritual, I mean the whole act of making something an event. You take the time out to follow a process, go through predetermined motions, and do it with great respect. Like a religious ritual, it’s sacred and soulful on purpose.
A ritual is a goal with soul!
So my morning ritual goes exactly like this:
- 10+ minute Meditation with the Oak App
- 60+ minute writing session with zero distractions
- A quick break for something to eat or drink
- 60+ minutes of more writing if no pressing projects are at hand
- Begin the scheduled tasks for the day
For some time, I did this while having a full-time job. Since it took forever to drive to work, I’d often wake up really early to meditate and then write the first 60 minutes. I’d eat something and rush out the door to beat the traffic. Most of the time I would arrive earlier than the rest of the staff, so I’d have a little more time to write.
My workday began around the time everyone else’s did, it’s just that I had already done the most important thing before anything else. Because of this early win, I felt like I had already won the day. It could all go downhill from there, but I’d still feel like I did something great that day.
Meditate To Be More Productive
Eventually, I did leave my job in the city. I promoted myself and became a full-time writer. I was my own boss and it was great. I was writing or editing several hours a day, and I couldn’t believe my laser-focus. I attribute all of this to mediation. I wrote over 60,000 words a month! I tried this same routine in the past without the mediation part and it simply didn’t work.
If anyone has ever tried working for themselves from home, you know how easy it is to avoid work. There are too many distractions around, so you must establish a routine early. If you don’t clear the clutter in the morning, it’s just hard to be more productive. This brings me to one of my armchair philosophies about meditating.
I don’t quite know what happens to our brains when we meditate. I just think that brains are constantly full of ideas and thoughts. It’s good to clear the cache daily, so to speak. As the day drags on with more tasks, more people, and more deadlines things become messy. By 6 pm, our brain is just full. (Maybe that’s why night school was always so hard for me.) Not to mention that by the end of the day, we have probably been exposed to thousands of brand messages and advertisements — for better or for worse.
So what I found was meditating first thing in the morning and in the evening are the perfect times. Meditation has helped me get ready for the day and wind down from it.
Another trick I picked up was that immediately after my meditation session, I’d start writing with the Oak app. I would use the “Relaxing Sounds” feature to write or do other work. Typically, I set it for 30 minutes. When I was in a zone and the timer went out, I just reset it and continued on. This was my version of the Pomodoro technique and it worked wonders.
Some might say this is bad. I used the same music I meditated to as I did for my desk work. If I was anchored for mediation with one sound, in theory I shouldn’t use it for work. But I found this to be wrong. It just helped me sustain my calmness when working. It helped me focus and I became a productivity machine. It’s something people should definitely try for themselves. Oak does not market that feature as such, but it works. Heck, that same background music could be used for a lot of things!
How To Not Break The Chain
Many habit experts stress the idea of not breaking the chain. Once you do break a streak of singles, you have to start over and no one wants to do that. My first thirty days of meditation started to feel like something was at stake besides my mental health.
In my mind, I imagined a monthly calendar where every day had a gold star on it. It felt good to have a strong streak. The streak counter on my app wouldn’t let me cheat either. I didn’t want to throw all of that away only to start over, so I had to figure out a way to keep it going.
After reading about habit cues, I decided to use a book to remind me to meditate. It was my visual cue, so the book and author had to mean something to me. If something big came up in the morning where my routine was broken, I’d prop this book up by the clock to remind me to meditate ASAP. To this day, I still haven’t read it. I have very fond memories of the book without even knowing what is in it! (I’m sure it’s brilliant. I have read four other books by the same author. I’ll get to it later.)
We all know that clearing your mind and meditating is great for your mental and physical being. At your disposal, there are countless meditation apps, books, and courses available. I recommend picking one up and just going for it. Create a ritual out of meditating for just a few minutes a day, preferably the first thing in the morning.
I tried a dozen meditation apps, and I think the Oak app by AJ&Smart is the best by far. Pick something you like. Or maybe you don’t use an app at all: just a simple timer and/or your own background music.
The point is, the sooner you start meditating the more productive and clear-minded you will become. It will affect your whole day. Your ideas will be brilliant and your work will flourish. Just start with 10 minutes a day and let it snowball into something great!