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On the Importance of Reflection

I'm not anti-app, as I think they can play an important part in habit cultivation when it comes to mindfulness practice. I think about creating an app, but there are so many that provide a crucial service (when used!)—they ping you to remind you to practice, and can be programmed with a practice queued up. In the world of apps, that's not difficult, and I think we take it for granted. But its importance should not be minimized. After all, the biggest obstacle most people have to developing a consistent mindfulness practice is, as we say, "getting on the cushion" to start with. Once you're there—once you've decided to sit and you've assumed the position and started your timer, you're significantly more likely to meditate than if you weren't positioned. If you can automate ANY PART of getting there, go for it!

With that said . . .

"With that said" is one of my pet phrases because it underscores how things aren't as easy as they can sound sometimes. We humans want clear-cut simplicity and advice via sound bite. We want guarantees and we like to think that if you do X you will get Y outcomes. Meanwhile, in reality, there always seems to be a bunch of fine print, and formulas contain way more variables than you'd like.

I think if we get used to the fine print, even expecting it, we'll be less disappointed to hear what we already know . . . there will be effort necessary to cultivate new habits. If there were no effort involved, everyone would be far more mindful than they currently are.

Practice Is Necessary But Not Sufficient

Self-awareness, focus, self-compassion, well-being . . . they don't improve through practice alone, although practice is necessary. Life is a seemingly endless series of feedback loops because we are self-organizing, open systems. We are influenced by what happens in and around us, and that includes, as Lessig's Pathetic Dot Theory describes, our social engineering via laws, markets, norms, and technical infrastructure (and the code that enables/expresses it). There are oodles of factors that influence what we do next, and some of them are invisible, yet most of us are fairly certain that we're the authors of our actions and thoughts. We don't recognize the many variables that affect what we do and think and how we feel.

And that makes sense. An organism that's an open system (i.e., you), doing something in an environment where there are many invisible forces acting upon it, is merely reacting to all of the external forces in the service of homeostasis because that's its job. It's searching for stability for heaven's sake, not enlightenment, self-actualization, or transcendence.

This is where reflection comes in. When we pause to capture our experience and reflect on its contents, how familiar those contents are, how our systems are feeling, and what thoughts are seemingly flying into and out of our heads, we have the opportunity to inject intention and purpose into the feedback loop. We have the opportunity . . . to learn.

With that opportunity also comes purpose. Learning in the service of what? For mindfulness practice, our intention is to learn how to create different feedback loops that serve a purpose we have decided upon consciously, such as personal development/evolution (to whatever end you choose), or even transcendence, where we use self-awareness as a vehicle for serving our families, our colleagues, our clients, our planet. We can use our self-awareness to serve our world.

Do This . . .

Back to apps. If you're using one or you're doing whatever practice you've developed at home (i.e., not with a trained mindfulness teacher), remember to reflect. In fact, you can anchor this to, say, the feeling of reaching for your phone to turn off the ping from the timer that signifies your time is up. Tell yourself, "As I reach for the phone to turn off the timer, I am reflecting on my experience." The sooner you do it the better, as it's kind of like dreaming. There you are, certain that you'll recall your dream, and with each nanosecond after you awake, it slips away from you faster and faster.

Notice the language also: "I am reflecting." This is active and signifies you're already doing it; you're already in that flow of reflection. It's not happening at a later date; it's now.

I recommend writing down the Capture as well as Reflect parts of the feedback loop. And do it immediately, as with time comes the introduction of memories, patterns, stories, and other detritus of your "processing" of your experience. The goal isn't to process it here—it's to record it, pre-process. Capture your sensory and thought experience and then ask yourself: how is this familiar? What can I learn from this? What was surprising? What obstacles did I have when practicing? (E.g., my neighbor's dog was barking the whole time and I was annoyed by the sound while also feeling terrible for her because her needs weren't being met and she was obviously distressed.)

And if you have any questions or need any guidance, hit REPLY and Ask Me Anything!



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