Impact of mindfulness meditation on wellbeing and productivity: preliminary results

[epistemic status: semi-formal lab report.

This is all about me. Probably of interest only to the people that want to observe some of my process. This is also not all that well organized. It’s partly stream of conciseness.]


Over that past few months (and the past 2 years, before that), I’ve been conflicted about the importance of having a regular meditation practice. There are good arguments for the high importance of concentration and metacognition, and meditation supposedly boosts those skills. Furthermore, I’ve directly observed some effects on my cognition that seems to be the result of having meditated that morning: being more apt to notice my thoughts as they’re happening, feeling more settled, being less reactive [I still need to write about “reactivity”], etc.

However, there’s clear and plausible confound. My life is often hectic, and maybe I only get around to meditating on days and weeks when I’m generally on top of everything. That is maybe the causality is reversed: instead of meditation making my life better, it that when my life is already going pretty well, I sit down to meditate.

So, I’m doing a randomized trial.

Two Mondays ago I flipped a (digital) coin. If it came up “1” then I would make a diligent effort to meditate every day for 20 minutes each day for the next 14 days, regardless of what else happening in my life. If it came up “0” I would meditate only when I felt like it.

It came up “1”, and for the past week and a half I’ve been meditating every day. (On one of the days, I meditated for only 18 minutes instead fo 20, but I don’t think that invalidates the experiment.)

I haven’t even finished my two weeks of meditation yet, but these are my preliminary results.

(Note that this experiment is just for observing the effects on my overall wellbeing and productivity. I may do other experiments with more explicit measurements for the psychological axes that I expect meditation to improve, but this isn’t that.)


This is going to be kind of informal. I don’t have rigorous proof for any of these conclusions. I’m partially sharing my “this is what it seems like to me”. Obviously, I’ll do further followup on all of these.

Briefly, meditation is definitely less important for my overall wellbeing than 1) Good sleep 2) getting regular intense exercise 3) being oriented on my goals and having my tasks “loaded up” and maybe 4) regularly taking a rest day.

Last week, the first part of my week was especially (95th percentile) good and productive, and then the later part of my my week (Wednesday on) was kind draggy and low-motivation (Being gentle on myself, I fell back to doing only one major task each day).

I’m chocking this up to 1) having a good rest day on Sunday, and 2) outlining my day in detail the night before for each of the days of the week (something I sometimes do). My subjective impression is that doing that self-organization in a deep (vs. a cursory or superficial way) makes a big difference for my productivity.

(My current hypotheses are that this is due to “loading up” my goals in my peripheral attention (or something) / making me (peripherally) aware of the full context of my goals and therefore the real tradeoffs and costs, and/or future-pacing providing some sort of sub-verbal nudge at decision point junctures throughout the day. [I should theorize about this].)

In the later part of the week, I had some major shoulder tension (a first for me), that persisted for days. After about 5 days, I spend an hour doing Focusing, and hanging with it, and “going inside of it”. It dissolved.

I think there was also an issue of not exercising (I was going on long walks, but I didn’t do anything intense, like strength training) making it harder for me to get to sleep. At least, I wasn’t strength training and I was getting less than 8 hours of sleep. (Around 7. Always more than 5.)

All of these seem like bigger factors than my meditation practice. Though I’ll also note that my meditation sessions weren’t particularly good. I sometimes am on-point, returning to my breath with high frequency, and getting into a sort aggressive flow with meditation. That didn’t happen this week. When the other factors are taken care of, I might meditate better, and meditation might then provide a boost over and above.


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