A daily meditation challenge for chocolate lovers

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Today marks the end of a 30 day meditation challenge done with one of my best friends who also happened to be a chocolate addict! Our idea was simple. We would meditate at least 5 minutes everyday and if we missed a day, we would have to offer a chocolate or praline to the other friend. If we kept the challenge up for 30 days, our reward would be… you guessed it… CHOCOLATE!

To keep track, we used an App called Insight which tracks stats and offers thousands of free guided meditations. There is also a simple timer with optional bell ringing and background music. I love this App also for the fact that it also a “social media” part where we could message each other and see what the other has been up to. I even decided to join a group committed to meditating for 365 days!

Why this challenge worked so well for me

Friend’s support and accountability. I had tried to set this habit a few months back as a new year’s resolution last year but it had never really stuck. But challenging my friend worked wonderfully for me because I had someone to share my struggles and experiences with and we’d bother learn from each other. We had both discovered mindfulness and meditation in different contexts (I had followed a few seminars on using meditation to manage stress and anxiety on stage and be present during performances).

Diversity. Often the thought of sitting still and doing nothing but breathe for a few minutes a day is not the easiest or most exciting thing to try and do and often I’d feel bored and/or discouraged. However, the Insight App helped tremendously because it allowed me to discover countless different meditation techniques (guided mindfulness meditations, visualizations, breathing meditations, yoga meditations…) and to stay curious and excited about the process. I loved browsing through and experimenting with the different meditation sessions. If I started to feel overwhelmed by the vast array of choice, I would simply put the timer on and let the feelings pass although I found my mind would more easily wander if I simply relied on the timer. Another great plus about the App is it allowed me to keep track of how long I’ve been meditating and gave detailed daily, weekly and monthly stats of my different sessions (great for data lovers such as myself).

A good motivation to win the challenge. chocolate-meditation-challengeBelgium is the land of Chocolate, home to the best, richest, sweetest buttery and gooey delights on the planet (Sorry Switzerland… you and your purple cows simply can not compete)! This challenge was just meant to be another excuse to indulge in more goodie sweetness but in the end, I actually found I didn’t feel the constant want or need for this guilty pleasure anymore after I meditated. Instead of unconsciously swallowing my comfort food whole like I usually did, I found myself savouring a lot more the different flavours and enjoying every bite of chocolate when I did have some. So at the end of the challenge, instead of buying a big box of 30 pralines for each day I meditated (which might have left me feeling bloated and potentially nauseous…), I chose to reward myself with something different : 4 little pralines from a famous chocolate maker. I chose to celebrate this time quality over quantity, mindfulness over indulgence, one of the many lessons I learned from this small challenge.

What I learned from the experience

A lesson on perserverance. Some days I sucked at it, Some days I felt great about it. Some days, I felt I was racing against the clock trying to fit a meditation into my morning routine and other days, I’d have a feeling I was in sort of timeless place for a moment and I felt I needed to meditate. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to keep up with the challenge even if sometimes I did feel it became harder to be present to the moment the more I meditated. The hardest often was dealing with discomfort and practicing forgiveness when my mind did wander off.

A lesson on letting go. I found I would more easily let go of situations beyond my control after a few weeks of meditating. One truly amazing example to me was on a hectic day where I had important classes and appointments, every single one of the trains I took was late. I was running to every single one of my appointments trying to get there on time but when I was on the train experiencing lateness of the trains, instead of stressing and wallowing in anger about the situation, I simply got aware of the fact that regardless how I reacted or felt, I wouldn’t be able to make the trains move faster so I might as well enjoy my time in the train to read my book, send a few emails and be present to the situation. By some miracle that day, I actually made it to all my commitments just on time! Imagine, had I gotten pissed at the delayed trains like I always unconsciously do, I would’ve wasted a lot of my precious energy on anger and frustration towards a situation that in the end turned out just fine.

A lesson on self-care. I meditate because I feel good, because I feel bad, sometimes just because I feel too much…  I feel peaceful and free after I meditate. I found regardless if it went well or not, the simple fact of taking this time for myself everyday was a simple and wonderful act of self-love and self-care.

A message of wisdom

I finished these 30 days feeling inspired and grateful for the experience and I wanted to leave you with a beautiful poem I discovered on the Insight App often used as a quick simple and powerful meditation tool… Enjoy!

She Let Go

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.  She let go of the judgments.  She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.  She let go of the committee of indecision within her.  She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go.  She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.  She let go of all of the memories that held her back.  She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.  She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

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7 lessons from waking up at 7am everyday for 30 days

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A quick update on my resolutions so far

So, as I had shared in my first blog post of the year, I decided to start the year with a small number of fun resolutions, goals and new habits to try out each month. I’ve found putting them out in writing and actually sharing them with you guys (even if it is just with an intimate group of 10 people) really got me to take my resolutions more seriously and this month, I actually spent a long time planning them all out trying to find the best way to stick to all those challenges.

Initially, I just wanted to work on one habit a month but of course, as impatient as I am, I couldn’t help but start working on more than one of them at a time. But essentially, I only focused all my energy and discipline in the one hardest challenge I intended for January : waking up consistently at 7am. I considered the rest to be just a bonus and didn’t work on them as religiously. However, this month, I still managed to start a meditation challenge with one of my best friends (which I will write about in a future post once that challenge is complete) and the challenge of doing yoga on a regular basis at home (5 times a week) which has worked out quite well surprisingly since waking up early gave me a free time to start these habits.

How I set up the habit

I actually started the challenge 10 days after the start of the year when I came back from my vacation. It was really nothing fancy : I set up an alarm clock for 7am on my phone and decided to wake up at that time regardless of it was a week day or weekend. I also downloaded a habit tracker App on the Phone to keep myself accountable for. I just finished the habit waking up at or sometimes before 7am 26 times out of 30.

The struggles

The habit started out fine the first week then quickly became a long and difficult experience for different reasons :

  • Waking up early in the middle of winter is just bitch. Really. I hate waking up before sunrise and… it’s cold. So sooo cold. Who in their right mind would want to get out of their cosy flannel bedsheet and meditate or hop into yoga clothes or running gear?
  • Waking up early when you are at home is one thing but waking up early when you’re staying at a friends place or out on vacation is another. I realised, I couldn’t keep the same habits when I’m away somewhere which was fine but the real challenge for me was actually getting back into the routine after I came home.
  • Setting up a fixed alarm clock at 7am is great… Until you go out dancing all night until 6am one day! I really tried to be consistent this first month and attempted to wake up EVERYDAY but after a late night or two, it became harder and harder to keep at the habit because I couldn’t “catch up” on my sleep anymore like before. I started falling back asleep more frequently after the alarm clock rang from then on.
  • Distractions, distractions, distractions! On most mornings, I would get up with my phone at my side and I would either automatically hit the snooze button or just browse on my phone watching YouTube videos until almost 11 (thus really defeating the purpose of why I wanted to wake up early in the first place…)

Improving the tweaks

The challenge became more and more difficult as more and more fatigue started accumulating. 2/3 of the way into the challenge, I realized I would never stick to it if I continuously felt tired and shitty like this. So I decided to also set up an alarm clock at night and gave myself another challenge of going to bed every night by midnight. I must say, it’s been working fairly well. I noticed whenever I managed get to bed on time, waking up the next day was just a stroll in the park. It hasn’t actually been that challenging to sleep earlier because my body does feel tired at the end of the day.

I also started to put my phone to charge away from my bed which would force myself to get out of bed to turn the alarm off and it would stop me from watching endless YouTube videos before I slept and after I woke up…

For the winter issue, days are getting longer so it’s getting easier but I’m considering creating a winter Wake up time at say 8am and a summer wake up time at say 6 or 7 (we really do need more energy during the winter days…)

But WHY?!?!

When it comes to sleeping habits, I know it’s a very personal matter and to be honest there is no real science behind any of it or more of, everyone has their own “scientific” theory on the matter. Before I started, I read countless blogs and articles from people who had completely different and sometimes contradicting ideas.

In the end, it was mostly my own personal motivations that convinced than anything else I had read online. I wanted to try waking up at a specific time because :

  • I’m a morning person. I’ve always felt I do my best “work” in the morning (with one small exception of writing blog posts which seems to be a nocturnal thing for me… or could it just be me procrastinating?) When I wake up at 11, I feel I’ve wasted my whole day. I get stressed and annoyed that I can’t get things done.
  • I wanted a fail safe way to keep all my other New Years resolutions. And to do so, I figured I had to fit all that in some sort of routine and schedule and what better time to fit these habits in then when I still have all my energy and motivation to spend?
  • I hate fiddling with alarm clocks and calculating what time I should wake up at, how many hours of sleep I would be getting.

7 lessons I got out of this challenge

  1. I love the peacefulness in the house when I get up before everyone.
  2. An increased feeling of productiveness. No matter what I do the rest of the day, I know I’ll have at least accomplished something.
  3. Days feel so much longer. I feel I have so much more time during the day to do anything I want. Which lead to another great benefit : I feel less guilty about starting a slow lazy morning on certain days. It’s amazing how creating time for yourself removes your guilt of having “wasted” time.
  4. Grace and ease first thing in the morning. I never feel rushed to get ready anymore. Although I still find myself often running to catch my train in the morning but I know I choose to do so consciously (I don’t want to stand in the cold…) and not because I had to drag myself out of bed.
  5. I feel more and more excited about the day ahead.
  6. Once I’m up in the morning, all the other habits like yoga and meditation fall into place.
  7. Restricting my bed time and wake up time has actually simplified my mornings considerably. I feel I wake up more relaxed because I have one less important decision to make at night. After watching the Ted talk on the Paradox of Choice (see my future post on this 🙂 ), I really realized how much we waste our precious energy on making decisions on small meaningless aspects of daily life.

This has been a fun learning experience for me which is why I wanted to share it with you all. But know that in no way was this article meant to encourage or convince you to wake up early. I believe every person is unique and their body each functions in a unique way. The world is made of early risers and night owls.

My only advice to you is this same old wisdom that has been shared for millenia’s : γνωθι σεαυτον/ Know yourself !

I believe Self Knowledge leads to wisdom, freedom and essentially a more fulfilling life. Find whatever works best for you.  Listen to your own body before anyone else’s. It often knows better than you what’s best for you.