A few months ago, I decided to start meditating regularly, around an hour a day. It seemed like a good opportunity to measure possible effects, so I asked for advice on what to measure. This post summarizes the results. In short, while the subjective effects of meditation were strong, the measurements didn't show anything. This is a fine place to stop reading; I'm mostly posting this because I promised to.
I did mindfulness meditation, as guided by The Mind Illuminated. My object of focus was typically my breath (while sitting), or my steps (as hiking).
What I Measured
- About once a week, I did some online tasks either before or after meditating. These were the Go/NoGo and CuedAttention tasks on quantified-mind.com, and this psychomotor vigilance task.
- I set up roughly once or twice daily pings from TagTime for experience sampling.
What I Measured
- My performance on the tasks looked entirely random. It wasn't better or worse after meditating, and it didn't get better or worse over time.
- I have no idea how to do experience sampling. I understand that some people have moods. I'm almost always in a neutral mood, and so wasn't sure what to put most of the time. Also, I'm apparently often away from my phone, and missed many (most?) pings.
What I Learned
- The Mind Illuminated is as good of a guide as I hoped it would be.
- A few measly months of meditation isn't going to change anything like your performance on reaction-time-like tasks.
- A few measly months of meditation will give you a fascinating look into your own mind. It's not what you think. I'd say more, but I'm deeply confused and don't have a good model.
- Meditation retreats are great. I went on a two-day one, whose format wasn't particularly well-suited for me, and even this had a large effect on my practice.