Does this sound familiar?
"Somewhere out there is something more interesting and more important than what you're doing right now. Go on and just check... maybe it's in your email... that blog... on Facebook..."
Someone (I'm sorry I can't remember who) described this very thought as "the ping". It's a great name for it.
I long ago turned off all the alerts and pings from every single app that interrupted me. But then my own treacherous brain took over and I started to notice brain-pings.
Your brain demands the regular little sips of dopamine you get from checking email and social media.
For something so incredibly powerful, your brain can be very stupid at times.
While it's busy grabbing those little sips of dopamine, it fails to foresee your misery when you reach the end of the day...
... and you've done nothing of any real value.
The ping is a symptom of an anxiety inherent in what Daniel Pink calls "heuristic work". That's work where nobody's telling you the next step to take — and you can't be sure that the last step you took was right.
Pink estimates that 70% of jobs are heuristic in the modern world, largely because a lot of algorithmic "tab A into slot B and repeat" type work has been taken over by technology.
Heuristic work lends itself to self-doubt, procrastination — and therefore brain-pings.
And there's no settings mode to turn your brain-pings off.
But there is a way that can help you choose a better response to the pings.
Sean Platt of the Self-Publishing Podcast talked recently about how he ignores alerts from his phone. He used to have his phone on the desk in front of him. When it beeped, vibrated and lit up, he couldn't ignore the ping and it pulled him away from his work.
Now he keeps his phone on a desk just behind him. It still beeps and buzzes, but now he can leave it alone until he's finished the work.
This is how it feels when I practice meditation. I gradually learnt how to put my brain-pings just behind me. They still buzz and beep, but I can choose to ignore them.
That's pretty huge for me.
It means that by practising meditation for just 10 minutes each day, I can focus for longer on every task, slash procrastination time, and even complete tedious tasks faster.
And that's not the only benefit.
Another is getting started faster. The 10 minutes I spend practising is just enough to let me see beyond my mind's chatter about ALL THE THINGS that need doing. Just enough to connect with the valuable work I can choose to do. Just enough to see that vital first step I need to take.
And one further benefit I've found is an unblocking of creativity. After a few minutes of sitting or standing, focusing only on my breathing, novel ideas and new thoughts start percolating to the surface. I suspect that by focusing my noisy conscious mind on my breathing, I can tune in to the quiet murmurings of my subconscious creative engine.
If you can spend just 10 minutes meditating, I guarantee you'll be 57%† more awesome for the rest of the day.
Meditation is not about a bald dude in robes, sitting in lotus position on a mountain and chanting, "om" — whilst trying to levitate.
It's being practiced all over the world by people from all walks of life. Moleskine-toting hipsters, gun-slinging entrepreneurs, sportspeople, high-flying executives, accountants, artists, assorted professionals... and yes, some bald dudes in robes.
In fact, meditation's almost trendy at the moment, but don't hold that against it. If I had to recommend just one activity with the biggest potential to improve focus, productivity, creativity and mood... you guessed it... I'd pick meditation*.
When you're ready to try meditation for yourself, note that there are many common misconceptions about meditation. It helps to have a guide to get you past those when you're starting.
Here are my top 3 resources for getting your practice started. I've tried a lot of apps and programs, and these were the ones that worked best for me.
Insight Timer (iOS app)
A simple timer with suitably zen-sounding start and end gongs plus a wide range of guided meditations to help you get started. It tracks your meditation time, so you can build up a record of how long you've meditated in total each day, week and month. And it connects you with others who are meditating around the world. I love this app, though it is a shame that it's so ugly.
Commit (iOS app)
It's hard to build a habit, even one which has such benefits. I'm using Commit – a nice little app by Nathan Barry – to build an unbroken chain of daily meditation.
A free daily guided meditation by Susan Piver. It comes as video or audio and you can sign up to get each day's links by email. It's a great way to start if you don't have an iOS device.
* for "meditation" you can substitute "prayer" or another type of internal spiritual practice, if you prefer. Also qi gong, tai chi or yoga.
† Did you know that 68% of statistics are made up on the spot?