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The Tinkered Mind
A meditation app is forthcoming. Stay Tuned.
April 11th, 2022
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could A/B test our life - if we could live out the possibilities of each side of each decision. In one sense this would an infinite nightmare with branching possibilities that lead to infinite different outcomes. But at the very least, we’d be able to garner some hard data about what is actually having the impact we think it is.
For example with something like meditation. In the beginning there’s very likely a psychosomatic halo effect. A person is proud and happy that they have taken this concrete step to try and improve their life. Just that knowledge can change things, like a behavioral form of a placebo. Despite statistically viable reductions in stress with very few sessions of formal meditation, brain changes aren’t detectable until a person has a minimum of 3 or 4 months of daily practice. So what exactly is having an effect, and when? It’s very hard to tell.
After more than 5 solid years of daily mediation, I decided to take a prolonged break. This was partially situational - I was engaged in an intense project and I wanted to feed into that intense frenzy. But more than that, I was curious if I would notice any kind of effect - or a decrease in the effects that I was fairly confident that had been the result of meditation.
Now this is where the fantastical notion of A/B testing life would come in very handy. It would be incredible data if I could compare the 6 months I took off from my meditation practice with the same 6 months where there was no break in practice. If the results were the same then that would be a mark against the efficacy of meditation, but of course I don’t have that data, because it’s impossible for me to have those dual experiences.
What happened was still fascinating. Indeed the effects of meditation do linger for quite a while, and my hunch is that they linger for an amount of time proportional to how long a daily meditation habit had been in practice before the break.
Shortly before my break from meditation I reconnected with a friend who I had introduced to meditation. This individual had had terrible issues with anger and depression, and after about 5 months of daily meditation, his sense of wellbeing greatly improved. When I reconnected with him and asked how he was doing, he told me he was now taking anti-depressants. I asked if he was still meditating and he told me he’d fell out of the habit a few months earlier. Perhaps a coincidence, but it was telling that when I brought up meditation he very quickly said that he should get back into it.
My break from meditation brought a similar trend of results. I had a few more years of meditation behind me, but after a couple months I could sense something changing, something being lost. Less focus, my active memory deteriorating back to the same lower level of quality that I’d been plagued with before meditation. And after 6 months, I was personally languishing. The project I’d been intensely involved with had taken flight and was doing pretty well, but personally, it seemed as if I was slowly sinking back into a person I had worked very hard to evolve away from.
There was one more reason why this somewhat risky experiment seemed like it would be worth it. A meditation app is in development and almost finished, and this experiment seemed like it would be worth it to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself about the effects of meditation. On top of that, I wanted to go through the “beginner phase” of forming a meditation habit again. It’s my belief that forming the habit of meditation is far more important for the novice meditator than any kind of instruction involving attention, focus and the breath. Simply getting into the daily habit of sitting down and taking 10 or so minutes to dedicate is of supreme importance, because with that habit of allocating time, everything else involving the practice of meditation has the time to develop, no matter how long it takes.
I stuttered in my attempts to restart my practice, until I made a conscious observation about how poorly I was doing, mentally, emotionally, and in terms of the systems of my productivity. I realized I was teetering on the edge of a downward spiral and had just enough self-awareness to balance on that edge and recognize what was going on. With that sort of situation, the results of a break from 5 solid years of elevated well-being are clear and it’s time to climb back up the mountain.
What’s interesting about being a beginner again is that the progress feels familiar, and the results which took months and even years the first time around are coming much faster this time. The overflow effect of the practice into other areas of my daily life are also occurring much more rapidly than the first time. So it seems the results of meditation not only linger, but the staircase constructed the first time around in order to raise a sense of consciousness to a certain level remains built - though deteriorating. Atrophy is deceptive and seems to gain speed with time, but it is not total, nor complete, and even atrophied habits are better than no experience.
I could still be fooling myself. The renewed practice could be some kind of psychosomatic placebo. But, even if it is, what’s it really matter? If a habit that costs 10 or 20 minutes a day can result in such a strong beneficial placebo effect, then the mechanism doesn’t really matter, as long as the results are palpable, and the results have incredible correlation with the absence or presence of practice. And this principle of placebo probably renders the A/B test fantasy useless. The placebo is either present or not. Though, of course, there’s no way to know for sure.
The experience, though costly, from a mental, emotional and productive point of view, has definitely been worth it. The experience has underscored the importance of completing and releasing the meditation app, which is geared toward beginners in a way that all other meditation apps seem to miss the mark. If The Tinkered Mind helps even just one person have the increase in quality of life that I’ve experienced, then the whole project will have been worth it.