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The Tinkered Mind

A meditation app is forthcoming. Stay Tuned.

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MEDITATION DRAFT SESSION 3: MOMENTUM SCORE

December 5th, 2022

On Monday Tinkered Thinking releases a draft of a lesson from the forthcoming meditation app, currently called The Tinkered Mind (If you can think of a better name, please reach out. I'm not crazy about the current one, but I'll be damned if I let an imperfect name keep me from developing a good idea.) The rationale here is simply to stave off project stagnation by taking a wish to work with words on a daily basis (Tinkered Thinking Posts) and combine it with adjacent projects. This also gives regular readers a chance to get a preview of what I'm cooking up and to get feedback before the app launches, which is a tactic that has proved extremely useful with other projects unrelated to Tinkered Thinking. 

One further introductory note: The goal of this meditation app is predominantly aimed at helping individuals build a robust daily habit by breaking that habit down and tackling it's consitituent parts one at a time and aiding the process with a new and innovative way of tracking progress, the likes of which has not been seen in other meditation apps or habit tracking apps.

Again, if you have any feedback, please reach out via Twitter 

 

Session 3: Momentum Score

Take a comfortable seat, and once you’re ready begin breathing with deep exhales as we explored in the last session. The idea is to have a relatively quick inhale and a slow, longer exhale. I’ll count out a few 4 count inhales followed by exhales with a count of 8

 

 

Inhale till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Then..

 

Inhale again till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Continue this for a couple more breaths, and feel free to allow the exhales to be as long as you want. And once you are ready let your breathing transition to inhales and exhales of even length - what we refer to as coherence breathing. 

 

Given that this is the third lesson, your momentum score on the progress section of that app should be at least 3. It may be more if you’ve used the silent timer in addition to these guided sessions. 

 

This Momentum Score is one of the key innovative features of the app which has been a huge motivating factor in terms of building this app, producing the content and launching it. There are certainly other meditation apps, and a few that have totally dominated the market, but none of them track progress using behavioral momentum. All of them track user progress via a run streak, but there are significant problems with this metric, and it may even fact undermine a beginner’s ability to build a habit of meditation - as strange as that may sound. But it’s something I’ve seen in my own practice and it’s something I’ve seen with early users of this app that tested it while it was still in beta. An individual would string together a few days of meditation, then miss a day and then completely give up.

 

Fact is, it’s very demoralizing when a well earned run streak goes to zero. But more importantly is: does that accurately represent the state of someone’s habit?

 

Think of it this way: say a person has racked up 499 days of back-to-back meditation practice. If they forget on day 500, does a run streak of zero accurately reflect the state of a person’s practice established by those previous 499 days?

 

No, not at all.

 

Life is messy, and despite our best efforts it can get in the way of even the most disciplined person. Getting then confronted with the demoralizing apparently loss of progress makes no sense. It’s an issue of unequal magnitudes. How does missing one single day cancel out 499 days of consistent effort? What’s needed is a proportional scoring metric, and the best way to think about it is riding a bike.


If you pedal up to a certain speed and then stop pedaling, does the bike instantly stop?

 

No, of course not.

 

The previous effort of peddling has created a momentum that carries you further.

 

That being said, without more peddling, the bike does slow down and eventually it will drift to a stop. The speed of the bike is proportional to the amount of pedaling that has been done and how long it’s been since that peddling stopped.

 

This is how the Momentum Score works here on this app. Rack up 7 straight days of meditation and then miss a day? The score doesn’t reset to zero, it just decreases to 6. Miss 2 days and it decreases further. But go a week without meditating and that momentum will be completely lost.

 

The effect of this subtle shift in behavior tracking is profound. For myself and for early users of the app.

 

Personally, I decided to A/B test my life with meditation last year in preparation for building out this app and creating the content for it. I wanted to experience the difficulty of being a beginner again, so after half a dozen years of daily meditation, I just stopped. Personally I was also just curious if I’d notice any kind of regression. I wondered if meditation had become a kind of long term placebo. Was a I just fooling myself?

 

For a few months things seemed just the same, but after about 6 months, subtle negative shifts began to enter my mental life. A variety of thought and emotion which I hadn’t really experienced in years began to creep back into my life. It was unsettling, but also seemed like a powerful indication that my meditation practice was having a continued benefit over the course of years. I decided I’d had enough of this experiment and that I’d turn the meditation practice back on.

 

But as it turned out, that wasn’t so easy. With all momentum from my old habit lost, it wasn’t as simple as getting back on a bike and going for a ride. As I had years prior, I had to gather momentum into the habit again. But instead I was hitting the demoralizing problem of missing a day and seeing a run streak snap back to zero. 

 

The bulk of the app was built at this point and I was beta testing it with a small handful of people and seeing the same problem with these early testers. It became clear there was something wrong with the way habit growth is tracked in meditation apps in general.

 

It took about a week of obsessive rumination on the topic, but it finally became obvious: the run streak should decrease in proportion to days missed. It’s almost stupidly simple, and yet there don’t seem to be any meditation programs that track progress in this sort of way. 

 

With the new functionality deployed the results were pretty clear within a couple of weeks. The psychological experience of missing a day and seeing the momentum score fall by a proportional amount is nothing like the demoralizing blow of seeing a run streak crash to zero. If anything it’s the complete opposite. A small loss rejuvenates a sense of motivation in order to keep from losing more ground on the path towards building a robust habit.

 

The problem early users were having was also my own, and it was an visceral confirmation of the idea to see my own meditation practice immediately grow quite solidly for months after spending nearly half a year failing in fits and starts.

 

This momentum metric has sense been tested with people brand new to meditation and the results are equally encouraging. A much larger pool of users is needed to really pin down the improvement created by tracking momentum versus the traditional run streak, but if the anecdote of experience so far accrued with this program are any telltale it seems a subtle shift in the way we track our progress can have a profound effect on the future of that progress.

 

Now, the progress screen does also display one’s best run streak, and in the settings the momentum score can be switched to the traditional run score, if you so desire, but the default is this new Momentum score.

 

This Momentum score is also expressed in the form of a sort of power gauge on the progress screen, slipped in just above the calendar and below the meditator’s metrics.

 

It takes 30 days for the power gauge to fill, and a full 90 days for the gauge to completely solidify. The idea behind this is to plug into a meditator’s dopamine system. Fact is Gold Stars from elementary school work, and the aesthetic rewards that are hidden within the progress screen arise in accordance to particularly meaningful milestones on the path to creating a habit. 30 days is one of those milestones, and so is 90. In fact changes in brain structure due to meditation begin to emerge on MRI scans after a meditator has racked up 3 to 4 months of practice. 

 

The calendar below the power gauge is also laid out in accordance to milestones on the path to creating a habit. 1 day, 3 days, 5 days and so on. It’s generally accepted that habits get easier to maintain after these milestones are reached. 

 

The calendar has some special functionality for very large milestones like 6 months and years, but those will become evident in time. 

 

For now what’s important is to build on the small but truly significant momentum we’ve already created with a few days of daily practice. 

 

Yesterday we introduced some practical breathing techniques, and today was all about functionality based on theory. Tomorrow we will move back to the practical realm and explore the purpose of posture during meditation. 

 

But as this session wraps up, allow your even breaths to transition again to the deep exhale method we started with.

 

 

Inhale till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

Then..

 

Inhale again till 4, starting on 

 

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

 

hold for a moment and then exhale  

 

8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1

 

 

Continue like this for a few more moments while the session ends and think about how these simple breathing techniques are something you can carry with you through out the day - practices you can use whenever you need a sense of clarity and calm. 

 

 


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