Habit 10 from the 12 Habits of Resilient + Thriving People
Each week for 12 weeks, I’ll blog about one habit. And if you feel inclined, you can road test it for yourself. Habit 10 is about Quiet Time.
Habit 10: Quiet time
Meditation, mindfulness, or whatever is your “stop and chill” pill (but not a pill) feeds into the resilient and thriving mind. Being able to visualise, concentrate on a single moment, and clear your thoughts has numerous benefits. Quiet time can teach you how to engage “calm” whenever you need to. When those challenging moments occur, rather than reacting, you can purposely engage with your “calm” so you can determine the best course to take. Quiet time can help with visualisation for when you do have a planned challenging event. “Imagination wins over willpower every time” said the French psychologist, Emile Coue.
You won’t have much trouble finding research studies with findings that show “mental silence” may be an effective strategy for reducing stress/anxiety and depression, and improving resilience and wellbeing. Taming unhelpful thinking or visualising a physical challenge requires a focused mind.
From a neurological perspective, a research study at Harvard has shown the brain’s structure changed after only eight weeks of meditation practice. Brain scans were taken before and after the study of the meditators and a control group of non-meditators. The scans showed that, compared to the control group, grey matter had increased in parts of the brain involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking.
Despite all the encouraging research, not everyone is on the meditation train. A neuroscientist I know is definitely not on it. She’s tried it but has “come out” as a meditation drop-out and skeptic. She’s not alone. Others have attended classes, downloaded Apps, and read all the “how to” books, only to find themselves feeling more stressed than calm. After months of perseverance, they still can’t tame their wandering mind when it’s meant to be concentrating on the rise and fall of their breath.
Personally, I’m a fan of mindfulness meditation and I have the Headspace App but I’m not consistent. Like many good-for-you activities, I start them, love them, and then swear that I’m going to do it EVERY SINGLE DAY for the REST OF MY LIFE. And then I stop two weeks later. I am consistently inconsistent.
But there is something I do consistently and that’s to allocate “quiet time” for my mind. It could be mindfulness but it may also be stretching, bushwalking, trail running, taking a bath, or having an afternoon weekend nap (only a Summer season thing). I try to be mindful with all of these. If I’m running, I’m mindful of each footstep, I’m listening to the crunch of leaves or to the sound of the wind or birds chirping. If I’m stretching, I put all my mind’s attention on that one muscle beneath my skin, I visualise its fibres stretching. A soak in the bath is the perfect time to visualise muscles relaxing, my skin absorbing nourishing oils, or even a visual rehearsal of a work meeting coming up. With all these “quiet times” I’m practising focusing my attention on that moment.
And that for me is the key. Attention. Training my mind, regardless of the environment, to focus and pay attention. To quieten down any other noise or distractions, and simply be quiet and present. Harvard psychologists, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, conducted a research study using a phone App that chimed at random times throughout the day. It would ask them some questions to find out how happy they were (scale 1-100), what they were doing, and what they were thinking about.
The findings were that we’re happiest when our thoughts and actions are aligned, even if we’re just doing something like “washing the dog”. The simple prescription is to “think about what you’re doing”. Attention. Be present. Be mindful. Teach your mind to stop the noise, stop wandering, and be quiet and attentive with what you’re doing.
And if pure meditation or one of its derivatives such as mindfulness doesn’t float your boat, then find another way to practice attention. Find your quiet time.
Habit 10: Road test
1. If you've never tried mindfulness, give it a go. The Headspace App is an easy way for a taste test.
2. Not interested or it doesn't work for you? Then how are you taming your wandering mind? What's your quiet time look like? Do something mindfully for 5 minutes per day, then try 10. It could be something as simple as sitting on the end of your bed just after waking, scanning your body from head to toe with your mind, noticing how you feel.
Note: I have no affiliation with the Headspace App apart from being a paying subscriber.