The past few months have been difficult for everyone. My job of planning people’s COVID honeymoons has been especially stressful on top of an already difficult year.

During these difficult times, I decided to try to improve my mood. I took a personality test and found that I had high trait anxiety to begin with. Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to reduce my trait anxiety though mindfulness. Here are my results:

In order to reduce my trait anxiety, I used the “getting stuff done” framework to practice mindfulness.

The first step in “getting stuff done” is goal setting. I set a specific goal of practicing mindfulness for twenty minutes a day for two weeks. I thought this was challenging, as I had never meditated before and twenty minutes was above the ten recommended. My process goals were to keep notes every day and the two week outcome was to have enough notes for this paper. I set the goals around this paper because I believed the goal of “reducing trait anxiety” was unspecific while a two week deliverable with daily assignments was well-defined. The second step in “getting stuff done” was aligning my network. I focused on eliminating barriers and found there were none. But I happened to speak with a colleague about my goals and learned that he has practiced mindfulness for a decade. He checked in the next week to see how my mediation was going, which was helpful to keep me on track. Third, I used the framework to help me get started. I said “when I think about having to mediate and I haven’t done it today, I will meditate.” While this cue did not have specific environmental triggers, I knew that I would think about the mindfulness and come up with reasons to not meditate. So instead of instantly coming up with justification for procrastination, this tool was initially very helpful for helping me get started. To keep going, I experienced the positive effects of practicing mindfulness and became interested in learning more about mediation.

What I Learned

During the two weeks I learned a few things in my first foray into the “getting stuff done framework” and the effects of mindfulness.

  1. Implementation intentions should be repeated or adapted. I personally felt as though the ‘say it and it comes true’ worked extremely well for me during the first few days. However, the spell faded as the two weeks went on. I was diligent about following my ‘think about it and do it’ rule and taking notes for the first six days. But then I slacked off the seventh and eighth days. From the ninth to the fourteenth day, I mediated everyday but no longer because of my initial trigger. I should have created another trigger and experimented with one that was tied in better with the environment, such as “I will mediate after my morning shower.”
  2. It is more difficult to change behavior when my life gets busy. Interestingly, my efforts to reduce my trait anxiety vanished when my life got stressful. This resulted in an increase in anxiety and a battle for my time. During the seventh and eighth days, I did not mediate because I thought that I was too busy. But I returned to the assignment on the ninth day and realized my mistake. It would have been even more helpful to practice mindfulness while I was stressed.
  3. I should go out of my way to seek a network when changing behavior. I thought that the second step of “aligning network” was limited to making sure that no one was preventing me from practicing mindfulness to reduce my stress. But my interactions with a colleague who had experience in meditation taught me that incorporating positive influences is as important as eliminating negative influences. 
  4. Practicing mindfulness is not hard. I knew nothing about mindfulness when I started. But I focused on bringing myself back to my focal point on every outbreath and eventually started to quiet my mind. Over the next two weeks I made adjustments to the setting in which I mediated and what I focused on.  I learned what works for me and that it is not hard to carve out a few minutes to clear my mind. 
  5. Meditation works. On my second day I wrote “it works.” I felt that I had less “noise” in my head and that I was able to focus on tasks afterward with less concern for other issues.  At the beginning of this project, I did not know about mindfulness and was curious but slightly skeptical of mediation.  I now believe that mindfulness is effective in reducing my stress.

Next Steps

My overall goal is to reduce my trait anxiety. It is also a life goal and something that I will happily pursue in order to lead a less stressful life. At the beginning of this project, I did not know about mindfulness and was curious but slightly skeptical of mediation. But I have learned that it is a effective method of reducing my stress. I find it similar to physical exercise, which I use daily, in part to reduce my anxiety. But I have been working out for a long time and my habits of exercising everyday are well ingrained. In order to make my “mental exercise” as automatic as physical exercise, I am working to establish better habits of daily meditation through different “getting started” triggers, interacting with a network of others who practice mindfulness, and practicing better self-regulation.

Additionally, I find that meditation is only part of the solution to reducing my trait anxiety. There are some interesting anti-anxiety supplements to explore in addition to meditation and mindfulness.

The part of the exercise that explained how thoughts create emotions resonated with me. I have started examining my thoughts that triggered anxiety by reliving the experience and noting what my thoughts were during that time. It is pretty clear to me that I am creating my anxiety though my own reactions or thoughts to the situation. In order to counteract this, I am attempting to take more control of my thoughts and monitoring the effects through notes.