Establishing a Meditation Habit in 60 Seconds per Day (or Less!)

Hello friends! It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and while behind-the-scenes posts usually cover some aspect of how HabitRPG, Inc. runs as a company, I’ve had several conversations with both friends and business contacts about how I established my meditation practice. It’s been a stressful year in a lot of ways, and meditation plays a critical role in making sure I don’t run out screaming into the night, never to return. This post is for those of you who’ve added a “Meditation” daily to your Habitica tasks, but haven’t quite managed to make it stick. Without further ado….

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Why meditate? An introduction:

Before getting deep into the “how,” let’s begin with the “why.” There’s plenty out there about the benefits of meditation and why you should start. Wikipedia has an overview, the Buffer blog has an excellent post breaking down some of the physiological effects of a meditation practice, and finally, Chade Meng Tan’s book, Search Inside Yourself, covers a lot of the science and applications of a mindfulness based stress reduction practice, particularly in the workplace.

Some benefits that I’ve experienced personally since establishing a regular meditation practice:

  • I can offset the effects of sleep deprivation if I take time to meditate, i.e. if I should have gotten 90 minutes more sleep, taking 20 minutes or so to observe my breathing helps balance out some of the crankiness and the tendency to overreact to things.
  • It’s easier for me to recognize when my brain is basically a barrel of monkeys and take action to mitigate it or redirect my attention towards high-energy, low-cognitive load tasks.
  • I’m better at engaging with people and being patient with them even as my first reaction is a negative one, like irritation, or annoyance. (Not perfect, but improved.)

For the remainder of this post I’ll be operating under the assumption that you know meditation is a thing, and you want to do that thing! Only you haven’t quite yet cracked the “how” of it and the daily is starting to go dark red.

The “How” of Meditating:

There are plenty of different types of meditation. Here, I focus on mindfulness meditation. (Technically, “mindfulness based stress reduction” pioneered for the secular corporate world by people like Jon Kabat-Zinn. Whatever title works for you!)

Basic Technique: Make yourself comfortable, whether standing, seated, or lying down. Focus on your breath. You know how to breathe! Keep breathing. That’s all: one breath in, one breath out.

Too simple to be true? Yes, in a way–when it comes down to it, a breath isn’t necessarily a straightforward thing.

  • It has stages: when you inhale, when you hit the top of your inhale for a split second before pushing all the air out of your lungs, when you exhale, when you hit bottom of the breath but aren’t ready to inhale yet.
  • It has qualities: the temperature of the ambient air. The speed at which you’re breathing. Whether you’re inhaling through both nostrils equally, or one side more than the other (hooray, allergies). If your breath hits the back of your throat, or hovers somewhere above the roof of your mouth.
  • It has physiological effects: If you’re breathing too fast, you get lightheaded (and maybe should slow down a bit). Your chest may raise and lower, or your belly.

While you’re in a meditation session, you want to pay attention to your breath. I think of meditation as “dedicated time to get better at feeling myself breathe” and spend my session trying to pay attention to the above sensations.

 

One breath in, one breath out.

 

Repeat as necessary.

 

Next level:

I’m going to assume you managed the aforementioned just fine. If that’s all you need, you can stop reading here and count it as a session! For others, that’s not enough–you don’t feel like you’re meditating yet. Keep reading.

One full breath-cycle of an inhale/exhale takes me about 10 seconds. It might take you longer, or you may breathe faster and require less time. In any case, you can manage a focused meditation session of one breath-cycle now, so your next stage is 3 cycles of breathing and breathing out. Doable, yes?

Now you’re ready for a minute-long meditation session. This is usually where people start feeling a bit daunted, especially if they’ve been trying and failing to build a sustained meditation practice. But if you think about it, a minute breaks down into roughly 5 or 6 cycles. My suggestion, when you’re at this level, is to use a timer–I like Calm, which is beautiful and has timers available in a web browser at : https://www.calm.com/meditate/program/Htq1PUleuW or in their apps for iOS and Android. But you can really use any timer of your choice. I personally gravitate towards soft bells to announce the end of a session, but there are plenty of other options.

Remember, the technique is: one breath in, one breath out.

Then repeat 4-8 times, however many breath-cycles it takes for the 1 minute timer to ring.

If you’re human (I hope you’re human! I’m pretty sure I’m not qualified to talk about how meditation works for non-humans) your brain is going to be bouncing all over the place like kittens being lined up for a photograph.

Don’t worry; that’s normal. Just notice it–and by “notice it” basically do the mental equivalent of nodding at someone in the hall like “oh hey, I see you” and continue on to your business. In this case, your business is BREATHING LIKE A CHAMP. (Seriously. Not dead? YOU WIN AT BREATHING.)

When the timer goes off, that’s it! Congratulations, you’ve completed a 1 minute meditation session. That’s really all you need to build the habit–a spare sixty seconds per day to ride your breath.

Moving beyond the 1 minute meditation session

At this point, you’re either nicely settled into the 1 minute meditations and feeling like you could take on more time because the sessions are too short, or you find yourself wondering when the timer will go off. There are a couple of different choices you could make here, all of which are equally valid:

  1. If you feel ready for more time, increment the session length. Calm’s timer intervals go 1, 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 minutes (…etc. Calm also does an 8 hour timed meditation that I suspect is more for sleep than for actual meditation). Consider this the “check-in” method. Doesn’t matter if you managed to have a focused session or you find yourself ten million miles away when the bell chimes. I have seen comments like “It’s called meditation _practice_, not meditation perfect” which is kind of a dad joke but also true.
  2. If you keep thinking “are we done yet?” try replacing the timer with a stopwatch. That is, instead of having something count down from an arbitrary period of time, have it count up–and give yourself permission to finish your session when you feel done. This was a trick I used to get myself to sit for my first sessions that were longer than 10 minutes. It is also useful because it lets you get a feel for what the best sessions could be like, when you get into the flow of returning to the breath and aren’t worrying about when the timer will go off.
  3. Try the stopwatch, but with intermediary chimes. Calm has an “open ended meditation” feature that lets you choose intervals for a bell to chime. The intervals are useful reminders to check in on where you are–are you watching your breath? (In my case, hardly ever–and the chimes are a cue for me to get back on track.) However, Calm’s intervals are set at 2 minute lengths. If 2 minutes is too long, Spotify (free!) has an album that does 10 minute sessions in shorter intervals:

    .

Troubleshooting your meditation session:

Posture: Classical meditation has the practitioner sitting cross-legged, often on a pillow. If you can do that, great! If you can’t, great! You can also meditate while sitting in a normal chair, which helps decrease the likelihood that you’ll finish your meditation session and realize that your feet have fallen asleep. If you have terrible posture and sitting for meditation causes you stress, try lying down and doing your session that way! (I usually assume the corpse pose from yoga: feet relaxed apart from each other, hands a little ways out from the body with palms facing skyward, chin relaxed but lifted for easy breathing.)

Falling Asleep: Sometimes you might drift off while sitting quietly. If it’s chronic sleep deprivation, consider whether or not your time might be better spent sleeping rather than meditating. If you choose to tackle meditation, ramp up your sitting times slowly, or rely on the frequency bells as an outside reminder to bring your attention back to your breath.

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It happens to the best of us. Fanart by Promsien (deviantArt)

All the monkeys in the brain: normal. Carry on as before: note that there are monkeys, then refocus on the breath.

A word on habit-building:

These days I meditate much the same way I drink water: usually at the beginning and end of the day, plus when I feel like I need to. To incorporate a regular meditation session into your routine, it’s easiest to schedule it before or after something you already do regularly–after sitting up in bed, before you log on to your computer, or after a meal. Don’t forget to reward yourself afterwards! Perhaps by checking off your “Meditation” Daily in Habitica?

What are your strategies for making meditation work for you? We’d love to hear them!

BEHIND THE SCENES: How We Coordinate Work Through Meetings

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!

We get a surprising number of questions about how the Habitica team gets stuff done! While we all use Habitica to manage our personal tasks, a lot of what we do is too big for any one person to manage by themselves. Here’s a primer on how staff and contributors coordinate work and collaborate at HabitRPG, Inc.

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Remote Work and an LA Nucleus

If you’ve been following the team at all, you’ve probably noticed that while Lemoness and redphoenix are based in Los Angeles, the rest of the team chimes in from time zones across the world. This is in large part because Habitica’s roots are in open source, where non-co-located collaboration is the default. However, we’ve also learned to institute some working structure so that we can keep pushing out improvements on a regular basis! Some of the strategies we’ve found useful are daily standup meetings, weekly updates, and regular in-person meetings.

Daily Standup for Structure: The Full Time Team

Every day at 11 am Pacific (that’s 7pm UTC!) we have a thirty minute “standup” meeting for the full time staff members. Standups are fairly typical in the tech industry, but Habitica does them a little differently. We use the time to update each other on what we’re doing for that day, including flagging stuff that needs intervention or assistance from another staff member, and then finish out the meeting with “picks.” (More on those later.) Basically, we’re each others’ accountability buddies.

As the team gets larger and it gets more difficult to constrain ourselves to 30 minutes or a single time slot, we may start experimenting with a rotating standup meeting or a split standup depending on teams. We’re still small enough that adding a new person to the mix changes the dynamic, so we’re definitely still in the experimental phase as far as figuring what works best for everyone involved!

Weekly Sync-up

Of course, Habitica also relies on a core team of part time contractors in addition to full time staff. A weekly check in on major projects helps us make sure that things keep moving forward. As with the Daily Standup meetings, picks are allowed and encouraged!

So what are “Picks”?

Picks are basically show-and-tell–each team member gets to share with the group something that they’re inspired by, excited about, or that they recommend to at least one other member of the group. Because picks aren’t necessarily work related and they happen on a daily basis, occasionally they’ll veer into tentative or lukewarm reviews (“I am not sure about this TV series that I just started watching”) or even anti-picks (“goat milk in coffee is really not recommended”). Over time, picks become a really good way to get to know each other’s likes and dislikes. For example, viirus really likes Legos.

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L to R: paglias, Lemoness, SabreCat, and TheHollidayInn, on a walk near our office!

In-person meetings

Some discussions are better had in person, even if you’re a team full of introverts. One thing we’re currently trying out is holding team retreats more regularly. Team members can get some face time with each other, not just FaceTime. We try to do at least one afternoon/evening of non-work activity so that we get to know each other outside of a work context, but also have a big project or discussion scheduled that would particularly benefit from being discussed with everyone in a room. So far these have proved super valuable for everyone to get on the same page and air any concerns that might otherwise get swept under the rug during day-to-day operations.

Separately from the team, Lemoness and redphoenix meet in-person at least once or twice a week, along with any team members in town for work or pleasure. We generally host out of our coworking space two blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, nearby some great restaurants and some really good cookies.

…Ok, maybe the questions about how we work aren’t so surprising. Given that we’re a productivity company, people do expect us to set an example for how to be more productive! We also spend a lot of time thinking about how to maintain peak performance, since we’ve learned from hard experience that long term sustainability is more difficult than “just work harder and longer.”Everyone’s a bit different, though, so in future blog posts we’ll be sharing strategies that work for each individual member of the team. Stay tuned!

CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: Blade!

Welcome to the Contributor Spotlight Series, where we interview amazing members of the Habitica community! Today we’re chatting with Blade, one of our Moderators and Blacksmiths. Blade is a major guiding hand on Github, overseeing pull requests and making sure Habitica’s foundation of bits and bytes is as strong as we can make it.

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How did you get involved with Habitica?

I was scolded by my dentist for not flossing for the 4th or 5th time in a row. I decided I needed to make an app that would award me points for flossing, but it turns out that it already existed! I gladly joined and can say that since then my dentist has been very, very impressed.

What’s your proudest contribution to Habitica?

Strong-arming the dev team into focusing on test coverage whenever adding or changing features. [And we’re grateful for it! -Ed.]

What are your secret superpowers?

I can make my kid laugh just by looking at him.

What are your secret weaknesses?

Peanut butter based snacks. If you ever need to bribe me, now you know the currency.

What are your favorite Habitican pets/mounts?

Spooky Bear Cub and Red Octopus!

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What some things you’re tracking in Habitica?

* Flossing
* Reading the Lectionary every morning
* Getting to inbox 0 (never happens)

What do you like to do in your free time?

I’ve recently gotten into playing Magic the Gathering. Wait. [checks to see if there’s a Magic the Gathering guild] (there is) [joins]

What are your top Habitica tips and tricks?

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The Habitica community is wonderful and always willing to lend a hand.
2. Start slowly. If you find that you consistently cannot complete your dailies, turn some of them off.
3. Tell your friends about Habitica and then start a Party with them. It’s more fun to work together!

Where do you like to hang out in Habitica?

Aspiring Blacksmiths and Aspiring Comrades.

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Want to learn about some of the other contributors who make Habitica such a cool place? Check the Contributor Spotlight tag on our blog!

Achieve Your Writing Goals with Habitica

NaNoWriMo is underway! No matter if you’re playing by official rules or just along for the ride (and ambient motivation), there are a couple of features in Habitica that might help this month feel a bit less daunting. (As a little gift, I’ve snuck in some of my favorite articles about writing, for more process-specific advice!)

Plot Points as a To Do Checklist

Are you a plotter, not a pantser? No matter if you’re using the Snowflake Method, a Shakespearean-style five-act structure, or Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a skeleton for your story, it can be helpful to break your plot outline into individual tasks so you can check them off as you go. Maybe you’ll pick up a new pet to accompany you as you add to the word count!

Use a Dailies Checklist to Establish a Routine

Did you know that you can also put checklists under each of your dailies? This is a handy way to remind yourself what the next step is, to help create a ritual that guides you into the writing mood. Mine look like this (partially inspired by the articles “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day” and “Script Diary“):

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Recognize Your Accomplishments: Use Custom Rewards!

Writing projects, like all creative endeavours, are not easy tasks to undertake. Make sure you’re allowing yourself a reward once in a while, whether it’s a favorite snack for every batch of words completed, getting to write in a beautiful notebook you’ve been hoarding for a special occasion, or even some reading time to refill the well of inspiration.

The Habitica team wishes you all good luck with your writing this month and every month–we’re look forward to reading your work!

Tips and Tricks for Recovering from Burnout

It’s Wiki Wednesday! Once a month we highlight a helpful post from the Wiki with tips about productivity, wellness, and optimizing your use of Habitica!

Resting in Inn by draayder

 

It’s a rare Habitican who has never experienced a complete lack of motivation to do the things they know they “should” be doing. The helpful Wiki Scribes have documented some suggestions for tweaking your Habitica setup so that it works for you.

Players experience Burnout when they no longer care about completing tasks, and the rewards and penalties in Habitica are no longer motivating. Burnout can occur when the game becomes too easy or too hard, when tasks become tedious, or when changes occur in the player’s life.

To learn more (and to take a look at the convenient reference chart), head on over to the wiki to read the full article! You might also want to take a look at the wiki article on Obstacles, which we briefed here.

Boss Battles

It’s Wiki Wednesday! Once a month we highlight a helpful post from the Wiki with tips about productivity, wellness, and optimizing your use of Habitica!

 

 

Every once in a while, a Habitican will mention that their party is currently engaged in fighting one particular boss, and someone will nod sagely and say, “Ah, yes, that’s a tough one.” But if you’d like to peek at the relative difficulty level of boss fights before you buy that quest scroll for your party, the Wiki Scribes have compiled a handy-dandy reference chart for ease of adventuring!

A Boss’s Health is usually a good indicator of how long a quest is going to take and how difficult it will be. The more Health a Boss has, the longer it will take a party to defeat it. For example; a party of four that does not have a Mage or Warrior and deals an average of 10 damage per player, will take 40 days to defeat a Boss with 1200 HP but only 10 days to defeat a Boss with 400 HP.

To learn more (and to take a look at the convenient reference chart), head on over to the wiki to read the full article!

BEHIND THE SCENES: Unconventional Post!

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!

One of the best things about working on Habitica is hearing about all the ways that people have succeeded with Habitica, whether it’s working on their graduate school studies,  battling a difficult mental illness, or brushing their teeth. While we’ve been giving out Unconventional Armor since the days when we were HabitRPG, we recently hit upon a solution that enabled even more Habiticans to don masks and capes: trading postcards!

Except…we may have slightly underestimated the demand.

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This is just ONE of the deliveries waiting for us when we get into the office.

As the cards kept flooding into the office, other companies who we share the space with started asking us questions.

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One person actually said, “It’s like the North Pole in here!”

Some artistically-inclined Habiticans even included art! Here’s a small sampling:

However, the flip side of all of this awesome mail is that we promised to send a card for a card. That’s a lot of cards!

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From the desk of Lemoness….
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…while redphoenix staked out her parents’ dining room table.

We’ve even conscripted requested the assistance of some of our hardworking staff and mods to help us reply back in a timely fashion. There’s still a lot more to go….

A stack like this goes out once or twice a week!

In the meantime, Lemoness and redphoenix take a break from postcards by putting some up in the office, as promised.

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Just one side of the column for now, but there’s enough to cover the entire column AND the walls.

We’re still slowly going through the postcards and will be replying to all of the ones postmarked by the deadline, so if you haven’t gotten a postcard back yet, it might still be in the “to be answered” pile. It’s a big pile, but we’re dedicated to getting back to you all! Especially if this peacock has anything to say about it.

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“What are you DOING in there?”

 

 

Quests for the Best

It’s Wiki Wednesday! Once a month we highlight a helpful post from the Wiki with tips about productivity, wellness, and optimizing your use of Habitica!

 

Quests are one of the most unique features that Habitica has to offer. Who doesn’t like being able to round up a group of people to go fight monsters and get adorable pets as rewards?

But if you were wondering about the details of how quests work in Habitica, the helpful Wiki scribes have got you covered!

Some quests can only be started by a player at a certain level, as some scrolls are dropped to players when they reach specific levels. Other quests have prerequisite quests that must be completed prior to the start of the next quest in the quest line. However, these restrictions only apply to the person starting the quest, and do not limit who may participate. Lower level players in a party, players who have not yet received the quest as a drop, and players who have missed prerequisite quests can still be invited to join a higher-level quest, so long as the quest is started by a party member who is eligible to initiate the quest.

For more on this topic, head on over to the wiki to read the full article!

Getting Things Done with Habitica

It’s Wiki Wednesday! Once a month we highlight a helpful post from the Wiki with tips about productivity, wellness, and optimizing your use of Habitica!

Do you use David Allen’s Getting Things Done method to, well, get things done? Wondering how other GTDers incorporate Habitica into their weekly reviews? Or maybe just wondering what GTD has to do with your RPG? The Wiki scribes have you covered!

GTD works by using five steps to help order and prioritize tasks. The Five Steps are Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage.

For more on this topic, head on over to the wiki to read the full article!

Making Habitica Work Better for You

It’s Wiki Wednesday! Once a month we highlight a helpful post from the Wiki with tips about productivity, wellness, and optimizing your use of Habitica!

Habitica has lots of in-game obstacles incorporated into its programming, but what about the problems that keep Habitica from being most effective for you? Over at the Wiki, the scribes have outlined people’s experiences with procrastination, burnout, and apathy…but they’ve also helpfully suggested ways to edit your tasks so that Habitica can be motivating once more.

In some cases users begin cheating themselves out of the benefits of Habitica by placing an undue amount of focus on the game[…]. A more extreme form of this is a user who completely stops caring about the benefits of Habitica and begins to focus only on the game, which could lead to them checking off tasks which were never completed or mass-clicking on a “fake” task just to level up, gain gold, etc.

For more on this topic, head on over to the wiki to read the full article!