When we meditate, we’re learning to be comfortable with a lower level of stimulation than we typically crave. We’re detoxing from stimulation.
The quest for stimulation fills our waking moments. We seek it in food, sex, work, movement, art, media, narrative, and the general business of living.
If you observe someone reclining in a chair, doing nothing, it might seem as if that person is not seeking stimulation. That’s where mind-wandering, brooding, daydreaming, and rumination enter the scene. When we sit still, the quest for stimulation is internalized.
To think is stimulating. Worrying is a kind of thinking, and a highly stimulating kind. We hate worrying, but on some level, it excites us. Our craving for excitement is a reason we might keep worrying even after we notice that our worries are hurting us. People pay to see horror movies but when they realize they can catastrophize in their own minds for free, it can be hard to stop doing that.
Lessening our need for stimulation has several benefits. If it’s the need for stimulation that keeps us addicted to worry, then reducing that need might break the cycle of addiction.
Detoxing from stimulation might also provide some relief in the struggle with procrastination. Because what is procrastination? If we discard the element of guilt that fuels avoidance, what we’re left with is a craving for stimulation. We procrastinate because the thing we’re supposed to do is not stimulating, so we find ourselves constantly drawn to things that are more so. But when we engage in a distraction that’s highly stimulating, we’re feeding our addiction, we’re reinforcing our dependence on stimulation, making it even more painful to return to the unstimulating task.
Meditation can help us reverse this trend. Through meditation, we can become comfortable with an even lower level of stimulation than the task we’re avoiding. After meditation, when we then engage in that same task, the task might seem stimulating enough. It’s relative. That’s not to say meditation is a quick fix to procrastination – but it can help.
To operationalize this insight, we might try an experiment. Let’s work on a difficult task, and when we feel the fidgety impulse to stop, let’s not resist it. We’ll embrace the compulsion to procrastinate. But instead of checking email or eating chips, we’ll take a meditation break. Let’s allow ourselves to procrastinate as much as we want as long as the avenue of procrastination is limited to a three-minute meditation break any time we want, no questions asked.
Is that really going to help? Like a lot of things, it all depends on how you do it – the details of execution are important – but it might.