Turning consumer materialism into mindfulness using its own weapons

Summary

Using implementation intention, we can create a distributed meditation practice. With a bit of semiotic Aikido, we’ll then turn corporate logos into micro-meditation triggers. It will give more sense when your read it, I promise.

Benefits of meditation

Currently, there is a heaping mountain of evidence for benefits of meditation. Instead of a careful bibliography, I’ll just lazily point in the general direction of wikipedia. While the recommended daily doses is about ~20 minute of sitting mindfulness meditation, this stays an elusive goal for many.

Several authors came up with different, more portable versions of mindfulness practice (e.g. 2 minute meditation or the “Mindful minute”), as replacements of sitting meditation or as an addition to the main daily practice.

Micro-practice and distributed meditation

The limiting case to this minimization trend is what I call “Just one breath practice[1]. On various occasions during your day take one deep breath – in-and-out – paying full, undivided, non-judgmental attention to it and your bodily sensation.

Just one single breath, that is not asking too much, right?

The aim of this micro-practice is to refocus the mind, decrease stress and bring back the attention to momentary, mindful experiencing. We try to insert as many mindful breaths into our day as possible in hope to spread out the benefits of meditation through the whole day. Paying attention to many individual breaths during your day creates a distributed meditation!

The programmable self

The only tricky thing is to actually remember to do these mindful breaths in the maelstrom of your daily life. That is where “Implementation Intention” comes into play.

An implementation intention is a psychological if-then-rule, whit which you condition yourself to execute a certain desired behavior, when a simple trigger occurs in your environment. An example: “if I come home, then I will do 5 push-ups”.

The idea behind it is, that willpower is a very scarce resource (in first approximation linked to glucose levels in your neo-cortex). You increase the chance to create a desired habit, if you replace the need for willpower with an automated reactions to certain triggers.

For more details on implementation intention triggers see for example this review paper.

The next catch is where to find good triggers. The standard trigger classes are: time, place, emotional state and your reactions. But can we come up something more fun?

The marks of the devil

Is there something in our daily environment that is ever-present and glaringly obvious? Something that could function as a good visual cue for our micro-mindfulness practice?

Fortunately, the gentle, kindly giants – our multinational corporations – have not spared expenses and focus groups to develop and placate our environment (both off- and online) with excellent visual triggers. We’re so lucky!

The marks of the devil. Or pavlovian cues to a more spiritual life? I always confuse the two.

 We can now build triggers such as “If I see the Apple logo, I take a mindful breath”. “If I see a McDonald M, I take a mindful breath.” etc.

apple-triggermcdonalds-trigger

You can even use the breath, to mindfully examine our undesired cravings for a burger or a shiny gadget!

With this semiotic Aikido, we re-purpose the very symbols of consumer materialism to a more mindful, compassionate ends! High-tech corporate memes used as execution hooks for 2000+ year old spiritual memes.

This is definitely a flower-child/hippy idea, but I sort of like the irreverence of it. Or take it as an anti-consumerist  performance-art project! 🙂

Additional notes

1. What about creating triggers for the logo of your cigarette brand? When you reach for another cigarette and notice the logo on the pack, you’ll be compelled to take a mindful breath before lighting up. This creates an intention gap, that increases the chance of letting go/transforming your impulse. Worst case, use it to smoke mindfully.

marlboro-trigger

2. Other obvious iconography that can be used as visual triggers are traffic signs – though I obviously do not recommend this, especially not for drivers. 🙂

3. Of course, you can use implementation intention to create a trigger for you standard practice, e.g. “If I finish cleaning my teeth in the morning, then I go meditate for 20 minutes”.

4. We might return to this topic in the future, to discuss how to use another trick of cognitive psychology – spaced repetition – to efficiently implement mental triggers in our wetware (brains).

[1] The term comes up in different connotations. I believe I heard somebody in the same context as here, but can’t seem to find the reference. Back to the text.

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