Levelling Up

My Top Mindfulness Practice: Meta-living

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This article is roughly a 5 minute read.

I read Ultralearning a book written by Scott Young, an alumni from the University of Manitoba. I'll write an in depth summary of the book, but for now, there's one idea I'd like to discuss here.  It's 'meta-learning'.  

Meta-learning is where you first study good techniques to learn what you intend to learn, before you dive into the topic. Essentially learning how to learn.  This is a profoundly helpful tool that we'll discuss in another post, but it's the 'meta' part that stood out for me.

What is 'meta'? How am I able to add it to a word and suddenly it becomes so much cooler? Here's a definition: denoting a change of position or condition. When used as an adjective: self-referential.

This idea of 'meta-something' struck chord because it reminded me of a technique I discovered at a young age that I've carried with me throughout life. It has essentially allowed me to improve any  moment I find myself in. Here's what it boils down to:

Picture your future self, looking back on the current situation and ask "How would I want my future self to remember this moment"

For this to work you have to internalize the idea that you are the author of your story.  You have the ability to make of the moment anything you want of it. If you don't like the story you're in, change it. You are in total control of how you react to every situation. Don't think too much, just accept this....You are in control of how you react to every situation, therefore you are in control of every situation.

So now you have an idea of how you want your future self to remember the present moment.  All you have to do now is take steps to ensure that the way you think and act in the moment leads to the desired 'memory'.

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Have I done a good job of describing this technique? In the same way that Scott Young describes meta-learning as pausing the act of learning to first decide how to learn the material, then jump back into learning the thing.  Meta-living requires you to pause the moment, figure out how you want things to turn out, return to the moment and try to make it play out the way you want it to.  Earlier we saw that 'meta' meant self-referential.  Meta-living is the ultimate expression of the self-referential concept.  Your future self is informing your present self.

Pausing the moment and accessing how you feel is known as mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one's attention in the present moment without judgment, a skill one develops through meditation or other training.

What I propose to do is take this idea of mindfulness in a bit of a different direction.  Instead of assessing how I’m feeling in the moment, I like to figure out how I'd like my future self to feel about the moment and then take actions to get me there.  Either though physical actions or by encouraging mental shifts to see the moment in a different light.

This way of approaching mindfulness is easier for me to do because it is action focused. At the end of the exercise I have something that I can implement.

Here's how to develop the skill of  'Meta-living'.

Asking questions that remove yourself from the situation:

  • How would this look like if it were easy? (a Tim Ferriss technique)
  • How do I want my future self to remember this moment?
  • Am I doing what I really want to be doing right now?
  • Will my future self thank me if I do this?

So that's it, Superpower #1: Meta-Living. What do you think? Useful? Something you'd be willing to give a go? Do you do something similar but different? Send me a message and let me know.

If you're here for the insights you can stop reading here .  If you'd like to stick around for story time, then continue  and I'll share how I came across this superpower...

I was at band camp. I know, such profoundness learned during junior high at band camp, it's a let down. I'm sorry. But it is what it is. Here's the story in a nutshell...

I had earned a scholarship to the International Peace Gardens band camp.  Something I never would have asked my parents to pay for.  I was thrilled and honoured and could not wait to attend the two week summer camp where I was going to play with young musicians and meet amazing composers and conductors from around the world.  I had never been away from home before and had never slept anywhere aside from my own bed ever.

Hours after arriving, I auditioned. This audition would determine what band I would be placed in.   I didn't recognize myself.  Where were all these high notes coming from?  How was I able to play back measures of music by ear? How was I able to sight read such difficult music. How did the audition piece I prepared come out sounding better than ever? It was the magic of the Peace Gardens.

The next day, I looked for my name on a list of musicians for the junior band.  I couldn't find it and inquired.  My team leader asked if I checked the senior band listing.  The placement wasn't by grade, it was by ability.  I found my name on the senior list as well as on a chamber band group.  I was floored, more than that, I was first chair!

I went to the first practice with such excitement.  Then the music was passed out and my heart dropped.  I had never before seen such challenging music before.   How on earth would I learn to play these songs and being first chair I had to guide two others through it too.  Both of whom were much older and much better musicians than I was. My heart sank as the conductor jumped right into playing the piece and everyone seemed much more comfortable with the song that I was.

The next few days were the most miserable of my young life.  I spiraled in my self-doubt, my feelings of complete ineptness.  Never before had I been in so well above my head in anything.  I missed my family, I missed my bed and for someone who was used to eating rice everyday, I missed my ethnic cuisine! I muddled through my imposter syndrome and pushed through.

On the fourth night, I fell into bed mentally and physically exhausted.  It was a grueling schedule of practice. I improved ever so slightly, but no where near where I needed to be for the big performance at the end of the following week. Willing back the tears of frustration, I prayed to God to help me in some way.

I closed my eyes and without meaning to, started to envision my future self looking back on this moment and not wanting to remember it as being this high level of stress.  I wanted to enjoy the fact that I was doing something on my own with no handholding, among such an amazingly talented international group of kids, working with top conductors.  I knew I would regret it if I stayed in the miserable state that I was in.

This vision of future me was game changing. The next day I focused on the social aspect of the camp and got to really know my camp mates. I made lasting friendships and a long time pen pal. I swallowed my fear and asked the (not so nice) conductor for help and endured his one on ones where he was tough on me. I knew though, I'd come out the other end a much better musician. I admitted my shortcomings and didn't play three or four bars of a concert band piece and didn't stress over it because the second chair could carry it.  I focused on the chamber music pieces because in those it was all me.

 I was able to make all the right moves to ensure the experience was what I wanted it to be.  The concert was a glorious ending to my epic experience.  I lost myself in the music. Walking on the stage I was so proud of myself. As I took my place on stage I thanked God for allowing me to relax and have that moment. I was thankful for the lesson that I didn't know I would rely on so many times to come....

That wasn't a nutshell was it?  Okay, going forward just know that I'm long winded and nothing I say can fit inside a nutshell.

Stay curious my friends and do check out other posts.

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