4 effective ways to measure progress in your meditation practice
Unlike other meditation apps, here at buddhify we try not to make a big deal about the idea of tracking how many days in a row you are able to meditate. Life is already tough enough without your mindfulness app making you feel bad about yourself just because you didn’t manage to do a meditation session on a super busy day. And while emphasising streaks is a convenient and quantifiable way for an app to entice you back into their product, we don’t actually think streaks are a particularly good way to measure progress. So what is?
Here are four signs of progress to look for as you continue to build your practice.
The best way to assess if you’re making progress in meditation is if you are learning. Are you becoming more aware of the various patterns of your mind and able to have more control over them rather than being controlled by them? Have you learnt about what things really distract you and therefore can look out for them to avoid getting too scattered? Have you discovered which areas of your body hold the most tension so you can deliberately relax them before too much stress builds up? All these are examples of how meditation helps us learn about our minds and ourselves. While relaxation and calming down are definitely important benefits of meditation, the mindfulness tradition is mainly designed to result in insight and wisdom. Or in other words, learning.
Another great way to measure progress is by seeing if your relationships improve. Whatever styles you decide to emphasise and whatever direction your meditation takes you, the ultimate result is cultivating better relationships. First, there is your relationship with yourself. Is your meditation helping you be less critical of yourself? Is practice bringing more patience, awareness, and self-kindness? If so, then there is progress. And there are your relationships with the people around you, those close to you and people in general. Are you a better listener? Have you managed to soften your resistance to the people you find most challenging? Has developing your awareness given you the insight to know when to make changes? Reflecting on how your meditation has impacted your relationships is a very powerful way to see how far you’ve come.
Another way of seeing meditation is as a set of technical skills. If you really enjoy body awareness as a style of practice, are you able to notice more and more subtle sensations over time? If concentration and mental stability is your thing, have you gotten better at being able to notice distractions earlier in their process so they lose their power? Have you developed enough of a sense of the whole meditation toolkit so that you know which technique best fits a certain situation? Increasing your skills as a technical meditator really comes alive when you start to understand the basic mechanics of how the practices work and what they are trying to achieve. What specific technical skill is best for you really depends on what you consider most important. So reflect on what that is and see if you can really skill up on the techniques which support it.
The fourth way to measure progress in meditation is to see whether it has become a habit or not. There is a massive difference between mindfulness and meditation being something you ‘do’ and it becoming a default quality of mind. One of the big reasons we emphasise meditations for wherever you are is in support of this idea of ‘natural mindfulness’, where there is no distinction between meditation and not-meditation. This comes with time, but it does come and the key first step is to not make meditation a special event and avoid the idea that it is something that is separate or compartmentalised from the rest of your life.
Remember, take your time! With meditation, there is no finish line to cross or checklist to complete. It is a continued process — that’s why even long-time meditators still call it practice, because it is just that. All these different ways of measuring progress evolve over time. But progress is happening all the time, so remember to recognise and celebrate the small victories when they are here. Afterall, big progress is just what small progress looks like when looked at over a longer timescale.