I often get asked “How do I know I am making progress with my mindfulness practices? My mind is just as busy now as it always was. I sit down to meditate and my mind is still busy and clouded with thoughts.”
If we look up ‘mindfulness progress’, we will find a few responses from the Buddhist/Spiritual contingent. The secular contingent seemingly has nothing much to say on the subject and what advice there is largely boils down to “If you feel you’re not making progress, meditate more and/or more regularly”. There is no clarification of exactly what progress is and how we can measure it.
Here is that clarification.
What progress is NOT
- Progress is NOT less thought when meditating
- Progress is NOT any experience you have when meditating
- Progress is NOT keeping to any schedule you have committed to or building up your time spent meditating
- Progress is NOT ANY goal related to meditation
Progress is nothing to do with meditation. Progress can only be measured in your day-to-day experience.
The reason for this is because the meditation is the TRAINING.
We know we are making progress not because of what happens in our training but by the skills that training gives us. Skills that become part of us and that we can call on without thought or preparation.
How to measure progress in mindfulness
Just after Christmas I was speaking with one of my students who told me about how her sister had invited her Dad unexpectedly to their Christmas meal. My student clearly had issues with her Dad in the past. She told me how this encounter would have invariably led to fireworks in the past but she kept her cool and the Christmas meal went off without incident.
She then told me that she was worried that she didn’t appear to be making any progress with her mindfulness.
The key to measuring our progress
We can measure progress in our practices by the amount of conflict in our lives, internal and external.
Internal conflict can be seen in experiences like: anxiety, resentment, anger, fear, stress, procrastination, impatience, boredom and the level of intrusive thought in your day. If you are unaware of your levels of these experiences and how they compare, start a journal so you can look back and see how far you have come.
External conflict is obvious. Look at your relationships and ask yourself whether they are improving or not.
If you stick with the practices and keep a journal you will see positive changes over every three to six months.