30 Days: Meditation & Mood Tracking

Behavioral scientists agree that it takes two months, or 66 days to be exact, to form a habit—meaning, a behavior that is automatic. On the flip side, it takes only 21 days to break a habit, like craving sugar after dinner or drinking coffee every morning.

In 2020, I set out to test some new routines, and break some nasty habits in 30-day increments. I’ll even go a little further and journal and document the whole process and share it here, where we can dissect the process together.

To start the year strong, I wanted my first habit to be simple and easily tracked, so I turned to meditation and mood tracking. Both show extreme promise when it comes to health benefits: meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, enhance self-awareness, increase neuroplasticity in the brain, improve concentration and even help kick addictions.

Mood tracking, on the other hand, helps visualize behavioral patterns, triggers and helps plan for a healthier mind-set. It’s important to see mood tracking as a way to plan for better health, and not just keep track of what you’re allowing to happen to you. The two together can optimize your health by understanding your patterns and triggers, but also create strategies to cope with them.

How to Meditate

I’ve sat through a guided meditation in yoga class before, but other than that I entered this month of meditation as a complete beginner. First, I tried to do it by myself and a quick Google search gave me five easy steps to start:

• Sit or lay down comfortably.

• Close your eyes or cover them.

• Breathe naturally; don’t try to control your breathing.

• Focus your attention on your breath and let your mind wander to your fingers, toes and chest and notice how they all move together while you’re breathing—bring your mind back to your breathing.

• Maintain your meditation for two to three minutes to start, then try for longer periods.

How to Mood Track

Mood tracking can be done on paper or electronically. There are several helpful templates to get you started with a pen-and-paper mood-tracking journal; however, I opted for electronic mood tracking.

I used an app called Daylio, which has free and paid versions. I found both to be very helpful, but for our purposes I’ll only reference the free options. Daylio keeps an ongoing record of your mood—you input your mood once each day, and the app gives you the option to add factors like “good meal,” “work,” “anxious,” et cetera. If you forget to add an entry, Daylio will prompt you around 7 p.m.

Daylio worked perfectly for my beginner-level mood tracking, but if it doesn’t work for you, here are a few other well-reviewed apps to try:

Smiling Mind

offers meditation training and mood-tracking.

iMoodJournal

tracks your sleep, medications and energy levels.

MindShift

tracks your anxiety symptoms and gives you strategies to overcome them.

Moodtrack Diary

tracks your moods and graphs them over time.

REFLECTING ON 30 DAYS

Week One

Week one was definitely the hardest when it came to the meditation portion. I found that sitting still for five to 10 minutes was much more of a task than I thought it would be. I struggled to find quiet areas in my home and felt like I’d accomplished enough in my day to deserve 10 minutes of uninterrupted “me time” instead of checking off the next task on my to-do list.

I won’t lie—during the first week I began with 10-minute meditations and dwindled them down to five-minute and three-minute guided mini-meditations using my Calm app. When it came to meditating, I’d sit on my bed alone in my room and try to focus on being still—this was not sustainable or enjoyable; if anything, it was irritating.

Mood tracking, on the other hand, was the easiest during the first week. It was an exciting new piece of my day—check my mood, journal about the day I’ve had, and when my days were worse, I was even more encouraged to detail it because it gave me a sense of relief to vent to my phone for five minutes.

My takeaways from the first week: “Traditional” meditation isn’t for everyone and looking for new ways to find stillness doesn’t mean I’ve failed already. Mood tracking is a fun way to check in with yourself daily and assess what will make you happer the next day.

Week Two/Three

Weeks two and three felt like grind time. I dove into my daily mood tracking and started to notice patterns—I was happier on the nights that I’d made a good meal, spent time with friends or cleaned the house. Essentially, on the days I felt more productive, I was actively a happier person. I didn’t take that to mean I need to be productive every day in order to be happy, but rather it led me to some self-searching to figure out why that was and how I could curb it so I could also enjoy days of simple fun or even lazy days.

My meditation practice took several different shapes and sizes. Some days I would do 10 minutes, some days only three. I managed to not miss a day, but as I was getting frustrated and bored with them, I found new ways to meditate.

Week two I began meditating in the shower and bath—finally, I was enjoying meditation. I found that what I lacked before was a space to be truly alone and feel separate from my “to-do” lists.

Week three I tried a meditation in the car and that was another relief. Turns out, meditation can take any form that works for you—that’s the whole point! Finally, I was hitting my 10-minute meditations daily and enjoying them. Sometimes I was even looking forward to them.

Week Four

Week four was time for a reality check: My mood tracking led me to some unsettling verdicts. On days that I cleaned and went to bed exhausted, I was happy. On days that I saw friends and had a good day at work, I was happy. However, days that I laid around lazily would be (what the Daylio app calls) “meh,” and days that I felt anxious ended with me going to bed and marking them as “bad.”

As mentioned, mood tracking isn’t meant to simply journal about feelings; it’s meant to recognize patterns and triggers, and plan for a healthier future. Taking my data, week four ended this 30-day process, but it also began the next phase of planning for healthier future patterns.

During the final days of my 30-day challenge, meditation was getting old. Yes, I could do it in new places and spaces and that made it more accessible for a couple of weeks, but I stopped looking forward to it and ultimately found that I was excited to stop when the time came.

“What a waste of time,” I found myself thinking, and resenting the time I’d spent on it. Three days after I’d stopped, though, I hopped into bed at night, logged my mood and turned on my bedroom TV. “Weird,” I thought. “I haven’t turned this on in a few days.”

Aha! I found my takeaway from meditation. I’d been more comfortable in silence when I was actively meditating. I usually turn the TV on when I get into bed at night and let it lull me to sleep—but ever since I started my practice, I didn’t need the buzzing of a show in the background. I was comfortable in silence. Now that I’d stopped, I was craving constant stimulation again and “was out of practice” when it came to calming my mind and the world around me.

Don’t worry—I turned off my TV, practiced my breathing and made it a goal to continue meditating so I could fall asleep without the TV on. Maybe I won’t practice daily, but I’ll know when I need to whenever I reach for that remote around 10 p.m.

More Reflections

Continue reading Reflections and don’t forget to check back
every two weeks for more articles.

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