Information Overload: When Less Information Is More

Sometimes there’s information I just don’t want to know. Like when I had streak of 111 consecutive days of meditating. Then I had 0 consecutive days. I knew about the streak because the Calm app kept track for me. The tracker made meditation a game. It motivated me to keep the streak going. Then I ‘forgot’ to meditate while visiting my older sister in Virginia, but in reality I was just lazy for a day. My head has been in a fog since then. Everything feels harder. I fidget more. It’s harder to get and stay asleep. Writing is a complete chore, more so than usual.

Calm was integral back in 2015 when I started meditating regularly. The app gave lots of useful information that motivated me to continue meditating. Since then I’ve used Calm for 825 sessions for a total time of 135 hours and 56 minutes. So why am I struggling now? Missing 1 in 112 days shouldn’t have this effect on me. I’m making 99.1% of my free throws.

I didn’t always track my meditation this anally. For most of 2016 I used Calm for 6 days of silent meditation and on the weekend I’d listen to a longer guided mediation by Tara Brach. But then I heard the Seinfeld calendar story for the umpteenth time and decided I should get credit for my meditation streak too. From that point on I did a 1 minute timed meditation on Tara Brach days to prevent “breaking the chain” as Seinfeld purportedly recommends. (For what its worth, Seinfeld doesn’t remember giving the advice and never tracked his comedy writing on a calendar.)

How long was my meditation streak using my old routine? Probably a few months, but I didn’t know specifically because it wasn’t in Calm. Sooner or later I’d missed a day, but it wasn’t the big deal that I’m making it right now because it wasn’t worth thinking about. For someone with OCD tendencies like me the streak became a burden. It was motivating, but for the wrong reasons. The streak pressured me not to stop instead of continuing simply because it’s the right thing to do.

At first glance Calm’s statistics appear to be useful information. It was the push I needed in 2015 to start meditating consistently, but I don’t need to be pushed anymore. External motivations eventually morph into unhealthy compulsions, even for healthy activities like meditation. I wasn’t really obsessed with meditation; I was preoccupied with self-affirming but superficial statistics because they were easily available. I was happier in my previous routine. Using Tara Brach’s meditations was healthier and more sustainable. The pressure from tracking things in Calm could never grow too big because I always took a day off. I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) notice a long streak because there was nothing to see.

Calm’s statistics are still useful for me. It’s reassuring to know that I’ve meditated regularly for 2 years, but I don’t need this information at my fingertips constantly. I don’t even want to know about a streak anymore because it no longer matters. Meditation is a practice, not a game to be played. I don’t need validation anymore, and I’m not competing with anybody. I do it now because it’s simply something I want to do.

I pride myself on the little things I do everyday to succeed, but reflecting on my preoccupation with the streak makes me wonder where else I should apply a mandatory day off. I typically run everyday and I relish looking at the numbers in my training log. For a long time the number of miles I run in any given week is a barometer for how well I’m doing in running and in life. The problem is that I’ve been so focused on the number that I can’t hear my body until it screams that I’m injured. Perhaps if I forced myself to run 6 days instead of 7 I could hear that whisper before a small issue becomes a big problem.

My point is, more information isn’t always good information and sometimes I need to block out information that’s going to prey on my neurotic insecurities.

Thanks for reading. Sorry I’ve been generally MIA on the blog.

Don

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