I find myself unable to focus during times of stress. This is pretty inconvenient, especially when there is an exam coming up that I need to study for.
There is a certain mindset that enables one to overcome this exam anxiety. It is one in which the thought of grades, judgement, and performance are not allowed to enter ones consciousness; instead one has thoughts focused on learning as much as possible about the subject, and mastering every possible bit of material.
With thoughts focused in such a way, exams become opportunities to learn more. In fact, exams that are repetitive become boring and one wants instead to learn new material on exams. Which is good because in Physics, often teachers will put new material (or combinations thereof) on exams that require you to think and learn something from scratch.
This mindset is difficult to develop if your mind is not trained to avoid the pitfalls of self-judgement and comparing your performance with that of others. The self-judgements, comparisons, and performance anxiety interfere with the process of creative insight and deep focus necessary to study physics.
Although I naturally tend towards creative insights and focus, stress and self judgement clouds my thoughts. Meditation training seems to enable me more space and energy to remain creative and objective.
The observations reported in this posting have been developing gradually over the past few years in my mind. Last academic year I unintentionally performed an experiment in which I meditated intensely and consistently the first semester of school and only sporadically the second semester.
In Fall semester, I was sitting at least 3 times per week, for at least 40 minutes per session, plus yoga and meditation in mornings and nights (inconsistently). I also did Zazenkai (day long sittings) once a month. I also meditated for 5 minutes at a time and sometimes longer during the course of the day at school.
In Spring semester, due to a night class, I sat much less frequently–perhaps twice a week, and skipped most of the weekend meditations (including zazenkai’s). I stopped meditating during the day.
Overall, my mood seemed better and my focus more stable during the Fall semester.
In spring, I found myself falling into repetitive habits of distraction and procrastination (checking email/facebook more and in general having less self-control). My mood took a steep dive in mid-spring, to the extent that I decided to go on an extremely low dose of antidepressant. However my depression was a factor in the Fall as well, but perhaps it was more under control due to the consistency of meditation.
Regarding depression, I may be mis-diagnosing myself (since doctors don’t do any diagnosing, this is the only process I have available to me). A recent blood test that I requested was positive for “Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis” which is an immune-induced depletion of thyroid function; I am suffering from hypothyroidism, which results in low energy and other symptoms of depression.
Regardless, I have my life goals to pursue; I hope that meditating can help improve my condition (research says it improves just about all conditions).
With all of this data now in mind, my goal is to develop my meditation practice, as well as optimize my health/fitness, in order to develop stronger and more consistent focus.
Next post will outline my plan; in the future I will post my daily progress.