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Headspace: Mindfulness in the Tech Era

 

Meditation. Just sit still, do some breathing, pretty soon you're totally relaxed and transcending the chaos of daily life. Ta da!

 

If only it were that simple.

 

As a well-intentioned, easily-distracted, somewhat anxious person, I’m not great at developing intentional habits. And true meditation is a discipline, a lifestyle and a daily practice, which requires serious effort and training. Luckily, technology has something to offer those of us who don’t have time to dedicate several years to a Buddhist monastery.

There are lots of apps dedicated to meditation. Most offer soothing sounds and imagery, which are nice but not exactly life-changing. For someone truly seeking peace through meditation, wading through this technology can be exhausting.

Enter Headspace. Headspace is meditation made simple through an app that trains your brain. It is holistic experience design at its best, because it redesigns your mind and your lifestyle - just as the true practice of meditation is meant to do.

Here’s the story of my foray into meditation and how Headspace helped me actually get a grasp on this "serenity” thing. It comes down to a few key design elements that encouraged me to stay on my journey.

 

Minimize the commitment. Because meditation is something that needs to be practiced daily, I first had to develop a new habit. What is the first thing to derail a new habit in-the-works? For many of us, the slightest obstacle will do. Well, Headspace saw me coming a mile away. To start, the only task is to open the app and look at an orange dot. I dare you to become overwhelmed by this. (Trust me, I have tried.) Then, a progress page automatically loads and points you directly to your assigned session, which has been updated in your very simple linear day to day timeline. I can tell right off the bat that, as simple as it looks, extensive effort and attention to detail has been put into designing this experience.

 
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Keep it simple. I love the timeline design! There seems to be a frenetic drive to build technology with customization, personalization and options galore – after all this is what we are told millennials demand. Headspace earned major points with me by NOT giving me options. It really shows its expertise and value by keeping me on a single track. This guidance-focused design allows me to trust the process and keep focused on my daily practice. It also demonstrates my progress, motivating me to keep going.

Educate along the way. Folks, I am successfully sitting still for a full 15 minutes these days. How did I reach this milestone? The session guidance is designed fluidly with enough - but not too much - instruction. Each day the flow of mindful activities is consistent, building on one another with new tidbits on how to use or understand this practice. The real key here for me is that these methods are backed by science, by solid psychological and neurological research. When new methods and tips are introduced during the meditation, I recognize them, and it is explained to me exactly how they change my brain, my behaviors, and my outlook. This makes everything real, and actually builds a very strong trust that drives me to keep practicing. There are no secrets, just a solid education as your practice matures.

 

Create notifications that augment the experience. The Headspace experience doesn’t stop with the daily meditation time. You also have the option to set up “Mindful Moment” messages, or as I call them “Reminders to not be a crazy person”. At first glance, this seems to be a feature that merely sends periodic cute messages. I wasn’t quite sure what the value was until I started receiving them. They actually extend my learnings from my morning meditation into the day. They bring me back to a mindful state for a moment, which is a huge part of maturing my meditation practice. I quickly realized this add-on feature is intentionally-designed to help grow my ability to be mindful throughout the day. 

 
 

Anticipate other user needs. Beyond the foundational first 30 days, Headspace offers many paths, depending on one’s individual areas of need or focus. They have one-off meditations for common, anxiety-inducing situations, such as fear of flying. There are even appropriately named SOS meditations, which are very short meditations for those “I’m going to blow my lid and need an emergency reality check” situations. All meditations are enhanced by extremely useful animations that explain the methods and benefits of your meditation practice. Some even feature videos from the founder himself.

 
 

The Headspace app has a lot to offer, but to me the most impressive aspect is how intentionally and simply the core experience was designed. From opening the interface to the guided meditation to carrying your skills into the day, this app provides an exceptional experience. After 60 days, I have noticed significant improvements in my ability to chill out and see things clearly. Perhaps the most shocking part is that I am eagerly continuing to develop a lifelong habit with surprising ease. Headspace is an exciting example of how technology can not only speak to, but shape the human experience.


 

Whitney McKedy is one of the founders of Traceable Change. When taking breaks from searching the globe for new experiences, she might be found studying Hindi and knitting way too many scarves during frigid Chicago winters