My Love Hate Relationship with InsightTimer

Note: I was trying to determine what sort of images/media would work within the post. 1 Queer Eye gif turned into several and now they have become one of the central themes in this post. I have no regrets, because yay positivity. Please enjoy all of them.

Last Saturday night, I lost my InsightTimer streak. I’d meditated for 40 straight days in a row.

Credit – Giphy

I know, it was a real bummer.

I’d spent the weekend at my parents’ house for Easter, and had been enjoying time with my brother who was in town from Calgary. The evening came and midnight rolled around on this particular day, I hadn’t meditated and my streak was lost. For those who would suggest this is non-essential travel in the time of COVID-19, it is, but I was glad to have him home, nonetheless. He’d told us he’d only had 3 people on his flight coming in, but I know that doesn’t justify his visit, especially in such a weird time we’re all living in. Technically, I probably shouldn’t even be going over to my parents’ house either, even if I am working remotely from home (a la, I don’t go anywhere) and live only 30 minutes away.

But I digress. Let’s get back to my streak.

At first, I was disappointed – I’ve taken pride in my consistent practice. Unfortunately since then, my meditation has been spotty – I’ve listened to music on the app to fall asleep but I haven’t consistently kept up with my morning or evening meditations before bed.

For folks reading this who aren’t familiar with InsightTimer, every time you meditate via the app, it logs however many minutes/hours you meditate. When you finish a meditation, the app will notify you that you have meditated for “15 minutes” and it will mark off that you have meditated on that particular day. It will show you the week and for every day you have meditated within the week, the day is filled in as white. Days you haven’t meditated show as black.

InsightTimer will also notify you when you have reached new milestones within your meditation practice on the app. 1 milestone is the equivalent of 10 consecutive days of meditation and/or 50 non-consecutive days of meditation. The app rewards people with different color stars depending on the number of milestones they complete. These stars are then displayed on user’s profiles within the app. 1 yellow star means 1 milestone has been reached, 1 red star means 5 milestones have been reached, and 1 green star means 25 milestones have been reached.

Within the last few days, I’ve had second thoughts about this whole process. Perhaps it took me losing my streak to realize this. When using an app which is supposed to bring me stillness, calm, mental rest, and mindfulness, do I really want to be motivated to continue meditating by a streak? Do I want to be motivated by little colored stars on my profile which demonstrates for all the world to see how frequently I meditate? Does it validate people’s opinions of my practice when they see such a line of stars on my profile?

Credit – Giphy

For most people, when it comes to being motivated, even more so when being motivated by a reward, it creates further drive to continue and partake in the activity. I emphasize ‘most’ because I don’t want to slap a generalization across the entire population. We are all different in what motivates us, but reward can play a big part in motivation, there’s no denying that. It’s like the proverbial donkey being dangled a carrot on a stick in front of it to continue walking.

I’m not calling you or I a donkey. Don’t get me wrong – some people are asses, but that’s not the point, and that’s not what I want you to take away from this.

If i’m going to meditate, my meditation shouldn’t be motivated by colored stars.

I should be motivated because I love to meditate, it makes my body and mind feel good.

Credit – Giphy

Hate is a very strong word, but I am disappointed that a popular, mindful app such as InsightTimer functions based off of a reward system. For many of you out there, a meditation app which instills this sort of motivation to meditate, might work for you.

Lindsay you’re acting like a sore loser – you meditated a lot but then you lost your streak because you forgot and a few days later you’re on your bloggity blog, getting all high and mighty about how it’s actually a dumb system.

I’m truly not trying to be a sore loser. I recognize many apps function this way, otherwise they’d probably lose a huge chunk of their users. Believe me, I too got caught up in the cycle of motivation by reward and in retrospect, I found myself quite frequently turning inwards and saying you have to meditate, you don’t want to drop your streak.

But Lindsay, there are A TON of apps out there which motivate you based off of rewards! If this one app and it’s reward system bothers you, shouldn’t all apps by extension offering such a reward system bother you too? Why does this one matter so much?

I recognize apps like FitBit are all about this – the more steps you take, the closer you are to that 10,000 step marker at which point your FitBit watch physically vibrates as part of the celebration. I think for the sake of physical health, motivation by reward can be a fantastic tool.

But when we move beyond the boundary from an app related to your physical health to an app related to your mental health, it crosses a line, especially for a gal who’s working on herself, and her mental health.

Credit – Giphy

I talked about this in a post on my Instagram, but to reiterate, it seems there’s been a significant amount of focus recently around how people are spending their time during the pandemic. We see emphasized messages of using this time for self-growth and personal development on social media and the comparisons start to roll in between what we see and what we are. I should point out now, that if you are using this time for self-growth or personal development, I commend you. This isn’t intended to be the part where I bash people who are using the time as a growth period. That being said, for many people, there’s an aspect of shame involved if they choose to not take this route, or they simply can’t bring themselves to use the time for such an avenue. I’d go so far as to suggest it’s a similar feeling of shame you might experience when you have a bad day of eating when you are trying to eat healthy, or miss a workout.

I’m training for a marathon. I’m learning to make loaves of bread out the wazoo. I’m cultivating bonzai trees in my bathtub.

I just want to sit on my couch, eat rice cakes and binge watch Queer Eye, but everyone else seems to be so proactive… maybe I should be doing the same.

I touched upon the idea that rather than people focusing their energy on HOW they are spending their time, people should actually be focusing on how the activity they spend their time on, makes them FEEL. Does it make you feel happy? Does it make you feel fulfilled? Does how you spend your time spark joy? If binge watching Queer Eye makes you feel good, then who the frick cares that Sally next door is training for her next 10k. You’re doing what makes you happy during this weird time. Sally’s doing what makes her happy during this weird time.

When you hone in on how you feel when spending time on a particular activity or task, you are becoming more in tune with your wants, needs, likes and dislikes. This is not only relevant during a pandemic – this is always relevant.

Credit – Giphy

On the flip side, if you continue to spend your time doing something which makes you feel miserable (case in point, sometimes I force myself to run when I hate running, but I do it for exercise – it only makes me hate running even more), you will begin to resent whatever it is you are doing and you will resent yourself for allowing yourself to continually be exposed to it (why did I decide to go for a run?!).

Girl, you lost your streak once. You make it sound as if you’re going to continually end up miserable.

Yes, but even the potential of feeling that way is why I do not wish to expose myself to such a rewards system. Meditating makes me feel at peace, calm, proud of my self-reflection. I don’t want it to turn into something which I associate with disappointment or failure. It’s not the app’s fault I felt this disappointment, it does what it does for the sake of keeping up it’s popularity. It’s the fact the system was in place to begin with (which I fed into), which evoked such an emotion.

If I start to base my meditation practice on motivation by reward and feel the same disappointment associated with the loss of my streak, I fear that feeling of disappointment will soon envelope my meditation practice as a whole. As a result I will become more disconnected from, and resent, my practice. One doesn’t have to look too hard to see, that is essentially already taking place – as I said above, I am experiencing a lack of consistency at the moment within my practice.

I am also working hard to be kinder towards myself, to develop a more gentle inner voice. In order for it to not become a one step forward, two steps back process, I need the tools I use to be free of any instance in which my inner voice can pick up and latch onto shame, disappointment, failure and then aim it back at me. Perhaps not always, but especially in these crucial, beginning stages where i’m trying to mold my inner voice into becoming a friend, not an enemy.

Credit – Giphy

Okay so this post was about the Love, Hate Relationship with the app. So where does the love come in?

On the flip-side, I will never stop extolling the virtues of an app with such a large database of quality meditations, teachers and recordings at your finger tips, and with no cost to you at all (if you so choose to not upgrade to the paid version of the app). Heck, last week’s post was all about female meditation teachers I think you should be listening to on InsightTimer. If it weren’t for InsightTimer, I wouldn’t have been exposed to such amazing, motivational, inspiring women. It is one of the better mindfulness apps out there (up there with Headspace and Calm) and for those reasons I will continue to use it. But on my own terms.

So Lindsay, what are you going to do now?

InsightTimer happens to have a feature within it’s settings where you can turn off the option to be rewarded stars if it’s not important to you and that’s what I intend to do.

The only motivating factor within my practice, should be me and me alone. End of story.

Credit – Giphy

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