How can I assess progress in my meditation practice?

Though meditation may not be something that you can quantifiably see progress in the same way you would with working out in the gym or with losing weight, there are a number of different ways you can assess the progress in your practice. One approach is to ask yourself a series of questions about your current experience in day to day life (see example questions below) to gain an understanding of where you're at in relation to some of the concepts and teachings in the practice. After an initial assessment, you can come back to the same questions periodically (at an interval that makes sense to you) to see if things have changed/progressed since the last time you asked yourself the questions. Below are a few example questions that may be a helpful starting point.

Questions for assessing progress in your practice:

  1. Are you less immediately reactive to difficult or stressful situations, both in meditation and in life?
  2. Over time, are you generally becoming aware of the wandering mind more quickly in the sittings?
  3. In daily life, the feeling of rushing is a good feedback that we're ahead of ourselves, not being settled back in our bodies. Do you find that you're rushing less often - or becoming aware of it more quickly?
  4. Is there more awareness in with your speech - perhaps refraining a little more frequently from angry or judgmental speech?
  5. Is there a little more openness (mindfulness) in being with other people - more willing to listen?
  6. Are you becoming a little more familiar with the qualities of calm and concentration in the practice?
  7. Are you using the tool of mental noting, is it becoming a little more continuous, at least for periods of time? Is the tone of the note becoming softer?
  8. Is there a little more ease in being with whatever arises in your meditation practice, simply noting it for what it is?
  9. Is it a little easier to sit longer?
  10. Are you becoming somewhat more aware of the changing nature of all experience, and holding onto things a little less?

If you're interested in hearing more from Joseph Goldstein on this, check out the first several days of our course “Common Questions.”