Let me just start off as sharing that I am high-strung as f*ck. I am a Type A, young professional quickly climbing the corporate ladder. I was raised in a Tiger Mom/military parent style growing up. Until fairly recently, I proudly identified as a self-diagnosed technophile and workaholic. I thought an “always-on” mentality and working 80-90 hours a week was critical to professional success.
My introduction to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness wasn’t initially driven by a quest to seek inner peace and awareness; I had an ulterior motive. Like many successful, hardworking folks, a lot of my professional skillset is rooted in OCD tendencies and anxiety. Which by the way, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADA), anxiety affects approximately 1.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year (about 3.3 million American adults).
And while there are many helpful “tics” from anxiety that make me a strong strategic planner (“Ok, what is plan C, D, Z if plan A doesn’t work out”), my anxiety can be debilitating at times. In 2016, I was rushed to the ER because I was convinced I was having a stroke due to the physical manifestations of an anxiety attack.
So, here I am, a young professional aspiring to become President/CEO by the time she is 40. I’m laying in bed, tethered to my iPhone finding myself going down a rabbit hole of all-to-familiar frantic google searches on “increased productivity” and “how to do more with less” in between checking emails from our team in Europe and Asia. Then, BAM! At 2 am, I stumbled upon mediation as a key business practice from OG productivity master Arianna Huffington who said:
“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”
Wait, so it is possible to work less AND provide better results through better quality of work? Sign me up. And if wildly successful mega moguls like Oprah, Ariana Huffington, Kourtney Kardashian and Katy Perry make the benefits of meditation part of their daily routines, I could easily make this a priority to fit into my schedule. Right?
I knew I needed to learn to chill the f*ck out. I wanted to make this as digestible as possible and easily integrated into my routine. Adding the benefits of meditation into my life plan would be 900 minutes over 3 months, or 15 hours… or just .7% of that entire time period. To drive more results? That sounds WICKED efficient.
I committed to 90 days of daily meditation. Starting at just :05 a day, then to :10 a day for the second month, working up to :15 a day. There are super helpful apps like HEADSPACE or MINDFUL that guide you, help set reminders, track your progress and allow you to focus on specific topics like Appreciation, Acceptance, Relationships, etc.
Here are a few things I learned about the benefits of meditation:
1. Being present is productive.
Being “in the moment” isn’t just about physically being somewhere. It is about bringing your full attention to the present moment and understanding how you feel at that time. For me, being present has enabled me to be a better colleague/leader, but also a happier individual. Presence is a huge benefit of mediation.
Responding to the 250+ emails that I had accumulated over the course of a day, I thought I was becoming more efficient by multitasking in meetings. But in reality, I realized that I was half committing to two or more tasks at the same time.
Rather than participating 100% in one task, I was selling myself (and my team) short. By popping in and out of group discussion, I was effectively reducing our group efficiency. By not monotasking, I felt like we were drinking out of a fire hose. I was delivering many projects at 70% quality vs a few at 100%. I wasn’t feeling proud of my work, nor did I think I was fully accomplishing anything, either. Bummer.
Through practicing mindfulness and present moment awareness, I also started to understand how the words you use, also drive how you feel.
A common badge of honor in the office, when asked “Hey, how are you doing?” is “crazy/so busy/was working until 10 pm last night.” But when you tell a colleague that you are “slammed,” you are really telling your brain that you are experiencing some other negative experience or emotion.
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more often that you tell folks that you are stressed, exhausted or busy, the more rundown and tired you are likely to physically become.
2. Peace is a choice, apparently.
Worrying is a natural human emotion that can be very helpful for trying to solve an important problem. It can also hold your mind hostage with irrational concerns. Through meditation, I learned how to address a feeling of a frenetic, racing mind or the discomfort/panic I would experience from trying to solve hypothetical issues that have yet to present themselves.
“Worrying does not solve tomorrow’s problems, it takes away from today’s peace.”
Meditation taught me about the Blue Sky concept – which also happens to be a foundational practice of Buddhism and helps guide you into a sense of stillness and quiet within yourself, no matter the situation (physical distress aside).
You want to have a great dinner out with your boyfriend to celebrate your anniversary, but had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day at the office. You can’t imagine being a decent dinner date, let alone sexy AF partner? Blue sky.
The Blue Sky concept is kinda like this: The sky is always blue. There may be white, fluffy clouds, there may be dark and stormy clouds, but the clouds always pass and the sky is still there. Our minds, when resting/quiet are like the blue sky, clear and unobstructed. The clouds, are similar to our thoughts. They may come in and distract us. Or, they might come in and set up as a dark cloud hanging over us.
Imagine your mind as an expansive, beautiful sky. And your thoughts, they’ll occasionally pop up or distract you from your current moment or intention. Which is totally fine! Blue Sky allows you to understand you might have crazy, irrational thoughts, but it’s what you do with those thoughts that will either move you forward or slowly eat away at your soul.
Blue Sky concept allows you to focus on the thought, address it without judgment, and gently send that cloud passing by.
How silly is it to let my terrible colleague Cheryl’s choice of words eat into OUR evening?
Why am I writing, and rewriting a snarky response that she won’t even read?
It is why some of the richest people are the unhappiest? How do some of the poorest people find pleasure in the simplest of amenities and tasks? If you are rich and focus on what you don’t have, vs everything that you do or have accomplished, you’ll constantly be experience dissatisfaction and FOMO. Consequently, by finding pleasures in the simplest of tasks or material goods, you can understand that happiness is within.
I stumbled across the benefits of meditation as a happy accident. And what I found, was this wasn’t another task or list on my growing responsibilities. Meditating became a priority and dope ass ritual I looked forward to starting each day with.
3. Meditation has allowed me to work smarter, not harder.
I am a happier manager, colleague, friend and partner, too.
What did I learn? There’s always a Cheryl. There will always be some racing thoughts or people who occupy your mind and rob you of your happiness. The only thing that will remain consistent is how you respond in those situations. Meditation has taught me how to address some of my feelings head-on (rather than avoid them entirely or numb them with medications). I am not advocating for anyone to suddenly stop taking medications as prescribed by a doctor. However, meditation may be an extremely helpful coping mechanism for anyone who is looking to live a happier quality of life.
And who doesn’t want to work smarter vs harder?