My journey into meditation started with something that we all experience, stress. I was managing a multi-million-dollar retail store in 2016 when my workload began to weigh on me at such a level that I started to struggle to make necessary decisions. Working schedules that included a 55-hour week, a 60-hour week, two 64-hour weeks and a 74-hour week after my assistant manager received a promotion caused severe mental drain. I was also told the stores new full-time position we had interviewed and extended an offer for was being eliminated and was I left as the only full-time employee in the store. During one two-week period, I was even tasked with hand unloading over 44,000 lbs. of inventory as a promised forklift was also MIA. My mental and physical fatigue was starting to catch up. Seeing two sister stores have vacant assistant positions filled while I continued to grind and toil away understaffed was leading me to a state of misery.
Fortunately, in 2016 I was becoming a raving fan of podcasts and one of the first Art of Charm episodes I ever listened to inspired me to try meditation. On episode 344, titled, “The Happiness Advantage,” then host Jordan Harbinger interviewed Shawn Achor, author of the book, “The Happiness Advantage” and co-founder of The Institute for Applied Positive Research, “a company that consists of researchers, speakers, and trainers who offer positive psychology-related services to improve work performance.” During their conversation, Shawn asked a question that resonated with me, “Can we get ourselves to become positive enough so that we can actually overcome the negative influences that are around us?” After listening to this episode, I had taken away five daily actions to happiness that were simple and were only to take two minutes a day. After typing them out, I kept one copy in my desk and posted the other next to my goals list at home. These exercises were:
- Write three new things you’re grateful for from the last 24 hours.
- Write one positive experience you’ve had over the previous 24 hours.
- Do 15 minutes of a fun cardio activity or workout.
- Meditate for two minutes, just watching your breath.
- Write a two-minute email to praise or thank someone you know.
I recommend listening to this episode to learn more about why Shawn recommends these five activities and how any one of these alone can make a dramatic difference.
Since I was still months away from starting my journaling process, exercise was my first implementation. Working out my stress via running and lifting weights after work helped combat the physical demands of my day to day operations. Sending periodic texts to friends acknowledging successes they were seeing had also become a gateway to voicing my appreciation with the staff I did have. Soon I was thanking them daily for the hard work they were putting in while developing their selling skills, taking some of the burdens off my shoulders. Still, I was close to burning out. Something had to change, and I needed immediate attention to address the stress headaches that were becoming routine. Enter the two-minute meditation. Working with my employees, we came up with a system for when I would feel overloaded, and the painful stress headaches started. Our solution, I was quarantined for 2 minutes in our office to focus on my breath and calm down. Typically, this would happen after peak service hours when the bulk of our sales occurred or when rushed customers, confused staff, and hand unloads were all calling for my immediate attention at the same time. The time in silence focusing on my breath provided relief I needed.
As I began to meditate, my mind would wander from stressed thoughts of what I could not control to the growing list of things I could not delegate. The focus on my breath required me to concentrate. Becoming aware of my wandering mind became focusing on what I could control. To start, that was paying attention to my breath and not think of anything else. As my team gained experience, they would encourage my practice and increased my time to 5 minutes in the office. Eventually, I noticed that after each experience with meditation, my mood was improving, and I was minimizing the chaotic noise in my head.
As my practice continued, I began to meditate at home immediately after work for 10 minutes to wind down from the day. The focus on my breath was calming, and I started to feel a new level of peace that I hadn’t experienced before. For three months we did this until my new assistant was assigned.
If you take a step back and look at your life, is there any areas that would benefit from two minutes of focused breathing? Maybe some reflection on what you’re grateful for today or a positive experience yesterday can help remind you those good things are happening more often around you? Any of the five daily actions to happiness will benefit your mood, and I believe meditation is the most underrated. Starting wasn’t smooth for me because I was distracted and my mind would end up off track, but that was part of the process. If I could lend advice to those new to the practice, it would be to stick with it. Your mind will wander, but with experience, you will find your way. Meditation is about noticing when your mind starts to drift. Just gently return your focus to your breath and be grateful you noticed. And with that, my second piece of advice, stay calm. Starting anything new, especially concentrating in such a distracted world may show you just how little you focus on only one thing now. In time, you might notice that being in this state helps your focus and your mood. From this point, I was able to look at my situation and focus on what I could control and what had to get done, then to bringing as much enthusiasm as I could. If things went off the rails again, I had a new tool to help calm me down so I could lead by example. And starting at two minutes a day, that was an investment well worth it.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post or find a useful idea, please share it with your friends and family. Your referral is greatly appreciated. I look forward to discovering where the change happens with you.