Meditation is a great way to calm your mind, but did you know that it is also an amazing way to help you become more productive?
Ten years into my dream job as an English instructor, I started to experience the worst nightmare known to any teacher: Burnout.
I can’t say when exactly it started or even why; I just know that I underwent a downward spiral of where I was lacking motivation, losing my grip on creativity, and switching to autopilot. This is something no high school teacher should have to endure because in the end, the students are the ones who are short-changed. I knew had to do something fast or else turn in my resignation and go job-hunting.
That’s when a colleague and good friend pulled me aside and offered some valuable insight. “You can’t help those kids if you can’t even help yourself,” she declared.
And she was right. My productivity and quality of instruction was not going to improve until I took the time for my own self-care.
When my wise friend recommended that, before I hang up my teaching hat, I try meditation and deep breathing. I found the idea to be ridiculous. How would I find the time? Would I have to light incense? It just all seemed too strange.
Perhaps you’ve had similar questions when taking on a new self-care practice. This is normal for anyone embarking on a lifestyle change or pondering an unfamiliar life path. But fortunately, what I discovered was that it’s fairly easy to fit meditation into a busy schedule, and it is a habit that can help take the crazy out of your daily routine while actually boosting your productivity.
Meditation is a time-honored practice that provides many positive advantages:
- A short but productive way to rejuvenate your energy
- An increased awareness and acceptance of what’s happening now
- A more mindful and gentle way to deal with conflict and issues
- An effective coping strategy to handle an overstimulated world
When I started my practice, it was really hard to stick with it — especially since I couldn’t initially see any positive changes. But as I came to learn, meditation isn’t designed to bring you immediate gratification.
Nonetheless, I was determined to become more productive and engaged in my work — if not for me, then for my students.
I told myself, If not now, then never — and then committed to doing daily mediation sessions for 2 weeks. And guess what? I ended up doing my daily practice for 2 months! People began to tell me that they saw a big difference in me, a tangible and positive change in my attitude and behavior. My students started to pay more attention in class; the more engaged I was, the more engaged they were. Win-win!
If you are tempted to start your own meditation practice as part of your self-development journey, here are some helpful tips to consider:
1. Figure Out a Routine
Determining the best time of day to practice was probably the most challenging part of getting started. Being a teacher and a single parent of young kids didn’t leave many gaps in my already hectic schedule. I ended up experimenting with the following times:
- Early morning
- My lunch breaks
- Moments of high stress
- Immediately after work
- Just before going to sleep
Each time of day has its own benefits. Mornings are a great way to start because you’re giving yourself a good dose of positivity to start out your day. Plus, this acts as a natural energy boost and a head start into the busy day. Meditation can also help in the middle of the day when your energy seems to decrease, and stress has already taken hold of you. Evenings work out well when you’re trying to finish out strong at the end of the day, or you simply want to ‘switch gears’ into a relaxed state. Personally, I would not recommend meditating right before bed because the deep breathing and the increased awareness can disrupt your ability to get to sleep.
2. Block Out Distractions
Once you’ve chosen a time of day that works best for you, you will need to learn to block out distractions in order to sharpen your focus. Once you develop the ability to do this, you’ll find yourself able to accomplish more tasks in the same amount of time. For one thing, you’re replacing unproductive habits — like surfing the ‘net or perusing social media — with more positive and productive ones. By leaving behind those energy-sapping habits, you’ll feel more motivated and readier to tackle the rest of the workday.
Another added benefit to this change in your routine is enhanced problem-solving abilities. Stress and negativity wreak havoc on the brain whereas meditation slows down thought processes long enough to filter in the more important details. As a result, you’ll pay more attention to the information that’s necessary for meeting your daily goals and less energy on the office politics or office gossip which can hinder your relationships with your colleagues.
3. Release Your Need For Control
How many times during your career do you feel like you are putting out fires as opposed to putting innovative ideas into action? When you meditate, you gradually learn to relinquish control over things that you can’t change so that you focus entirely on what you’re able to improve. Along the way, you can enhance your virtues of patience, perseverance, and resilience.
Your increased sense of purpose, calm and self-awareness will have you less dependent on external ‘hits’ like nicotine, sugar, refined carbs or caffeine to get you through the day. Replacing your smoke break with mediation can calm your nerves, and as this becomes a new habit, you will likely find that you don’t miss the smoking as weeks go by. The inner strength and better physical health that can be obtained through regular meditation will leave you better equipped to handle the inevitable rough patches that arise. Less sick days and more healthy habits mean more time for productivity.
4. Increase Your Willpower
A regular meditation practice can increase your willpower by leaps and bounds. That’s not to say that you won’t be tempted by old habits that made work more difficult, but you’ll find within you an inner strength that you never knew you possessed. Nonetheless, there might be times when you easily get distracted and find yourself wanting to give up on meditating.
To avoid that willpower pitfall:
- Keep trying even when you don’t want to
- Utilize some audio stimuli (a guided meditation app, soft music, or ocean sound effects)
- Count and breathe to calm your mind down
- Enlist the support of family or co-workers to help you to guard this valuable time
- Start with short meditation sessions until you build up your stamina
- Experiment with your setting or timing of your meditation practice
- Incorporate a meaningful mantra to keep your mind focused and relaxed
You may also enjoy reading Quieting the Noisy Mind: The First Step for Effective Meditation, by Cassandra Bodzak