In 2017 I received a LinkedIn message asking if I felt like I was living my life to my fullest potential.
What followed was a year of massive change, self-discovery, and transformation. It has included a new job, a budding romantic relationship, a move from San Francisco to Seattle, a renewed spiritual perspective, and my favorite – a new perspective on my own self-identity.
Wait. How did all that happen in one year?
When I got a mysterious LinkedIn message, I felt pretty good about my life. But eventually, my curiosity got the best of me. After a few conversations, I joined a Sales and Leadership organization focused on personal development and self-discovery. I started attending meetings, learning from mentors, and even decided to go on their week-long development retreat to Guatemala.
It was during this week that I was introduced to the world of mediation. At first, I balked at the thought.
You really expect me to just sit? In complete silence? By myself? I’m not sure I’m ready for that type of “me time”.
But I was already in Guatemala, so… I did it. Over the course of the week, I learned more about myself than I had in the previous 3 years working at Microsoft. More than that, I felt like I had built some momentum of personal development and growth during that short week that I could carry forward.
Wanting to keep the flow I was feeling, and without knowing what I was getting myself into, in front of 50 people I committed to meditating for 365 days in a row. This past December, I completed my 365th consecutive day of meditation with the same group I started with (this time in Costa Rica).
Every day for the past year, I’ve listened to guided meditations for 15 minutes every morning. In addition to that ongoing practice, I attended an 8-day silent meditation retreat. (In full transparency, I didn’t realize it was silent until I arrived. A bit of a surprise considering talking to people is a big part of my profession).
I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t struggle with my daily practice some days. And every once in a while I did focus on the number I saw on the “current run streak” page a little too much. But the struggle was worth it because all this practice led me to three big takeaways that have become core to my perspective on myself and on the world around me.
Lesson One: Let the pressure be heard
Pain and sadness aren’t always bad. It’s incredibly important to honor these parts of yourself and let them be heard. There have been many times in my life where I’ve tried to brainwash myself into thinking I was “Doing awesome!” as I pushed down a feeling of insecurity or pain deeper into my stomach.
Being a quota-carrying salesperson, particularly as we near the end of every month, I can feel my stomach begin to tighten as pressure to hit my number increases. Meditation taught me that just paying a little attention to that pressure could have huge benefits.
It wasn’t until I turned towards the tension that I began to find the gift in it. The pain, just like anything in this world, simply wants to heard.
From there, you can either sit with it, ask it questions, or take action from it. But ignoring it, pushing it down, trying to “grind it out” without acknowledging it just builds the pain and hurts more in the long run. By taking note of the pressure, I realized it’s really not about the result. It’s about the journey and the relationship you create to this pressure that determines how it affects you.
Lesson Two: Acknowledge without judgment
Tommy Shelby from the show Peaky Blinders had a line that has stuck with me:
“It’s just me thinking… about my thoughts… that I’m thinking about.”
Turns out our brains like to do what they do best: THINK, A LOT! I often find myself overthinking to the point where I feel lost, finally looking around going, “How the hell did I get here?”
I’ve heard this be referred to as “subconscious gossip,” or as I like to refer to it, my monkey brain rapidly jumping from tree to tree.
It’s natural, but it’s important to be aware of the fact that overthinking is something we all do. So, every day as part of my practice I simply listen to what my own mind and body are telling each other. No need for judgment or action, only listen and acknowledge.
How do I do this?
To start out, I scan from the top of my head down to my toes. In doing so, I find the resistance in my body and breathe deeply into it. During this process, I make space for more awareness and presence to drop in.
For me, the part of my body that brings a lot of awareness is my stomach. As I check in on the tightness it teaches me a lot about how I feel that particular day.
This little bit of mindfulness has also helped me be more empathetic during conversations with prospects. I can pick up on the little tensions and nuances in their attitudes more easily than before. I can realize my own feelings may affect the conversation. Doing that without judgment or action takes practice, but in the long run, allows for stronger relationships to blossom.
Lesson Three: Stopping the burnout before it happens
If you feel well, you’ll perform well.
In sales, our days are filled with a seemingly non-stop barrage of calls, emails, contract negotiations, and my favorite – unpredictable people. I used to grit my teeth and power through. Sure, I’d get things done. But by night time, I’d collapse into bed mentally and physically exhausted from the day.
Now whenever I feel my stress nearing a breaking point, I catch myself before it’s too late. It’s during these times I take a step back, focus on my breath and level my nerves before moving forward. It’s done a great deal for my stress levels and productivity within the workplace.
Needless to say, I’ve sold myself. My year-long practice run has turned into a lifelong journey.
My advice to you? Start with 5 minutes a day and see where it takes you. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself making a commitment for the next 365 days.
Here’s where you can start:
- There are some great apps with guided meditations. I personally used Headspace, but there’s many that offer a variety of meditations that may be perfect for you.
- One simple technique is to breathe in for four seconds, out for five. (Or try in for three seconds, out for four). Just see what happens if you do this for five minutes. If you have an Apple watch, you may have seen the “Breathe” function, which can with this.
- If a structured or guided meditation isn’t for you, trying sitting with no book, technology, or people (even pets) for two minutes. Feel your breath, watch your thoughts, and welcome presence into your life.
I’m excited to see where this journey takes you!