Feeling Better by Doing Less

On Sunday I participated in an all day silent mindfulness meditation retreat. I’ve been doing a weekly mindfulness class for six weeks now, and this was part of that program (I wrote a little more about mindfulness in this post). Each week we’ve learned a different form of practicing mindfulness meditation, whether through mindful eating, yoga, the body scan, or sitting with awareness. The class, and learning about mindfulness in general, has opened my eyes to what being present is, and how living in the moment can truly help bring everything in balance. It’s really helped me with my stress management.

Before the retreat, I was very curious about how the day would go. We were instructed not to speak or even make any eye contact for six hours. The facilitator guided us through the day, giving us a suggested schedule to follow. The longest we had ever practiced in class was for 30 minutes. I couldn’t imagine participating in mindful meditation from 9:30 – 3:30 on my precious Sunday!

Well I did it, and it actually wasn’t too difficult. I was worried that my overactive mind would be running the whole time and I was scared of the idea that I would be trapped with my thoughts. Actually, over the course of this class, I have trained my mind to be a little less overactive and a little more intentional. The point of mindfulness is not to clear your thoughts, it’s about the ability to see them as temporary and impermanent. So you can move on to the next. And nothing feels like a crisis.

My biggest lesson? That I probably could have achieved the same feeling that I got from six hours of practice during a thirty minute stint. I think that’s a good lesson for most things in life as well, and a great reflection on why perfectionism is never necessary. You can do your best at work and still be a stellar employee. You can prepare for a presentation for two hours instead of six hours and still knock it out of the park. You can have a glass of wine, a piece of chocolate, or a cookie without going overboard. Balance with moderation is the key.

Perhaps that is the secret to a happy life. Not always doing more, carpe diem, living out loud. In fact, it’s doing less – more mindfully.


What To Do With Your Overactive Mind

Like most people, I’m often consumed with the unknown in my mind. What if this happens? What about if I had said this instead? What am I doing wrong? My mind is endlessly running, thinking of how I could have done something differently, or how I’ll do something in the future.

And when you’re like me – someone who loves efficiency, whether it’s in your nonprofit or your personal life – this tendency to over-think can have serious ramifications.

I’ve always thought it was an asset that I have a knack for making things more efficient. I like to read up on the latest technology, understand best practices, and help nonprofits become more efficient, through new systems, procedures, and policies. I love that stuff!

But – because I want to make sure I do everything the best way I can, I try to prepare for how I’ll do it in advance, instead of relying on my instincts at the moment. Planning is good, but over-planning is my downfall.

Here are some tips that help me fight the over-thinking beast!

  • Admit you have a problem. I’ve always been aware that I’ve been an over-thinker. I never really thought it was much of a problem. It’s only now that I realize how much damage it does to me. Instead of reveling in the present – our days, after all, are filled with beautiful small moments to appreciate – I dwell on the past or plan for the future. Understanding that this is a part of me and my life is the first step to addressing it.
  • Cut yourself off. Now that you’ve realized the problem you have, you will notice yourself doing it. All the time. I mean, all the time! Whenever I realize I’m doing it (often when I’m driving or doing something else routine), I gently bring myself back to the present. I wrote about this practice of mindfulness in What is Work/Life Balance?.
  • Bring this knowledge back to your work. As a development staff member, special events are inevitably part of the job. I’ve always hated them (as you read here), but I never fully understood why – until now! Events are one of those things that you can never plan for every small detail – you just have to move forward as best prepared as possible. It is highly possible to over-prepare for an event – that’s what I do!! And then I just make myself miserable with all the negative possibilities and work myself to the bone preparing back up plans in my mind. Now I understand why I dislike events, and hopefully now I can move toward not hating them so much!

It’s good to plan, but I’m realizing more and more that this strength comes with its drawbacks, too. Like I said, the first step is becoming aware of the problem, and I will tell you that’s helped me tremendously already. I have a long way to go to focus on fully embracing the present, but at least now I know the task at hand, and can slowly move in that direction.


What is Work/Life Balance?


This post by Annie McKee hit so close to home that as soon as I read it I knew I had to blog about it. It combines everything I’ve been thinking about the past three months – what exactly does work/life balance mean? How can I be successful at work, home, in school, and with my loved ones without getting stressed out? I love my job – but why do I still seem to love my life outside of the office more?

My main takeaway from her piece is that there is no such thing as a work/life balance, and those of us who have been spending time working to achieve it are simply spinning our wheels. Life is always going to be (and should be) more important than work. Our friends and family will always be more important than the work we are doing. Instead, we should focus on balancing ourselves. That includes mindfulness, a practice I’ve recently learned and have been incorporating into my life. I love this quote from her piece:

You can start by cultivating practices that allow you to re-engage with yourself, focus optimistically on the future and connect compassionately with other people. You can start with mindfulness — tuning in to yourself, your environment and others.

As she also mentions, mindfulness does not necessarily mean taking time out of your already busy day to meditate, do yoga, or the like. In fact, I don’t take any time out of my day when I practice mindfulness. Instead, I am working to incorporate it into what I’m already doing. When I’m driving, when I’m waiting for the crosswalk light to change, when I’m waiting for my takeout to be ready… I practice mindfulness. And that practice encourages me to remember to do it when I really do need it – preparing for a meeting at work, being called to speak in class, or doing something new. Instead of getting anxious, I work to live in the present and appreciate the moment.

Of course, I have not achieved perfect self-balance yet. But I’m working on it. And I highly encourage you to read the Annie McKee’s post and think about balance in your life. I want to leave you with one last quote.

Like mindfulness, hope is a powerful antidote to stress. A vision of a better future, optimism and the belief we can make it happen helps to calm our nervous system. Think about your dreams. Help someone else achieve theirs. Pick up trash on the way to work. Talk to a child about what he or she wants to be. Actions like these, done mindfully and often will make a difference.