The Power of Peace and Solitude: The 3 Game-Changing Lessons I Learned from Meditation

About three years ago, I was burned out. I'm not talking about a bit of stress. I'm talking about 18 months of depression, anxiety, constant burning in my chest, an inability to sleep, and short-term memory loss. After learning about burnout and talking to doctors, I found a practical path to recovery. The most significant shift I made was learning to let go of managing my time and turning toward managing my energy. Not to be too dramatic, but this shift may have saved my life.

Lately, like many people, I've had more on my plate than is realistic. Exhaustion and stress started to creep back into my life, and knew I needed to get back on track to maintain my health. So, last week, I dove back into the topic of personal energy management. To expand my knowledge on the subject, I spoke with Healthy Living Expert and Coach Erica Ballard, who gave me tips on how to better manage my energy. After she spoke about the real benefits that regular meditation had on the brain, I had to try it. So, I took her recommendation: 5 minutes of meditation every day for a week.

Here are the lessons I learned from this experience.

Lesson #1: Regular meditation led to better responses to stress, naturally

While I have used deep breathing to manage stress in the past, I applied it inconsistently. After several days of meditation, I found that deep breathing became an automated response to stress instead of an intentional choice. This led to better reactions to, and faster recovery from, stressful situations.

Erica shared that meditation can rewire our brains in a way that helps prevent stress. While I haven't experienced that just yet, most studies demonstrate that benefit will come after weeks of meditation rather than days. This serves as a powerful motivator to continue a regimen of regular meditation. So I will.

Lesson #2: The immense importance of solitude

In a world of almost constant connection, meditation forces moments of solitude. And this is a good thing. I'd never thought much about the power of solitude before, although I've often sought it out in moments of creativity or stress. In the past week, there was great synergy in practicing daily meditations while reading Sherry Turkle's book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. This combination made me appreciate solitude much more than I ever have.

In her book, Sherry discusses how solitude allows us to understand and become comfortable with ourselves. This type of personal discovery is vital to our ability to connect and empathize with others. In addition to daily meditations, I allowed for moments of solitude throughout my week. For instance, when I was alone or bored, I resisted reaching for my phone. I allowed the uncomfortable to exist long enough to let it be comfortable. I also chose to do so during my daily commute; instead of listening to music or an audiobook, I took the time to enjoy a moment of solitude. I realized that I was more aware of my surroundings. I noticed all of the cars around me, the landmarks I hadn’t previously seen, and the sounds of traffic and nature in concert. Driving with an enhanced sense of my surroundings was a positive experience, and likely a safer one.

Lesson #3: Meditation is not enough

At this point, it's probably no secret that my experience with meditation was very positive. However, I also learned that meditation alone is not enough. For me to be at my best, I need to incorporate meditation as one aspect of a healthier way of life. I need to get back to eating well, exercising regularly, and better leveraging the things that give me positive energy.  

I will not make extreme changes in how I live my life; that might drain my energy rather than revive it. Instead, I'll choose natural foods instead of processed foods. I'll decide to walk when I could drive and take the dog on a walk more often. I'll schedule time for cardiovascular and strength exercises, and prioritize these sessions for the betterment of my health. These changes will help me regain my energy. I can then focus more on the essential things in my life, such as my family and the positive changes I wish to make in the world.

Pulling it all together

I've shared what I will do to get back my energy, and the lessons I learned from just a week of meditation. How about you? What changes will YOU make to manage your energy better?

If you're not sure where to start, Erica has some simple tools on her website that will help you track your energy, as well as tips to a healthier way of life. Otherwise, connect with your friends and family. Have conversations about what works for them, and what works for you. Find accountability partners, or partner with a local healthy living expert (or doctor) to get yourself back on track.

Also, find more moments to put down your phone, turn off your screens and be okay with just yourself. Become aware of what's around you and learn deeply about who you are. I will continue to challenge myself to do the same. Then, let's connect with one another differently, authentically, and with a sense of calm we may have forgotten. Imagine what we'll learn about ourselves. Imagine what we'll learn about each other.

I wish all of you the power of peace and solitude, and the energy you need to make a difference in this world. Because you can.

Rebecca Scott is the founder of Vivid Spring Solutions. She is a Certified Business Analysis professional with over 16 years of experience driving projects and providing key insights that lead to creative solutions. She is also a public speaker and mother of 4.

The views stated here are solely the author’s and do not represent those of any client or employer.

What is Your Strategy...Animal, Mineral or PowerPoint?

Now and again, my family enjoys a good game of 20 Questions.  While it is fun to stump one another with an object that is less than obvious, it can certainly be frustrating to a guesser that cannot identify the object.  The game 20 Questions is all about asking the right questions, much like strategy development.  Moreover, the first question you ask typically sets the direction for the rest of the game, and it too can set the course of your strategy development.

So, here's the first question for you: is your strategy an Animal, a Mineral or a PowerPoint?

Animal

An animal breathes, grows and communicates.  It requires nourishment, needs nurturing and must have the right ecosystem to thrive.  A good strategy is no different.  Your strategy should define the direction of your organization in a living, breathing way, allowing for an adaptive environment where programs and projects can succeed.  It should also be supported by a cultural ecosystem that allows employees to work at their best.  For instance, consider the Adaptive Strategy model developed by the Monitor Institute by Deloitte.  This model challenges business leaders to let go of old practices, continually incorporate learning, and accept (and adjust to) reality.  The model itself is intended to learn and adapt by taking new information into account.  Nurturing a living strategy does require some effort, but then again, so does cleaning up after a strategy gone wrong.

Mineral

A mineral is old, enduring, and stable, with predictable qualities that maintain the test of time.  It is made from the building blocks of the past and sets a solid foundation above it.  While these are indeed desirable qualities for earthen treasures, an inflexible strategy may not provide the same level of environmental stability in your organization.  If a strategy is too rigid, it sets that precedent for subsequent planning and execution activities, preventing the ability to adjust when necessary.  In some instances, this issue culminates from a commitment conundrum, where a leader is culturally bound to deliver their strategic commitments, and in turn doubles down on the planning and execution initiatives that must bring the strategy to fruition.  While I'm not suggesting that leaders should break commitments, they should understand the unintended costs associated with doubling down on commitments that are impossible to deliver.  These costs include not only project failure, but also employee burnout and undesirable behaviors that are brought on by fear of failure.

PowerPoint

For most large organizations, strategy development occurs at multiple levels.  While the highest level sets the direction for the organization, planning at a department, program or project level often demands more detail.  For some, this leads to a cascading series of PowerPoint presentations.  These collections of slides are the culmination of months of work, where each area must fit their financial cost and strategic goals into two slides or less to drive business priorities and funding decisions.  I do not intend to minimize the hours of hard work put into the strategy or resulting plans, but it does raise an interesting value question.  If your strategy has historically been the PowerPoint variety, how accurate were the resulting set of deliverables?  Also, how often have the resulting slides contained known guesses and assumptions, driven by completion dates rather than the quality of inputs that feed good decision making?  Finally, PowerPoint strategies typically morph into another form; they may be camouflaged and forgotten amidst the changing realities of the organization, or are solidified as minerals, resulting in the outcomes described above.  However, here is the good news: this type of strategy is well positioned to evolve into a new, more adaptable one.  The historical data collected in those presentations hold the key to learning, as long as you compare them against the actual outcomes.  Then, a new approach can rightfully be born, and grow into something amazing.

Now that the first question is down, you are fully empowered to ask the next question.  So, what will that question be?

Rebecca Scott is the founder of Vivid Spring Solutions. She is a Certified Business Analysis professional with over 16 years of experience driving projects and providing key insights that lead to creative solutions. She is also a public speaker and mother of 4.

This blog post is an independent publication and is neither affiliated with, nor authorized, sponsored, or approved by, Microsoft Corporation.

The views stated here are solely the author’s and do not represent those of any client or employer.

The Questions You Need to Ask About Your 11th Hour Delivery

This blog post is an 11th hour delivery. I set a goal for today, I aligned my resources to make it happen, and balanced competing priorities in a way that landed this post late in the day. Of course, when this post was competing against a vacation day with my family, I am happy with the outcome of my prioritization exercise.

However, I had a choice that was fully my own. In business, the choice is often made long before the delivery, and in many cases by those who are not responsible for executing the 11th hour delivery. If you work in any field that includes timelines, I'll bet that you have experienced the thrill, stress, exhaustion or crushing defeat of the 11th hour delivery. In those moments, you may have asked this age-old question:

Was it worth it?

No matter what the solution, service or product, there is an invariable set of questions that lead to the answer:

Why?

In most cases, there are many factors that lead to the need for an 11th hour delivery. If your project were a boulder rolling down a hill, an initial push must have put it into motion. However, other factors led to its trajectory, such as bumps, mud, or rocks along the way. If you think of the push being a strategic decision and the slope of the hill representing the plan, the bumps, mud and rocks represent unknown barriers and issues that may not have been taken into account when the boulder was pushed. Many project planning methodologies have been developed to address such unknowns, but no matter the methodology, businesses still struggle with the 11th hour delivery. Of course, that makes the why question that much more compelling, especially from the strategic angle. And, as you will find out, its connection to the last question in this post.

At what cost?

While financial costs will likely be front of mind, other costs must also be taken into account. For instance, what did not get done because of this delivery? How did it impact the health and well-being of team members? Did it require accumulating more technical debt (a topic I'll address in a future post)? And, how did it impact the quality of your delivered service or product? The potential costs will vary not only with the product or service you're providing, but also with your values and those of your organization.

At what benefit?

While in some instances the answer to this question may mirror the answer to the question of why, in many cases it will not. This question goes beyond the value of the delivery itself, and ventures into the additional dimension of asking if the 11th hour timing itself added benefit. For instance, if the delivery occurred a week later, how would that impact its benefit? There are certainly instances where the benefit would be diminished if the delivery was not complete by the 11th hour. However, the difference in benefit is an important factor to consider when imminent delivery is not critical.

Now that you have had a chance to think about these questions, I will ask you to revisit each of them by asking this additional question:

For whom?

It's important to note that this is not about assigning blame. Instead, it is to provide context around the complexity of the issue. Human nature will have us align to the perspective closest to us, and in the process can lead us to believe that the cost or benefit to those with different positions are right or wrong, worth it or not. So, when the initial decision or commitment was made that led to the need for an 11th hour delivery, where these types of questions asked? And, if they were not asked, what if they had been?

We will revisit the 'why' question one last time. Some time-critical deliveries do not come with much of a choice. For instance, physicians will not think twice about the need for a life-saving procedure in a life or death situation, nor should they. However, the reality is that most decisions are not life or death. For those instances, especially when the collective costs across all stakeholders diminish the value provided by the delivery, we must ask one final and important question:

What will you do to prevent this from happening again?

I have much more to share, but for now, I will prioritize sleep. 

Rebecca Scott is the founder of Vivid Spring Solutions. She is a Certified Business Analysis professional with over 16 years of experience driving projects and providing key insights that lead to creative solutions. She is also a public speaker and mother of 4.

The views stated here are solely the author’s and do not represent those of any client or employer.