I learned how to work smarter, not harder.

by Ashley Girard

Let me start off by sharing that I am high-strung as fuck.

I am a Type A, young professional, who was raised with a "tiger mom" parenting style growing up. Until recently, I proudly identified as a self-diagnosed technophile and workaholic.

I had an “always on” mentality, and working 80 to 90 hours per week was critical to my professional success in marketing.

My introduction to meditation wasn't initially driven by a quest to seek inner peace and awareness. I had an ulterior motive.

Like many successful, hardworking folks, a lot of my professional skillset is rooted in OCD tendencies and anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADA), anxiety affects approximately 1.5 percent of the US population over age 18 in a given year, which is about 3.3 million American adults.

While there are many helpful aspects of my anxiety that make me a strong strategic planner (i.e. having plans B through Z when plan A doesn't work out), my anxiety can be debilitating at times. I recently took a trip to the emergency room because I was convinced I was having a stroke due to the physical manifestations of an anxiety attack.

Now, as an aspiring brand president, I find myself constantly falling down a rabbit hole of frantic Google searches for “increased productivity."

At 2 am, I stumbled upon on a statement from Arianna Huffington, cofounder of the Huffington Post, listing mediation as a key business practice:

We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.

So it is possible to work less and still produce higher quality work? Sign me up.

If wildly successful moguls like Oprah, Ariana Huffington, Kourtney Kardashian and Katy Perry make meditation a part of their daily routines, I could easily make this a priority in my busy schedule.

I wanted to integrate this into my routine as easily as possible. Adding meditation into my life plan would require 900 minutes over three months, just 0.7 percent of that entire time period. To me, that sounded wicked efficient.

I committed to 90 days of daily meditation. I started with five minutes per day before eventually increasing to 15 minutes.

There are super helpful apps like "Headspace" or "Mindful" that guide you through meditations, allow you to set reminders, track your progress and focus on specific topics like appreciation, acceptance or relationships.

Here are a few things I learned over the course of those three months:

Be present.

Being “in the moment” isn't just about physically being somewhere. It's about bringing your full attention to the present moment and working to understand exactly how you feel at that time.

For me, being present has enabled me to be a better colleague and leader and a generally happier individual.

By responding to over 250 emails that accumulated in my inbox over the course of a day, I truly thought I was becoming more efficient by multitasking in meetings.

In reality, however, I realized that because my attention was constantly divided, I was selling myself and my team short by not giving my full effort to each task. I didn't feel proud of my work, and I didn't think I was fully accomplishing anything, either.

Through practicing mindfulness and present moment awareness, I also started to understand how the words you use actually drive how you feel.

When you tell a colleague that you are “slammed” with work, you send a signal to your brain that you're experiencing something negative.

It eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you tell people that you are stressed, exhausted or busy, you're more likely to start feeling those emotions more frequently.

Peace is a choice.

Worrying, which is an adaptive, natural emotion, can also hold your mind hostage with irrational concerns.

Through meditation, I learned how to address the frenetic feelings of discomfort and panic I experienced from completely hypothetical issues.

Meditation also taught me about the Blue Sky concept, a foundational practice of Buddhism that guides you to a sense of stillness and quiet within yourself, regardless of the situation.

For example, you want to have a great dinner out with your boyfriend to celebrate your anniversary, but you had a horrible day at the office and can't imagine being a decent dinner date. The Blue Sky concept will guide your thought process in a more positive way.

In the most basic terms, the sky is always blue. There may be clouds, but the clouds pass, and the sky is still there.

Our minds, when resting, are like the blue sky: clear and unobstructed. Clouds are similar to our thoughts. They might distract us, and occasionally, they can be dark and stormy.

Imagine your mind as an expansive, beautiful sky. Intrusive thoughts might pop up or distract you from your current moment or intention. This is normal. The Blue Sky concept teaches you that what you do with those thoughts will either move you forward or slowly eat away at your soul.

The Blue Sky concept allows you to focus on the thought, address it without judgement, and gently allow the thought to pass.

By focusing on what you don't have as opposed to everything you have accomplished, you'll be forever dissatisfied. However, by working to find pleasures in the simplest of things, you understand happiness is within.

I stumbled across meditation as a happy accident. It became a priority and pretty dope ritual I looked forward to at the start of each day. It has allowed me to work smarter, not harder.

Meditation also has its physical perks, such as more restful sleep, reduced stress, improved brain function and increased immunity and metabolism.

What have I learned? You will always have some racing thoughts or people who occupy your mind and rob you of your happiness.  The only constant is how you respond in those situations. Meditation has taught me how to address my feelings upfront, rather than avoiding them entirely.

While meditation shouldn't take the place of any necessary, serious interventions for anxiety, it could be a helpful coping mechanism for anyone looking to live a happier life.