I love my job running a research lab. I love the problem-solving, the creativity, the autonomy. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have that “hair’s on fire” feeling most days. We’ve now added the stress of living and working through a pandemic to the equation. So how do I trade frantic and stressed for focused and serene?

About five years ago I decided to try a prenatal yoga class. I lucked into an awesome studio (Half Moon Yoga Studio in Franklin, TN) where I started learning the true point of yoga. It’s not about whether you can touch your toes or do lotus pose. It’s about slowly, deliberately moving your mind and body forward to increase what you’re capable of. It’s the self-discovery of realizing the strategies that resonate with you and calmly pushing aside those that don’t align with your personal or professional vision.

It was through yoga that I learned how to drop in and achieve focus to increase my productivity with less wasted energy. Here are the lessons I’ve learned after years of practice that I apply to my job and to my life:

You control your happiness and self-esteem. My yoga teacher asked us to reflect on the following questions:

    1. Who has the power to ruin your day? (Reviewer #2?)
    2. When did you give them that power?

I’m not sure about you, but that second question really landed with me. Don’t give that power away. It is yours to wield. Not Reviewer #2’s.

Change your drishti (focus) as needed to make progress. Indulge me and try the following:

    1. Try to balance on one leg (“tree pose”) while scanning quickly across the room with your eyes. Did you feel wobbly?
    2. Now try it as you focus on one fixed point on the wall (drishti). Did you wobble less?
    3. Now try the pose while focusing on a point on the floor. Did it feel different?

Continuing with the Reviewer #2 theme, think back to a manuscript/grant review that caused you to reach for a glass (bottle?) of wine. Push the discouragement aside to mentally pivot and find the actionable lesson. What can you learn that will guide productive strategies for the revision? My yoga teacher said, “Rejection is just redirection.” Just sit with that idea for a bit.

Be present in each moment. You can fast-forward through the whole movie if you want, but it really is more enjoyable to watch it one scene at a time. You miss a lot if you’re in a hurry. Pay attention to what is working and what isn’t working. Take time to have conversations with your peers and your team to spark creative ideas.

Eliminate counter-productive mental chatter. Focusing on physical movement and breathing is surprisingly calming once you get the hang of it. You don’t have to be a Zen master to do a few sun salutations. I even do a few in my office sometimes to quickly achieve a more focused state. Maybe listening to a quick guided meditation or nature sounds helps you. Experiment and find what speaks to you. Even a few minutes of grounding activities can help.

Balance and restoration is key. I don’t mean tree pose balance. I mean the balance provided by a counter-pose. Knees to chest is a good counter to a backbend. Child’s pose is a good counter to a strenuous pose. What is my counter pose to back to back grant deadlines? I plan something fun or relaxing. At the very least, I give myself permission to switch gears to pick up slack in other areas for a bit (manuscripts? teaching?). You don’t get very far when there’s no more gas in the tank. You lose your creative fire when burning the candle at both ends. It’s fine for short bursts, but you have to refuel.

Respect your limits. Is it wise to attempt something tough like a head stand right now? Maybe not. Learn what you are capable of and respect it. Say no to that teaching ask or whatever it is that will stretch you beyond your limits. Delegate or seek the help you need to meet your goals on time. Tune in to what you and your team have available to give right now and recognize that expecting more than 100% effort is demotivating.

Mindfulness and meditation is work. The point isn’t perfection. The key is that you regularly practice to find what works and what doesn’t. Spend the time doing the self-study and hard thinking to clear away the thoughts and activities that don’t serve your personal and professional goals. Namaste!

More Resources

Building Resiliency with Hypnosis and Mindfulness

Balancing on the Edge

Feeling Powerless in the Age of COVID (Part II)

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1 Comment

That second question really stops you in your tracks.

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