Many of us try far too hard to impress people. In respect of our job situation, we may wish our work colleagues to know just how committed and diligent we are. Perhaps we want our managers to approve of our standards, and notice what we do well. We stress about things not being perfect. In themselves, such work ethics are good. However, if the self-imposed standards designed to impress people or get their approval is the place we spend most of our time, it will only be temporarily rewarding. When we are too focused on what others want or expect of us, we inadvertently place our happiness 'outside' of ourself, which means we're perpetually off-balance. Work life, deadlines, and standards will overshadow life, which was actually to be lived, not spent in the daily grind. Don't worry - there is a way out of such self-imprisonment.
First, consider this important idea - where you invest your thoughts determines the kind of world you create around yourself. If you don't feel happy, or feel stressed with work life (or life in general), then consider where you are 'spending' your thoughts. Take it like this - if you went out each day and purchased things you did not like, but brought them home anyway, how would you feel seeing the objects cluttered around your home? People do this every day at a mental level, crowding out peace of mind.
This article will show you how a little positive investment will lead to you finding stresses diminishing...shrinking...dissolving away! The only way to know this, is to experience it for yourself. Read on if you'd like to learn some techniques to manage the impact of your thoughts, and stock up on greater satisfaction and happiness.
As a starter, simply try 'spreading your thoughts out more evenly', and paying attention to what brings you pleasure and joy. For example, you have probably put many years of hope and effort into getting the job you do - getting in touch with what attracted you to this field in the first place, often helps greatly. Just get back to your teenage years, or early 20's. What shaped your choices then? What were your aspirations? What did you sacrifice to make these dreams materialise? Consider also, some of the moments that you have felt most connected to your work role - what difference did you make and to whom? A little reflection on these areas might just bring you back to why you do what you do, and get past the negative feelings that may have obstructed your career satisfaction.
Secondly, consider the patterns to your day. Reflect on which activities bring you calm and positive energy, and see which patterns might be inviting or maintaining stress and tension. To help, create a page with 2 columns on it - on the left, use the heading : 'This fulfils me', and the other, 'This drains me'. Each time you feel energised or depleted at work, think about what you are doing, or have just been busy with, and jot it down in the relevant column of your page.
Very soon, you will have a visual log of the kinds of things that add value to your work life, and the areas that have become sticking points. The relative length of each list might also surprise you - perhaps the job is more rewarding than your day to day mood suggests? Or, maybe the degree of fulfilment is much smaller than you could ever have anticipated. That could be a loud message, telling you to make a change. As the saying goes, "if you keep doing the things you have always done, you will keep getting what you have always got!".
As a third idea, just consider your work timetable. Keep a piece of paper with you, or use your smartphone notes to write down the sequence of your working day, over a period of 1 week. Become aware of how your day begins and ends - what activities do you get involved in as each day progresses? Notice the transition points, consider the breaks you have taken, and whether or not you stopped for something to eat or drink. Get in touch with any conversations you may have had with colleagues. At the weekend, sit down with your list and consider these questions;
do you arrive earlier than most colleagues at work, and leave later too?
are you be spending 1, 2 or 3 hours more at work than you are contracted or paid to do?
how often are you bringing work home?
is work encroaching on family or personal time?
have friendships at work become secondary to meeting deadlines?
are you eating at your desk and not using the downtime you are entitled to?
are there some days where you have hardly spoken to anyone, because there was simply too much to do?
If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', 'maybe' or even 'sometimes', it's time to reorganise your working life. This is because work that does not include time to replenish yourself physically, socially and emotionally is always going to bring you down. Days without laughter, without checking in with others, without looking up at the sky or taking in some fresh air, are days that age you prematurely, and take the spring out of your step! Not only this, but you will feel regularly exhausted, and too tired to perform well. Every task will take longer to complete, because you have simply frazzled your brain with overdoing things. What's more, when you deplete yourself and run on empty, you have very little to offer the the people you love and feel loved by. Work stress very easily leaks into unhappiness in personal relationships and home life.
If any of this is resonating with you, ask the question - "why do I do things this way?". Is it because you wish to manage appearances? Are you too focused on being approved of? Is your self-esteem too caught up in performing for others? Perhaps it is simply setting impossibly high standards, which you can never really meet? Or could it be that you have other gaps in your personal or emotional life, that you are trying to fill with so much to do, and so many places to be? Overworking or feeling unfulfilled in a job, may sometimes be symptomatic of wider personal needs. Whatever the reasons, life is simply too precious to waste away in this way.
To continue with the ideas you need to start resetting things, read on...
Start the day well. Building a walk into your journey to work may help - why not get off one train station earlier, or park your car in a place that means you get some exercise before you arrive?
Rather than getting in so early, plan to have a nice breakfast before setting off for work. Or, stop for a coffee and a read a few pages from that book you never get around to looking at.
Maybe you can slot in a session at the gym, before starting the day, at some point before the day ends, or on the way home afterwards?
Perhaps you can get out in your tea break just to walk under the trees somewhere? Getting out for lunch or taking in some fresh air is easy, and so fulfilling.
Set your smartwatch or phone to signal breaks - and then use them! It might be a space to chat with someone you haven't caught up with in many days, or a chance to have snack and some tea. Maybe just an opportunity to stop, breathe and look up from the desk.
So what if no-one else does these things? Perhaps you can model and encourage a culture in the office that everyone benefits from. Teams that eat together at least one day in the week, tend to be more harmonious and more productive. Perhaps your manager will embrace this idea and roll it out for everyone, as a means to better work-life balance?
Remembering why you go to work each day, is important. Yes, you need to pay the rent, manage bills and so on. But you work to live, not the other way around! Your work creates spaces and resources to spend time with your loved ones, and yourself! If you put the priorities right, work will serves you, rather than enslaving you.
A practical way to keep the right focus on things, is to do something for people you cherish, every day. Make it a point to offer small acts of love and kindness for those you appreciate. It may be your partner, your children, your Mum or even just the neighbour! It might just be yourself. Pick up some flowers, or some artisan bread for a little fun at breakfast the following morning. WhatsApp someone you care for with a message to tell them so. Plan at least one evening in the week to do something randomly fun, with others if you can! It could be a get together with friends, or an outing somewhere to break the routine. It may even be Joining a YOGA class, dance session or some other creative course that breaks the monotony of things, and breathes much needed oxygen into your life.
Just thinking in this way seems to open things up for most people I have discussed these ideas with. I would suggest you don't postpone your happiness. When all is said and done, no-one will comment on how diligent you were, or how dedicated to work you were. What people will remember about you, and what will make you smile when you reflect back on the life lived, is the joy you gave and shared - the experiences you had that made up the story of your life.
Change takes some effort, being a combination of deliberate intention followed up with actions. Once you have considered what is not right in your daily routine, work to establish a new and more preferred pattern. Then, practice and and enjoy it. As the new activities feature more regularly, they will become increasingly natural for you. It will take time - but nothing special ever comes without investing in it. Research suggests 60 days is a good period in which to establish new habits - if you've managed it for 60 days, it will probably stay with you for life. I wish you well with your endeavours!
Dr Bobby Sura BSc Hons, PG Dip, DClinPsy, CPsychol
Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist
Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He has over 20yrs NHS experience and 13yrs in the private sector, being the founder of Clinical Psychology Direct and Director for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Dr Sura is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and Association of Family Therapy (AFT).