I find it really difficult to switch off from work. The fact I work from home alot doesn’t help because it’s not easy to remove myself from my work environment, but the main reason is that I think – and worry – about work when I’m not working.
The other day, a TED talk caught my eye entitled How to turn off work thoughts during your free time with psychologist Guy Winch. It’s an excellent talk and two things particularly resonated with me.
Firstly, we often experience more stress when we’re not working than when we are. How? By ruminating about it – going over and over perceived problems in our heads – leaving us unproductive, depleted and burned out.
Secondly, the origin of the word “rumination” : rumination relates to how cows eat their food – after they’ve chewed and digested it, they regurgitate it to start the whole process all over again. “Chewing the cud” means chewing regurgitated food.
As humans, we are doing what the cows do : chewing and regurgitating our thoughts and worries ad infinitum!
Winch suggests some perfectly sound practical solutions for switching off, especially if you work from home, like setting clear parameters around your work, switching off notifications on your phone and reframing worries into problems to be solved.
However, for me the nub of the problem is where we choose to place our attention.
There is of course a place for productive thinking which enables us to create and problem-solve, but ruminative, negative thinking will only ever take us away from the present moment either to dwell on the past or worry about the future.
And it is in our gift whether we choose to give attention to those negative thoughts and permit them to multiply and flourish like weeds, or whether we pull ourselves back to the present moment.
I’ve recently been reintroduced to contemporary spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle who wrote the best-seller The Power of Now. His message is that the the present moment – the Now – is all we ever have. What’s more, you can’t have a problem in the present moment. We only create problems in our thoughts.
I thought I was mindful, but in familiarising myself with Tolle’s work, I’m realising how many problems and how much stress I create for myself by being in my head, not in the present.
So whenever I’ve found myself getting stressed, I’ve been practising dragging my attention back to the present moment – to what’s happening right now, to what I can see, hear and feel right now.
It’s not easy and it takes alot of effort on a moment-by-moment basis – it’s like trying to tether a hot air balloon in a gale – and it’s worth it to feel calmer, to feel less overwhelmed and more in perspective.
Just today, I was coaching a manager I’ve been working with who said that by quietening the noise in her head and bringing her attention to the present, she not only feels calmer, but also appreciates what she has rather than bemoaning what she doesn’t. She’s not desperate to escape her current job anymore because she is giving attention to what she has, not what she hasn’t, which means she’s in a better place to make the right decision when the opportunity arises.
Where is your attention right now?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Eckhart Tolle : “Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life.”
Alison Reid is a leadership expert who helps professionals build the confidence and resilience to step up to leadership challenges and realise their career aspirations. Alison is a speaker, coach and author of the white paper Cultivating confident leadership : A 3-step process to help leaders overcome fear and unleash their potential.