There are times in all our lives when we can find ourselves somewhat overwhelmed, by not just the big events, but by the apparently simple, everyday tasks which can consume our time as well as our physical and mental energy.
When we find ourselves in this position, it can be tempting to start casting blame – either to those who seem to be asking so much of us or, even worse, to ourselves.
Does this sound familiar?
When we’re overwhelmed and feeling out of kilter, adopting a more positive mindset can feel like a bit of stretch. Whether we bottle up that frustration or take every opportunity to moan to anyone who’ll listen, the fact is we often don’t take active steps to shift or change the situation itself. Yet, grabbing the bull by the horns and working up a more positive and constructive approach is exactly what we need to help us get back on track. As much of the research around positive psychology has shown, being able to trigger a more optimistic and hopeful outlook opens up our pre-frontal cortex, meaning that our ability to problem-solve and think more creatively is increased.
In our workshops, we often run an exercise which focuses on identifying how you’ll tackle something you want to change – an aspect of your life which is currently ‘in a rut’ which you would like to be different. As a technique, it’s very versatile and can be used in lots of different scenarios. For now, let’s consider it in the context of someone who’s looking to restore a stronger sense of work:life integration…
Take a large sheet of paper, place it horizontally in front of you and divide it into 3 equal columns.
In the first section, draw a picture of your current situation – use a combination of images and words to reflect what’s not working well for you…. With regard to off-kilter work:life integration, it might be working a pattern of longer and longer hours, late emails, weekend phone calls, eroded ‘family time’, limited ‘me time’, a sense of being ‘busy’ all the time.
It’s not a particularly pleasant place to find yourself. However, part of working through this exercise is identifying what it is that’s not working for you. Much like untangling a rope which has become confusingly knotted, acknowledging the nature of the ‘tangle’ will mean you’re better equipped to unravel it later.
Now, go to the third section on the page. Take some time to think about what you want instead… how would an ideal work:life integration look or feel for you? How would you be spending your time? Really allow yourself to express this more balanced version of you in as much detail as you can. Notice how positive you feel as you do this….
It feels good, doesn’t it? You might notice yourself feeling stronger, more resourceful.
Now, anchoring yourself in this positive, new space, go to the middle column of your page. Looking at the situation from this new perspective, consider the changes you made which allowed you to achieve this stronger sense of work:life integration… What did you start doing? What did you stop doing? Make a list of the actions you took. Who did you draw on to help you? What other resources did you draw on? Channel this positive energy into building a comprehensive list of how you got from column 1 to column 3, your new ‘harmonised’ reality.
Once you’ve completed your list in this middle column, consider what you’ve written. This is effectively your action plan for how to get you from where you are now, to where you want to be going forward. Can you isolate some key steps or actions? Is there an order to how things might happen? To round off this exercise, take some time to transfer the points in column 2 into an ordered action plan. What can you do now? What can you do tomorrow? What about next week? What support will you need, or who will help you with these actions? Assign some timeframes and diary reminders to your actions as this will help ensure you stay connected to getting back on track.
When we run this exercise in our workshops, delegates are often amazed at the list they are able to compile of ‘next steps’ to help them achieve what they want.
The key here is understanding that when we’re feeling ‘stuck’ we can be prone to quite self-limiting thought processes, our creativity dips and we’re less likely to think outside the box. If we can trigger a more positive mindset around a particular situation, we are often able to identify some key actions which will quickly and effectively help to shift it away from ‘negative’ and towards ‘positive’. We can then use that forward momentum, that positive mental energy, to fuel our commitment to making the change happen.