Imagine you’ve just finished work. You cut through the traffic to get back home or to the gym or wherever you’re going. You get to where you want to and start doing your thing. But as you try to enjoy your off time you realize you can’t. That’s because your mind is racing like a hamster on cocaine running the treadmill to the death.
Wherever you are, you’re not really there because you still crunch the numbers or vent at that asshole back at work. You try to focus but it’s like trying to put two magnets together (of the same polarity you physics’ nerds!). As a result your workouts suck more than usual and/or your family gets it for whatever happened to you back at work. This gets you even more frustrated and you contemplate how are you going to get through the next day without killing yourself.
Any of this sounds familiar? Well, this is something everybody went through at some point or still is on a daily basis. Mental autocannibalism is what it is. You eat yourself from the inside and no one is even paying you for this. And you know, I’m not talking here about those good days. I don’t mean those days where you come back so happy, pumped and excited that you get high with your kids and you paint the whole apartment in rainbows. What I mean are those days where you feel like (to paraphrase Sam Harris) you’ve been kidnapped by the most boring person on the planet and you’re forced to have the same tedious conversation over and over again.
I myself used to chew on myself often but nowadays I just snack occasionally. Guess I’m on an insanity-free diet. Unlike with the low-carb diet I managed to stick to it by playing a few mental tricks on myself. Today, I’d like to share some of them with you. Now, keep in mind that if you haven’t spent a decade meditating with Tibetan monks on top of a mountain some of these ideas may sound strange to you. But what I’m selling here is nothing more than a mental toothbrush so bear with me.
I’ve made the profound discovery that overtime is bad for you. Still waiting for that Nobel prize though. I really can’t stress this one enough. Finish your work on time. Do not do overtime. It will kill you slowly and make you feel guilty about not wanting to die. Yeah, I know what you’re going to say: “but overtime pays extra” or “we have a fire to put out” or maybe “can’t leave before my boss”. If you want the extra cash then fine, that’s on you. And yes, sometimes things get hectic and critical issue require your time. The boss bit? Well, you’re simply being held hostage and probably have a serious case of Stockholm syndrome going on. Other than that, overtime is a needless sacrifice of your life. It’s like human sacrifice in the old days but with an installment plan.
Start applying the “no overtime” rule by planning how long you’re going to stay at work today. Take the 8 hours or whichever number works for you (less than 24 is a good start) and stick to it. As the Bible says: thou shall not to make exceptions unless absolutely fucking necessary, dude (I’m sure it’s there somewhere). Do not get distracted by last minute quarterly reports and hour-long doorway conversations. Just focus on that minute handle hitting it’s mark and go like the wind.
Now, this has nothing to do with being lazy but has everything to do with being efficient. During your time at work be as productive as possible. Are you deforesting the Amazonian jungle? Great! You cut down those trees like crazy and make sure there are no indigenous species left after you’re done. But remember to make it home for dinner cause that’s more important. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb: “A short burst of focused laser light will melt through steel a lot faster than a long lasting light bulb”.
If you fail to adhere to this rule you will become miserable and turn into a zombie. A miserable zombie. You wanted to hit the gym after work? Shame, cause you’re getting none of that. You’ve just wasted your gym time on idle chit-chat or things that could’ve been continued on the next day. Or maybe you wanted to have your healthy, gluten-free home-cooked meal before your synchronized swimming lessons? Not a chance. Your schedules go to shit and so does your discipline and that makes Jocko really angry.
Every psychologist’s favorite word and for a reason. There are few things more irritating than lack of closure and I’m going to tell you why. It’s because
So the main point here is: complete tasks before you leave. As you plan your work day think about which tasks you’d like to accomplish today and focus on those. Maybe none of your problems are solvable within a day. If so then break them up into smaller pieces. You chop them up real good. I don’t care how small it is just be sure to finish it within a day. If you remember this you’ll be able to leave work with a sense of accomplishment. Otherwise you might overload like a Soviet nuclear power plant.
Our brains are wired to solve problems, you see. So even when you’re thinking about dinner that squishy machine of ours is still burning fuel. When I stop in a middle of a task my brain still keeps making up solutions long after I should’ve been done. This is rarely productive, I should add, as at the end of the day it’s running on fumes. It’s only adding to the general exhaustion and putting us on a highway straight to burnout. That in turn makes you write articles like this one. It’s hell.
So finish what you can within the time you have and most importantly enjoy it. Reward yourself and take satisfaction in the job you did even if it’s something small. Once you can get comfortable with that, increase your workload gradually keeping the closure rule in mind. It’s a risk-free investment as 5 minutes of planning can save you hours of needless, wasteful hassle. Where are you going to get a better deal than that?
Even if you think that planning is the devil’s work and you improvise the shit out of life this technique will hopefully do wonders for you as it did for me. Wonders, I tell you! This one actually is something you apply after work. You’ll need a place where you can get a few minutes of privacy and seclusion. It could be your home or a private booth in a strip club (these are the only two choices). The goal here is to take out the trash. We should aim at clearing our minds of all of the touchy-feely emotions and issues that have accumulated during the day.
I approach this by finding a quiet and dark room, assuming a relaxed position and letting my mind do what it wants. It can be real bastard at times. It replays embarrassing stuff from an hour ago, twenty years ago or simply fantasizes about flying on a winged toaster through the land of smiling cucumbers. I try not to control the flow of such thoughts as it only makes it angry. Instead, I let all of the emotions and concerns play themselves out. Whatever it is, I find that these are temporary mental states and go away if I pay attention to them. Don’t be afraid of the flow of anger, sorrow, shame or fear. Let them burn out and continue with a refreshed mind. This practice usually takes me 10-15 minutes and if you take a nap in the process then good for you.
This is obviously no great revelation to anyone skilled in meditation or mindfulness. To me this simply became the only alternative to ignoring the negative emotions in the hopes that they’ll get bored and go away. In the past I assumed that by diving into other activities immediately after work I will suppress that state. Turns out that was a big mistake. My workouts were shit, conversations unfocused and I got annoyed quickly by the smallest things. Meanwhile, my mind acted as a pressure cooker with no one around to turn it off. So, if you’re new to this I advise you to learn from my experience and save yourself a lot of sanity.
I hope that these 3 practices will help you gain control of your work-life balance. Like with brushing your teeth it may take a while to make it a part of your daily routine. However, if you feel like your quality of life and work is degrading then apply these tricks on a regular basis. If it works then be sure to remember you got it from Leaderborn (like, retweet, share with friends). If it doesn’t then just recall the feeling of guilt your dentist gives you when he says you’re not brushing correctly.
Be sure to let me know what do you practice to turn off.