Hello again. In my last post I introduced a new three-part series dedicated to understanding and tackling work addiction and spent some time outlining workaholism, the challenges of overcoming it and some warning signs.
This time I’m going to dive a little deeper, and invite you to question some of your beliefs surrounding the way you approach work, what you might be gaining from work and how to start to change your prospective. These are only my experiences and my suggestions, there are undoubtedly a number of ways to approach this. I’d invite you to share your experiences if you have any, or to challenge any of the points I make.
How do you define success?
This was something that was really pivotal in my journey to overcoming my addiction to working. I worked alongside someone who was incredibly supportive, non-judgemental and skillful in helping me understand how I was approaching work and how I was defining my version of success.
It basically came down to one main question. What is the point in hitting deadlines, making money, and creating, if it wrecks your health and you can’t enjoy it?
This was a massive turnaround for me, where I was able to define success not as the hours I was putting in, or the words I was churning out, but how I felt in myself after doing these things. My health started to become a version of success. On completion of an assignment, yes I had met a goal, but it was only considered a success to me if I had managed my energy, my time and my overall wellbeing in an effective way. If I finished it and didn’t require days to recover, that was a success.
Maybe your definition of success needs some tweaking? Perhaps it would be useful to spend some time free-writing about what success means to you, what you are willing, or not willing to do, in order to obtain it?
For example, I am no longer willing to work evenings or weekends to complete something. This may change in the future as my lifestyle does. But for now, I am no longer willing to sacrifice physical activity, socialising and sleep for getting work done.
I’ve mentioned this book before, but Thrive by Arianna Huffington was an absolute gem in helping me look at how I was defining success. This book suggests a third metric to defining success, alongside money and power, we needed to consider our health and well-being. I wholeheartedly recommend this book – it’s a game changer!
Where is your worth coming from?
Another important question to ask yourself is, where is your worth coming from? Ultimately, we are all worthy beings. Whether we are doing absolutely nothing with our days, or packing them full to the rafters.
Does work help you feel worthy? There is nothing wrong with your job giving you a sense of self-worth, in fact, that is quite positive in my opinion. However, the danger is when your entire self-worth becomes dependent on your work. What other inherent qualities do you have? Where else can you source your self-worth? Can it come from a sense of just knowing that you are a worthy person, that you are good enough, without having to prove anything through your work?
All around us we are being shown that working long hours, sacrificing our health and focussing only on our work is a healthy and acceptable approach to our lives. This is not the case, it can’t be.
I had to address some pretty long-standing beliefs about my ideas of working, success, self-worth and productivity. And though it was difficult, it was worth it. It has allowed me to have a much healthier and more balanced approach to work and life.
I had to realise that not sleeping, 12 hour days and not eating properly, were not a badge of honour. When I first started trying to turn this perspective around, I felt like (and still do sometimes feel like) I was going against the grain. Going against what society tells us is the right or acceptable, or ‘best’ way to approach our working lives. I literally had to start rewarding myself for not working. I had to completely flip everything I had come to associate with success and productivity.
It’s 5pm, I should stay until 7pm. But I’m going to go home. This isn’t me flaking out. This isn’t me being lazy. This is me looking after myself. I can go home, have a decent dinner, a good nights sleep and be productive tomorrow. Staying later would only perpetuate the cycle of an unhealthy dinner, being unable to settle and waking up exhausted, leading to not only a pretty unproductive day, but also one in which I’ll probably feel quite miserable!
These were the conversations I had to have with myself, and I had to have them very very frequently to begin with. Now, through habit and probably reprogramming my brain in some way, I no longer have to go into such detail. It’s much quicker.
It’s 5pm, I don’t work evenings. So I’m going to go home, have a nice evening and be fresh for tomorrow.
Sometimes I still get caught up in ‘shoulds’ or ‘musts’ but for the most part I can keep myself in check.
Less is more
Another belief I had to try to turn around, and in fact, one that completely blew my mind at first, was that less is more. When I started to address how much I was working and whether it was healthy, I was in a pretty burnt out state. The idea of doing less was oh so tempting, but couldn’t possibly be a sensible idea. After all, I had so much to do. But, as I have talked about before on this blog, I needed to do what was counterintuitive. I needed to spend less time at work, so I could get more done.
I was incredibly lucky that I had someone encouraging and supportive to help me manage my time and to navigate my way through this rocky terrain. It all started with me making space in my timetable for ‘nice things’. These were actually ‘orange’ things, as I highlighted them in orange. Sometimes it was something as small as taking a half hour lunch break by the lake (gasp!) and other times it was taking a break to go for a swim. I couldn’t understand how this would help me, but I knew that something had to change and I trusted. I’m so glad I did. Taking that time out made me so much more productive. Not only that, it made me feel better in general.
If you are feeling tired, worn out, bored or unmotivated I really encourage you to play around with dropping whatever it is you are ‘supposed’ to be doing, stepping away from it and doing something else. Maybe nap, maybe do some food prep, go for a walk, meet someone for coffee or just read a non-work related book. Try and keep that pesky voice inside your head at bay, the one that will be telling you ‘you should be working!’ or ‘you’re going to get so lazy’. You wont. If you are struggling with working too much, that isn’t in your nature.
Ask yourself ‘what am I distracting from?’
In my first post of this series I talked about addiction being a distraction from deeper issues. It can be really useful, if you can feel yourself being drawn into working late or staying on when you are absolutely exhausted, to ask yourself this question.
It can feel daunting, especially if you know there could be something lurking under the surface you really don’t want to face. Maybe it’s a longstanding personal issue that needs some space and time, maybe it’s the argument you had with a friend, or maybe it’s nerves about tomorrows supervision meeting? Once you have identified what you are distracting yourself from, you can address it. Work towards feeling what you need to feel or working through what you need to work through, and hopefully, the urge to continue working and distract yourself will lessen.
Ultimately, in most situations, working hard is a distraction from something. Maybe some of those things mentioned above, or maybe it’s an underlying feeling of worthlessness, lack of confidence, imposter syndrome? By asking yourself regularly what you are distracting yourself from, you can keep an eye on what is under the surface and you can attend to it more quickly. Allowing you to get back on track and work in a way that feels good and freeing, rather than pressured and constricted.
Thanks for reading this far. I hope that this post has been helpful. My next post is going to offer some practical tips and guidance for tackling work addiction!
Until next time 🙂