We are living in a culture of non-stop doing, being busy and working hard.
This is glorified as glamorous, admirable, and to be emulated. But it is killing us, slowly, through depression, burnout, physical and mental illness; and in some cases, is killing quickly, as in Japan exhausted workers have died from overwork, on the pavement outside their work!
Statistics show that this unhealthy culture has increased in the last year and a half, as many of us now work from home and our bedrooms, and work becomes something that takes place everywhere and all of the time. We are constantly connected to at least one and often more flashing and beeping always updating devices, with the expectation we will deliver even faster results.
We are expected to be almost constantly alert and switched on!
The question is not what hacks can we make to continue being as efficient as possible, but rather, “How can we reframe work to be empowering, productive, and fun?”
Instead of creating new lists and extra pressure on individuals to do even more—potentially setting them up for failure—let’s create an atmosphere where people feel they can be themselves, enjoying their tasks, interactions with colleagues and naturally at their best.
It is up to the managers to invoke the deliciously impossible task of getting work done. Because we just don’t know what will happen next, or how it will turn out, best we try to have some fun while doing it.
This would be a collective shift from punishing pressure to pleasurable productivity, from anxiously finding rational solutions in our minds, to accessing the full wisdom of our body.
Most people want to contribute something. They want in some way to be useful to others.
It is poor management and difficult interpersonal dynamics that often ruin a person’s workday.
To be healthy and happy, we all need to find (and keep finding again and again) a balance between the challenges we get and the resources we have.
Stress is caused by overwhelming demand, a lot to get done, criticism, deadlines, responsibility, information—and not enough support, time, respect, positive feedback, pleasure, relaxation, and rest.
How can you reclaim the essence of yourself, amongst all the tasks to be done?
Here are seven suggestions to help remind us,
…that you are not just a worker but a unique person, not a robot but a feeling human, not a planning, helpful mind but a physical body. Your body is full of sensation and intelligence, impulse and instinct, and wise creativity. Balancing a stressed mind with awareness of your own body will be beneficial to you.
Pleasure is vital. When we enjoy something, it is easy. We are in a flow.
When things are hard, when the task seems difficult or a colleague criticises, that’s when we need to reach out for the support of a piece of cake, a chat with a friend, or a cuddle.
Pleasure is lovely. It’s comforting and rewarding. Anxiety and tension can begin to melt.
Whatever the situation, some small temporary pleasure is always available—perhaps in a lovely memory, a drive in the car, a colourful lipstick, a delicious meal, great music, or an intimate encounter. Find what pleases you and include it in your day.
This is not selfish but sensible.
We are often squashed into the unnatural box of work but are really, sensitive, sensual, playful beings. Find your fun. With the support of some pleasure in your day, you’ll probably produce better work! A manual for more pleasure is my new book The Healing Power of Pleasure.
2. Stop working
How much of our working time do we need to be working to be effective? 100, 95, or 85 percent?
Usually, we sit hunched over our laptops until the task is done. But when stuck on a task that seems impossible, take a break. Take it outside for a walk or a dance. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it really works, inviting new inspiration.
Changing your environment from a manmade world of hard materials and straight lines, out into nature, can free up your stuck pattern of thinking. Moving your body by stretching, walking, or going to the gym, can free up your stuck pattern of tension.
Taking a break will help you access not just your thoughts, but the innovative instinctual intelligence of your whole sensate body.
When everything seems overwhelmingly too much, know that you can help to reduce your anxiety by getting more grounded.
What do you uniquely need?
It is okay for your needs to be different to other people’s. There is no such thing as being too needy. You can be responsible to ask for support, and also to decline or accept requests from other people. You can also cultivate your response to stress.
Some of us need to learn to slack off, while others need to learn to be more organized. Do you know which path helps you in times of crisis, creating more structure—or chaos?
You don’t have to suffer in silence or alone. When you need to, reach out for help.
4. Active relaxation
Often we think of relaxation as being something that happens when our attention is distracted away from work demands—by something on the phone, perhaps a movie or another entertainment. Yet we don’t resolve the tension of staring at a screen for work, by passively staring at a screen for recreation. This kind of distraction does shift the focus, but to really feel relaxed, being physically active helps.
Our bodies evolved for movement (our ancestors walked many hours a day) and our bodies do not function well sitting static for hours at a time, over years.
For example, the tension in hunched-up shoulders can be relieved by a quick exercise that you can do at your desk. This can bring refreshing new energy.
Try slowly raising your shoulders up (do not hold your breath.) Bring them up as high as you can, squeezing them tight. Then in one go, release all tension and take big breaths. You can allow yourself to move, wriggle or stretch.
Give yourself permission to move in a new way or be surprised. Or remove your eyes from the screen and stare into space for a few minutes. Or stretch your legs and arms out and push as if you are pushing something away. You can use a wall to push against or your imagination. If you try this exercise, I bet you’ll feel energized.
Under stress, we often feel that we have no choice but to ignore and override body sensations in order to get the work done.
We are not machines.
Try not to resist the call to go to the toilet, eat something, or have a rest. Ignoring the body’s signals is a short-term emergency solution, but not a good long-term habit for health and happiness. It is not kindness to the self. Daily needs include food, exercise, washing, human connection, nature, stillness, humour, and pleasure, as well as some purposeful work.
Throughout the day look up, have a big stretch of your body and face, take a few big breaths. Try sensing your own body from time to time.
How do your arms and legs feel right now?
You can allow yourself to be changeable as we are different in the morning to the afternoon, summer to the winter, in our youth and maturity. A nagging ache attended to today can help to prevent future illness.
We often jump in to the workload as quickly as possible. But taking a few minutes to setup your desk and posture can be helpful. Visual chaos is agitating for the nervous system, but an organized, tidy, and clear space is calming and grounding. In moments of crisis, a simple and quick tidy-up can be really helpful.
Might a favourite object, plant or pen add delight? Do you like to sit or stand; if sitting, what chair is comfortable, cushions, or support for your feet? Experiment with your bottom at the back of the seat, with a slight curve in your lower back. At what height is your screen best, so that you can relax your shoulders and neck?
Contrary to expectation, we do our best work when there is a degree of relaxation, space and breath. If you have a spare 10 minutes in the morning, are you best to get a head-start on the overflowing emails, or benefit from a quick meditation?
Put you first. Prioritize creating your own solid foundation, then you’ll be your own best self!
7. Admit vulnerability
It is a great relief to realise and accept that you are (of course) not perfect. Mistakes happen every day, many times a day. This is normal and to be expected.
It is okay not to remember someone’s name, to miss a deadline, to waste time in a meeting talking. Our culture has a horrible habit of pointing the finger of blame at a “mistake” made, as if it is terrible, rather than ordinarily human. Most of us are doing the best we can.
Take a breath, admit responsibility, laugh and move on.
What matters is not mistakes made, but the next collective creative action taken. There is a deep pleasure and wisdom in being flawed, ordinary, and perfectly imperfect.
Health and resilience are generated by accepting our own imperfection, and then being kind to ourselves and others. It is being able to bend in the force of the difficult winds of life—whether that’s project demands, people’s personality, or a pandemic—or our own human nature—full of feelings, farts, swearwords, passions, and amazingly inventive creativity.
By releasing ourselves from a culture of dominance, devices, and desks, we make space for our physicality and instinctual intelligence, for our pleasure, productivity, and joy!