If you’re like most people, life is busy, work is full, and it’s really easy to find that come the evening a bunch of mental post-it notes are whizzing around in your head vying for your attention while you’re innocently trying to bath the kids, read a book or chop vegetables. And then there’s the frazzled, fried feeling of being too tired to deal with dinner or the dishes because you’re on the work-a-day-treadmill and you’re simply knackered. You stand at the sink in your most daggy trackpants (or is that just me?) and breathe a great big sigh …
It’s not very sexy is it?
And I don’t mean sexy in the typical sense, but in an on-to-it, energised, being our most vivacious, energised self kind of sexy. It’s not that.
And yet I think we really want to be able to do a good day’s work, feel productive and be able to get home with some fuel left in the tank to enjoy the evening, be present with our loved ones, and well, have a LIFE.
Having some verve for life, feeling alive; now that’s sexy.
So, how do you do that? How do take charge of that mental buzz and teach your mind to switch off, rest and recharge? How do you guarantee rocking up to work the next day fresher and more productive (with a gorgeous glow on, of course)? Imagine having that – plus some glow left at the end of the day.
Here’s my low-down on switching off and what I’ve noticed about people struggling to switch off at the end of the day or over the weekend (and what I used to experience myself). Firstly, there are often mental ‘loose ends’ our (unconscious) mind is still following because they are un-done, incomplete and possibly quite important. Your brain is trying to track this stuff and make sure it gets done. How awesome it is so diligent. But how do you help your brain relax about that until tomorrow or next week when you can actually do something about it? Secondly, we forget to notice what we have done and end up with little or no satisfaction at the end of the day – after all there is still so much to DO. We are crazy task-masters, there’s no doubt. Finally, because we’re not getting enough of a mental break we end up tired, then less productive, we cycle through feeling unsatisfied with what we’re doing, then we don’t enjoy our time off and it all gets to feel like a grind at best, and can evolve into a soul-destroying misery over time. Yeuck. Sounds nasty.
The trick to get out of this cycle is to teach your brain to unwind, let go and recharge. I’m going to give you three deceptively simple tips for starting to shift gears around this and liberate yourself from the grind.
I’ve seen numerous clients re-claim their sanity and their joie de vivre through these simple approaches, and I have too.
So, let’s do this …
How to switch off
1: Download your to-do’s
At the end of each day just before you finish up, capture any remaining to-dos for tomorrow (or next week, etc) onto paper or into your electronic diary/to-do list. Downloading these out of your head and onto paper gives your brain a concrete signal that they have been captured, there is a record of what needs to be done, and it can relax.
Ideally, clarify for yourself: What are the three things you most want to get done tomorrow? Then when you begin your day, you can dive straight into the activities that will make the biggest difference to you.
I mentioned ‘deceptively simple’ above and I wasn’t kidding. Do not be fooled by how simple some of this advice is. In everything I do, I aim to give you solutions that are as un-complex as possible – I know you do not need any more complexity in your life! Much of what I share is both ridiculously simple, and ridiculously useful. Try it and see what happens.
And just think how youthful you’ll look when you’re not spending your evenings frowning over those old mental post it notes …
2: Log your achievements
Once you’ve captured your to-do’s take a couple of minutes to review your day and write down what you’ve achieved. These things may or may not have been on your original to-do list today, but are still activities that needed your time, energy and attention. This is where having captured the activities that will make the biggest difference to you the day before becomes very useful – when you review what you’ve achieved, there’s a good chance it was meaningful, more strategic and more satisfying.
For many of us, much of what we do in a day happens electronically which can really diminish our sense of completion. You spend three days preparing a proposal, save it to PDF and send it off by email. There is little felt sense of that 30 page document having been completed – you may not have even printed it, bound it and held it in your hands. Where does the feeling of completion come from when the proposal has gone off into the ether and you’re already looking at the next thing on the to-do list? This is quite different to the experience a farmer might have of harvesting a field of corn; counting sacks, looking at the bare stalks in the field, feeling the effort his arms have made today working machinery. That’s a felt sense of achievement.
Take these precious few minutes to connect to your achievements and feel what you’ve done.
The reality is that we will always have more to do. Life is not static. You don’t get to the top of the mountain and stop. You actually have to climb all the way back down again. Or maybe you get lifted off by a helicopter – great, more time to go climb another mountain. If you are to truly enjoy your life, you will find enjoyment in what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and what you can look forward to. [Note – if all you can see in front of you is stuff you don’t want to do, you might want to review the bigger picture. Check out my blog on what to do if you hate your job.]
3: Let go
One of my teachers has said often to me, Let go and let God. She means to let go of trying to do, be, control everything and trust that (whatever you call it) the universe – God – infinite life force and energy is flowing through your life always – whether you are aware of it or not. It reminds to me to trust all is well, things will unfold as they’re supposed to, that I don’t have to try to push, struggle or do do do do do to make life work for me. I’ve realised how thoroughly we get out of the natural flow of life when we feel we must do everything ourselves, all the time, without a rest … phew, it sounds exhausting and it is exhausting.
It’s what gives us bags under our eyes and a grey pasty non-glow.
We are meant to rest. Switching off from work, pausing, taking time for yourself is about letting go – of efforting, of being hyper-available to others and of holding everything in your hands. When you juggle balls, the flow of balls up and down and around relies on you letting each ball go up into the air, to land in its own sweet time, ready for the next ball to go up. If you try to hold and control all three balls at the same time, the flow stops immediately. I think life is a lot like this, which means we need to throw a ball in the approximately right direction (being intentional in what we do really does help the energy of the universe flow in the right direction for you) and allow it travel back down with its own rhythm. We don’t have to have our hand on every ball all the time. In fact, that hampers the flow.
We see this flow in nature everywhere. Animals on the savannah don’t hunt or be active all day without stopping unless they are migrating. On an average day, they rest often. If you’ve ever watched a leaf unfurling – it’s not pushing, rushing, struggling, it’s simply unfolding, opening, flourishing.
“Wonderful things happen when your brain is empty.”
Neuroscience is making it clear that when we relax, we think better. When we let go of consciously trying to control our thoughts and coming up with brilliant ideas (in the way traditional brainstorming implies we should), we allow our vast unconscious mind to purr away in the background, accessing far more than we are able to at a conscious level. This is why when you’re day-dreaming over a cup of tea or out walking or biking or getting out of the shower, you have those amazing A-ha moments. In this letting go, being easy, allowing your mind to wander and wonder, you do some of your best work. Don’t be afraid to switch off and let go – trust your vast internal resources that generate quality ideas and possibilities to purr away, and the power of life itself to unfurl; this is where true creativity comes from.
So, my friend, take five minutes at the end of your work day to plan the day ahead, and celebrate what has been done today. Bask in the glow of clarity and satisfaction, and notice how it gives you a little of your mojo back. Now that’s sexy.
And may this then allow you not only experience more creativity and flow, but in Derek Walcott’s words, allow you to Sit. Feast on your life.