Isn’t hindsight great? It’s like looking through a crystal glass and when you tap the rim with your fork, a delightful note rings out and it’s like “ahhhhhhh” and the world makes sense. When I take the time to reflect on past experiences, some good and some more difficult, I often see those experiences differently with the help of time and new context.
Looking back at the jobs I held in my 20s, I now notice a theme that at the time I just saw as hustle. Yes, as a fresh college graduate I had a lot of energy to make an impact and be busy. But now with my friend hindsight to help me out, I see something else – reaction. My days overflowed from the moment I woke up to the minute I went to sleep by reacting to the obligations and responsibilities of my jobs. Each ding of my phone, each popup email window was a request for me to react – all day long. My reactive nature was one part survival (there was a ton of tasks on my plate) and second part a desire to take care of others.
This reactive habit that I fell into of just taking on everything pushed on me, doing it as fast as possible and moving on to the next task ultimately lead to depression, weight gain, numbing and burnout. My work wasn’t fulfilling because I was just trying to stay above water and do whatever needed to be done at the cost of my own well being. I can’t count the number of times I blurred the work-home boundary, sitting on my laptop late at night doing work that simply couldn’t wait until the following day (oh it would) and answer emails late into the night. My dreams turned into work nightmares and I’d wake up in the morning with a pit in my stomach and filled with dread. This blurring of lines impacted my social life and my relationships. At the time I thought that being on call made me important. I thought it made me better than others to be able to solve problems all hours of the day and to do it quickly and efficiently.
Today, I see that a habit of reaction can do harm to a person’s mental and physical health and the pursuit of your goals and dreams. While a part of a culture of “hustle, work hard/play hard, move fast,” I got a lot of things done but at the cost of thorough planning, deep analysis and evaluating the bigger picture. The stress I was under to perform well and do my job in this way lead to me packing on weight and drinking to deal with the daily rigors of my roles. I put the things I was interested and passionate about to the side because I was just trying to survive the rat race I was in. While today I invest a lot of time in personal development, a few years ago I was completely out of touch with myself and who I wanted to be but instead being the person that I thought everyone else needed me to be.
How do you get out of reactive habit? It’s not easy but first, you need to understand why you have it. For me, it was deeply rooted in my personality to be a people pleaser and to be a “get it done,” type of person and being this way brought value to my life.
Next, you have to come face to face with the impact the reactive habit is having on your life. Is it impacting your health, your sleep, are you coping with a reactive lifestyle by putting your goals aside or numbing out to deal with the stress? You need to see if the benefit of your quick reaction is benefitting you or hurt you.
Find ways to create space. The space I am referring to is the time between the input and your reaction. This space allows you fully take in the input and pause/think/be aware of the thoughts and feelings that come up before you jump to reply or take action. Let’s be honest, our society does not encourage this space and I still struggle finding space. Meditation and yoga have been wonderful tools to help me cultivate this space and it is an on-going practice.
Lastly, be honest with yourself and your goals. For many of us, the 9-5 is necessary to fund our lives. Finding a company that values work life balance and boundaries is good place to start. If you’re somewhere that blurs that line, you will need to take your own steps to build space and prevent reaction. Keep your personal goals top of mind as well so that you don’t grind it out of 5 years then realize you’ve made zero progress on other areas of your life that are important to you.
Work life balance tips to help create space:
- Turn off email pop-window notifications (and sounds)
- When you’re at your computer all day, nothing can stall your productivity like the constant barrage of pings and visual alerts. Use email proactively and check it at set times throughout the day. Remember, your inbox is just everyone else’s to do list.
- Use a timer to accomplish tasks
- It can be super easy to be sidetracked with the internet or emails while at work that you may start to be asking yourself, what did I actually do today? I like to use a timer to force myself to be still and solely focus on a single task. Put on some classical music and get going!
- Turn off notifications or put your phone in airplane mode at night
- This one is great because it allows you to really disconnect. Rarely are there emergencies that you are needed for that can’t be handled the following day. Take this time to recharge from your busy day by spending focused time with your family, go workout, take a bath, anything to help you recharge from the work day.
You can bring value to the table and be successful without being the person to get things done the fastest. I would say the opposite – the people who are thoughtful, critical thinkers and thorough are often the most successful. The cost of a having a reactive nature is too high – your mental and physical health is too important.