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Are you feeling stuck at work?

There have been a couple times over the course of my career when I’ve found myself feeling stuck and miserable. After all these years, I don’t remember exactly what it was about that first job that wasn’t quite working for me. I remember that it sounded perfect on paper, that I was beyond excited to land the position, that the organization underwent MAJOR leadership restructuring shortly after I started, and that I was bitter and negative by the end.

A couple colleagues and I would often sneak away for “naughty lunches” (what we called ditching our brought-from-home meals in favor of going off site to a restaurant), and I complained. A lot. Which isn’t really like me. On top of feeling stuck, I felt frustrated and stifled, unsupported by leadership. I had a hard time finding things in my day to look forward to. I didn’t realize until after I was out of that situation just what a toll it was taking on my mindset. I did what people do when people they feel stuck. 

Fortunately, I was untethered at that time in my life and had another opportunity. All I needed to do was get the courage to make a leap…to a new position in a new city. And I’m grateful I did.

While I had a lot of psychology knowledge back then (I had just finished earning my PhD), I really didn’t know jack. I didn’t really understand thriving. I’d never heard of life design. I just knew my situation wasn’t working, and completely overhauling my life seemed like the only option. I certainly don’t regret it now, but I also know that leaving everything isn’t always a viable solution.  

Don’t Burn It Down

If you found yourself saying “SAME!” as I described my stuck experience, keep reading. If your job (inside or outside of the home) feels like it’s weighing you down, filling you with dread, and curtailing your growth rather than fostering it, you have options.

Think of your job as your house. If it’s not working for you anymore, or if you truly hate your house, it might be tempting to burn it down, but don’t. That’ll create a bigger mess for everyone involved. Instead, you always have the option to leave. Of course, there are a ton of legitimate reasons why that may not actually be an option for you, which is what can make you feel especially stuck. You’re not, though. You can lean on psychology and life design to help you out. Instead of burning it down or leaving it all behind, try reframing and remodeling instead.

Reframing

The stories our minds tell us are powerful. They color our view of the world, often without us even realizing it. And they become self-sustaining, self-fueling (ever heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy?). If your mind’s story about your job is that “It’s too much” or “I’m under appreciated” or “Leadership doesn’t care about me” or “My clients/customers/patients/coworkers are _______ (fill in the blank with something negative),” what must it be like to live that every day?

But what if that isn’t reality?

Or, more aptly, what if that is just one version of reality but others exist? Here’s what I mean that. What letter is this?

Did you say M or W? It depends on which way you tilt your head, which angle you look at it from. 

What if there isn’t a definitive right? I can’t tell you that it’s absolutely an M or a W. It just depends.

Our stories about work are an awful lot like that. Pay attention to what your mind has to say about your work, especially the stories that seem to pull you down. Is there a way to tilt your perspective and see it from a fresh angle? One that might not hinder you quite as much.

“It’s too much” might become “There’s a lot, but it’s worth it because…”

“I’m under appreciated” might become “My boss isn’t great about handing out praise, so I’ll focus on the end user – my students/clients/customers/etc. I know they value my work.”

“Leadership doesn’t care about me” might become “Leadership sucks, but my coworkers are so supportive.

Notice with all of these, the reframe tries to up the “worth it” factor. When you feel stuck, finding a new why, a new reason for doing what you do, for engaging in what you’re doing rather than dialing it in, can help you.

Remodeling

Remodeling is another strategy for changing your work experience. This means looking at your day-to-day, your role responsibilities, the friction points that are a struggle, and the bright spots that seem to go smoothly. You could make some cosmetic changes by trying to do more of the things you like or experimenting with ways to adjust tasks to make them more enjoyable (e.g., finding ways to increase interaction if that fills your tank or finding ways to block off uninterrupted time to dedicate to important projects while protecting your focus and mental energy).

Sometimes a fresh coat of paint isn’t enough, so you may need to remodel in a deeper way by making structural changes (think knocking down a wall). This translates to talking with your boss about how you might redesign your current role and responsibilities. There may be ways for you to delegate tasks that bog you down, utilize your strengths in a new way, take on new responsibilities, or learn new skills. How might you rewrite your job description in a way that works for both you and your company so you can avoid feeling stuck? Don’t be afraid to suggest a limited trial run. Testing out changes on a short-term basis may be more palatable to everyone.

What’s next?

Given that an average person will spend 80 – 100 THOUSAND hours working over their lifetime, it seems beyond important to me to take steps to ensure that those hours are engaging and meaningful. These strategies are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to curating your work experience. If you want to learn even more about why work can feel draining and what you can do to create a better experience WITHOUT changing anything about your actual job, join us Tuesday for our next live Quarterly Psych Strength workshop. We’ll be talking about completely different things, like role engulfment and the hedonic treadmill (aren’t you intrigued?), and designing ways to ensure your work needs are being met. It’ll be an impactful session! Don’t worry, though, if you can’t make it to the live workshop. Your ticket gets you 30 day access to the Peak Mind Platform where you’ll find the replay, the digital workbook, and some other bonus resources.

“How you spend your days is how you spend your life. You’re never stuck.”
– Bill Burnett & Dave Evans
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What Do Grammar and Math Have to Do with Acceptance of Pain?

What do grammar and math have to do with mindset and emotional pain? More than you might think!

There’s an old Buddhist saying: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Once you learn this, your quality of life will greatly improve. 

If you’ve ever heard me speak, or even had a conversation with me, you’ve probably heard me say, “Just because life gives you a cactus, doesn’t mean you have to sit on it.” Roughly speaking, don’t do things that cause yourself to suffer. Instead of touching the cactus, admire it. Let it bring you joy, not pain. 

I’m not ashamed to admit that I got that pearl of wisdom from a meme on Facebook. In fact, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever gotten from social media.

Why is that?

Because that saying so beautifully illustrates a critical math problem for life:

Pain + non-acceptance = suffering

This is something they don’t teach you in school. This equation does a great job encompassing one of the hardest lessons to learn. We often have little choice or control when it comes to pain. And there are many types of pain: physical pain, emotional pain, psychological pain. It doesn’t matter. It’s all pain, and pain is an unavoidable part of life. It’s how we deal with the emotional distress and negative thoughts that have long-term positive or negative effects on our mental health.

Take this pandemic as a salient example. There are so many pain points for so many people, and pretending like that pain doesn’t exist or trying to “just be positive” the pain away really isn’t helpful.

What is the solution, then? Acceptance. 

Acceptance

In psychology, acceptance is really captured by the cliche, “It is what it is” sentiment. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking it or approving of it or wanting it. Acceptance means acknowledging things as they really are and not allowing pain to dictate your actions in unhelpful ways.

Now, this is where the grammar lesson comes in. Acceptance can be hard to wrap your head around and even more difficult, yet, to embody and implement. What you can do right now to start toward a place of acceptance, though, is to insert the mental period.

The Mental Period

I was talking with colleagues from the anxiety world last night, and one shared this cartoon that so perfectly exemplifies the mental period.

 

When you experience a pain point, notice it. Acknowledge it. Then insert the mental period. This helps solve the problem of dwelling which only causes more pain. 

“It’s raining.” PERIOD.

“My head hurts.” PERIOD.

“I’m scared.” PERIOD.

“I’m feeling burned out.” PERIOD.

“I’m feeling bored.” PERIOD.

“People are losing their jobs and their loved ones.” PERIOD.

“I feel heart broken.” PERIOD. 

“And I’m grateful.” PERIOD.

See how that works? Give it a try this week and see if this is a more helpful way of dealing with pain, whatever form it takes. Try it with a family member and keep each other accountable.

This does not mean be complacent. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) refocuses your mind and does so much for your acceptance of pain to mitigate intense emotional suffering. 

And if you want more tips and tools for building acceptance skills and other aspects of psychological strength, our ASCEND program is for you. There’s a whole section on acceptance and other tools for taming your mind, in addition to modules on becoming the best version of you and creating a life you love. 

 

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

 – Dalai Lama