As a kid, I never understood why my father only had enough energy to eat dinner and sit in front of the television every evening when he got home from work. Now I get it. He just wanted to circumvent the vicious circle that is ruminating at home about the things going wrong at work with something mind numbing and benign like 60 Minutes. When everything is overwhelming in our work lives the repercussions are inevitably felt in every other part of our lives.
What happens to so-called work life balance when you are unemployed and looking for work, or in a job where you are struggling with demands, stress, office politics, or a particularly unpleasant boss? How does deadening ourselves with Netflix marathons night after night to avoid thinking in circles about our troubles at work count as “life”?
The trouble with watching entire seasons of Gilmore Girls back to back is that, although it will take our mind off our troubles, it’s passive. We’re just immersing ourselves in white noise and spoon-fed fictitious worlds to escape our own reality. Unfortunately, passivity breeds passivity.
By disallowing our brains to engage with the reality of difficult situations in our professional lives, we become incapacitated to do anything about the problem. So, while it’s a good idea to find an alternative to rumination which can be all consuming (and interrupts sleep), it’s an equally good idea to use some of our time outside of the job search or the work day to reflect on what is going on.
In my book, The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing, I talk about the value of reflective writing, not just as a way of summarizing our feelings and responses to situations, but also as a way of uncovering new knowledge and insight. Although we might think about a problem from every seemingly possible angle, when we write something out, our minds are processing the problem in a different way. Writing can give us access to new perspectives and solutions and put us back in touch with who we really are, and what we really want.
So, over the next few months, I’m going to give you a sequence of little reflective writing exercises you can try the next time you find yourself thinking in mad circles about work troubles -- instead of using television to shut your ruminations off. The first one is an exercise called Stream Of Consciousness.
Reflective Writing Exercise 1: Stream of Consciousness
When To Do It:
As soon as you get home from work or finish your job search for the day -- before you do anything else!
Alternatively, you could start and finish each day with this.
We go through the day doing everything right. We think about what we’re supposed to think about. We try to please our boss or our potential boss. We’re polite. We’re structured. We’re in a suit. Spending five minutes getting back in touch with our spontaneous selves is a nice gateway back into real life.
Sit down somewhere quiet where you can be alone. Set a timer for five minutes. Hit start.
Put your pen to the page (yes! A pen! A page!) and write whatever comes into your mind continuously for the full five minute period.
Don’t stop to think. Don’t censor yourself.
If you can’t think of what to write, write “I can’t think of what to write. This chair is comfy. Writing writing writing....” and keep describing your physical surrounds until your mind loosens up and you can start recording all your the thoughts that pass spontaneously through your mind.
Do this once a day, every day. You should find that you are able to fill more and more of the page in five minutes each time you do the exercise.
By Tara Mokhtari