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7 Principles to Keep Calm when Work Gets Insane

7 Principles to Keep Calm when Work Gets Insane

Work can be hectic some days. No matter how well-oiled a machine is, we all get swamped every now and again. Some system glitch, field trip, flu, or act of God may hit your workplace, and you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and clean it up. If work is bogging you down and you’re online to ignore it, you’re doing it wrong. Here are the seven principles to keep calm no matter how crazy work gets.

1. Remind Yourself It’s Only Temporary

Life is temporary. Everything in life is temporary. You are temporary. No matter how bad things are right now, it is only temporary. Suck it up and make it through, and you’ll be that much stronger, wiser, and more beautiful for it. You’ve been through worse than this.

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2. Meditate and/or Medicate

In the holistic view, meditation is the answer to every problem. Your problems become easier to overcome if you sit still long enough. I’ve used meditation to great success to keep myself calm at work, and you can too. All it takes is to close your eyes for a minute and listen to your breath. Feel your chest expand and contract as you breathe in…and out…in…and out…In as little as five minutes, you’ll be refreshed and renewed, making the work a little easier.

Most holistic teachers ignore the benefits of medications, but Western medicine is prescription-based and I would be doing you a great disservice to not recognize this. If things are really getting to be too much and your stress or anxiety just won’t go away, go and see a doctor to discuss accessing therapy or anti-anxiety medications. Also know your limits if you decide to self-medicate, or you’ll end up hurting yourself more than helping.

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3. Stop Multitasking

Sometimes you bite off more than you can chew. Just because you’re facing a mountain of paperwork doesn’t mean you have to reach the summit in one shot. Having more work doesn’t mean you have to do more at once – it’s not like you suddenly gain superpowers when the work necessitates it. Continue at a pace you’re comfortable with. Splitting your focus will just tire you out faster.

4. Accept Failure

No matter how good you are at what you do, no matter how much you practice, you will fail in life. It’s unavoidable. Accepting the possibility of failure makes it easier to get through the work. Things may be bad if you fail, but unless you’re in the military or a bomb squad, few deadlines lead to actual death. Do your best to deliver results, but if it doesn’t happen, you at least know you did your best.

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5. Take a Hike

Sometimes you need to walk away from the office for a moment to gather your wits. Don’t be afraid to take a 15-minute stroll to keep your sanity despite the insane workload you’re facing. It may feel like slacking off, but it’s better for you in the long run. I love taking walks to invigorate my mind and body while giving me time away from the heat to formulate plans to get through it all. Try it out.

6. Stop Surfing the Internet

Let’s be honest – you’re procrastinating right now. There’s no real business purpose for you to be online. You’re avoiding work. If you weren’t avoiding work by surfing the Internet, maybe work wouldn’t be so insane. You’d get your tasks completed, and you’d have time later on to surf the Internet. I live online, so I can assure you nothing is happening right now that can’t wait another hour or so to read about. If anything important does happen, you’ll hear about it. Focus on work.

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7. Know When to Fold ‘Em

Some workplaces are always insane. Think about what the hiring manager told you: did they say there may be occasional overtime, and suddenly you’re finding out “occasional” means 12-hour days seven days a week? Temporary (i.e. 3–6 months) bouts of insane workloads are normal, but if you constantly feel like work is insane, maybe this isn’t the job for you. Take a moment to really look at your life and decide if this is worth it. If it’s not, don’t be afraid to leave; just do it in a professional manner.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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