This is the story of one of my clients who is a physician. I’ve changed identifying details, but if you’re in a high-pressure job—no matter the industry—I think you’ll recognize some of her experiences. First, let me set this up by telling you this is a woman who loves her job and the people she works with, but she is beyond exhausted.
She told me what happened on a recent day of her life: She got up early to check her emails and catch up on work, then she made sure her kids were prepped and off for school. Then she worked all day giving everything she had to patients and colleagues. Then she came home, cooked dinner, did homework with the kids, and talked to her spouse about what was happening the rest of the week.
After getting everyone to bed, she picked up the clutter her kids and husband had missed. Then she checked her emails and caught up on more work. By the time she fell into bed, her mind was spinning with all the things she still had left on her to-do list so she couldn’t fall asleep. She tossed and turned most of the night until she managed to catch a few hours of restless sleep.
“I constantly feel like I can never catch up and I’m always letting people down,” she said.
As she continued, tears came to her eyes. “My son tried to talk to me last night. I was typing an email on my phone, trying to solve a crisis at work. He kept trying to get my attention. I snapped at him to wait until I was finished. He yelled at me saying, “You’re never finished with your work. Ever!” He ran off to his room.
“You know what?” she said. “He’s right. But I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to live this way anymore, but I don’t know how to fix it.”
In the last few weeks, I’ve shared with you two of the three most powerful ways to put the joy back in your job and life. Here is the third most life-changing practice I know and one of the practices my client has used to fix her predicament:
Bring your whole self to the present moment.
Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about mindfulness. Now, don’t freak out or tune me out because you think I’m going to tell you to start meditating or watching your breath (though both can be fantastic at helping people arrive in the present moment).
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what’s happening in your life right now at this very moment without judgement. That’s it. And there are many ways to experience that feeling of presence.
As long as your mind is focused on the thing you’re doing in the present moment and your body is relaxed—Boom! You’re being mindful. And when you’re being mindful, you’re literally changing your brain for the better.
Try this: Bring mindfulness to the life you’re already living.
- Focus your attention. Pay attention with all five of your senses to whatever it is you’re doing so your thoughts are not wandering to the past or the future. If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to the focus of your attention without judgement.
- Relax your body. This is important and it’s hard to do when you’re keyed up from chronic stress. Breathing helps us do this, especially when you breath in for a count of 3 and out for a count of 6 to relax the nervous system and tell the body it’s safe, the predator is gone.
- Give thanks. This one is for extra credit. As you begin bringing your full sensory awareness to your life, consider adding gratitude to your practice.
So now, let’s return to my client. She can practice paying attention to her son. She can practice mindfulness with the emails she sends. She can practice noticing the sounds, sights, smells, and the textures of the things she’s cooking. And for extra credit, she can think about how grateful she is for her son, for her patients, for the food. After practicing this way for several months, she reported feeling more vibrant, better able to handle her stress, and closer to her family.
See? Mindfulness can be baked into everything you do, all day long. And for those of you who feel like you never have enough time, when you pay attention in the present moment, time does this strange thing. Because your body is relaxed, your brain works better and faster…so oftentimes it doesn’t take as long to do the things you need to get done and you feel like you have a lot more time than you did before.