Aspects of Well-being, Part 2

In part 1 we looked at the power of feeling heard. Part 2 is the first of several that will look at ways to make your work life fit your values a little better, with the ultimate goal being to enjoy what you do all day. That said, let’s dive in –

Work Life – What is it and how do you make it bearable?

Well, frankly, the first step is to not look at it as something you have to change about yourself in order to better handle it. Most of us have to work to pay the bills, rent, eat, etc – so might the better option be to learn ways to make the work fit to your values, rather than changing your behavior to make the day “bearable?”

First suggestion – stop using phrases like “killing it,” “crushing it,” and “like a boss.”

These are all popular expressions right now, and all of them evidence a high level of aggression and excitement. These feelings and emotions activate your body’s stress reaction and send you into a spiral of elevated stress hormones. This is especially important to avoid if you’re in the ~50% of the population who lean toward the introvert end of the spectrum – as our bodies are less able to cope with these elevated hormone levels and can quickly go into shutdown.

These expressions are also rooted in the cultural norm of action, gregariousness and other outward signs of high emotion being required to accomplish – well – anything. The idea that in order to be successful you have to be a “go getter” or be outgoing all the time is firmly rooted in western business culture. So much so that to even question this norm is seen as aberrant and can lead to your coworkers looking at you sideways or your boss questioning your suitability for your position.

By keeping these expressions out of your daily lexicon you can, in your own quiet way, make an impact not only on your own day but on your coworkers day as well. Without them even knowing it. By using plain language to congratulate others on a job well done, you’re keeping the mood in the room at a calmer level. You’re helping everyone keep an even keel, to stay more able to think clearly without the effects of elevated cortisol coloring their every move.

Compare the following two expressions:

“YOU CRUSHED THAT PRESENTATION!”
(these expressions are always said emphatically, hence caps)

“That was some great work in there, you were well prepared and wowed the execs.”

The first will get your coworker riled up and excited, it just doesn’t tell them anything useful. They’ll go back to their desk feeling euphoric, then have a hard time focusing on their work. The second, in contrast, offers a compliment along with a specific thing that you feel your coworker did well. They’ll get the same self-esteem boost and feel just as good about their work, with the difference being that they’ll also be focused on that work, making it easier to stay on task. And for your part, you said what you wanted to say without affecting your own stress levels at all.

Second suggestion – Stop wearing stress like a badge of honor.

The act of simply talking about stressful things like lack of sleep, the fact that you haven’t had a vacation in 3 years, or how you put in 60 hours last week is seen by your body as actually doing these things. This sends the alert to your hormones again (the first time was when you actually did the thing you’re talking about), sending your cortisol through the roof and starting the cascading impact of stress on the rest of your systems.

No longer talking about these things is the first, baby, step on the path to cutting out the actual behaviors – which is the ultimate goal here. And again, by cutting these aspects of water cooler discussions, you’re also helping your coworkers to realize that they don’t have to brag about these things either. Start a discussion about something going on in your neighborhood, or if you know you all share an interest in a local sports team – talk about their roster changes. Or if you’re like me and know nothing about sportsball, talk about a book you’re reading. Any topic can redirect everyone’s energy away from stressful things and keep the room calmer and allow everyone to be more productive when they get back to work since their bodies won’t have to deal with the flood of hormones first.

These two suggestions are meant as starting points, not solutions in and of themselves. Give them a try for a week and see if you feel the difference in your work environment and coworker interactions. From there, I trust that you’ll be able to take it to the next step toward altering your work environment to better fit with your values and needs.

Next time, we open the bag of cats that is office ergonomics.