Navigating the Intersection of Work and Mental Health

Working Better and Stressing Less

Ideas on work and mental health

How do I get moving? Part One: Mindfulness and compassion

One of the most difficult and rewarding parts of my counseling practice is helping clients figure out how to get moving on important life projects. People usually show up in my office after they've tried making lists, setting reminders, asking others to remind them, calendaring, writing plans, berating themselves for inaction, and using other techniques they learned in school, to no avail. I can help but I have a confession to make: I sometimes struggle with this too. In fact, I'm going to use my own recent struggle with "getting moving" to illustrate one way to get unstuck.

Stephen Covey, author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, created a matrix of four types of activities that our days are composed of:

Quadrant One: Important and urgent (Fixing a leaking gas line)

Quadrant Two: Important and non-urgent (Building a relationship)

Quadrant Three: Not Important and urgent (Checking your March madness brackets)

Quadrant Four: Not Important and non-urgent (Facebooking for funsies)

Quadrant two usually contains those really important projects that we never seem to find or make time for. Here is how this struggle often presents in my office (using me as the example client):

Client: I really need to pay more attention to writing for my blog and other blogs but I haven't been doing it.

Therapist: Tell me a bit more about blogging and what gets in the way.

Client: I don't know. I'm lazy. I waste my time reading Facebook or watching movies.

Therapist: So it sounds like you find yourself getting distracted by things that are fun but that don't move you toward your goals.

Client: I'm just so undisciplined.

Therapist: You're disappointed in yourself right now. While you're checking Facebook or watching the movie, I wonder if you experience disappointment.

Client: No. I just get to the end of my day and I've wasted it all.

As the therapist, I'm listening for what the client is doing and also for what they tell themselves about what they are doing. This client spends the first part of this example conversation telling me how they see themselves as lazy, undisciplined, and disappointing. This week, I found myself saying the same thing one night, "Geeze Katie... you wasted SO MUCH TIME today." But here is where being a therapist actually does sometimes help you with your own problems. I then said to myself, "I'm being pretty critical. I wasn't aware that I was wasting time at the moment I was doing it. I thought I had free time so I was doing fun things. I didn't keep the things I wanted to do visible so I didn't remember to address them when I had a free moment. Then, when I did think of the things I wanted to accomplish, they were too big to act on in the time I had."

Ultimately, by being curious and by not judging myself and my experience, I was able to see what I might do to help myself get moving:

1. I lacked present-moment awareness of the "quadrant two" activities that were important to me. I needed to make them visible which meant, put them up in a place I would see frequently.

2. I also noticed that I needed to break down large "quadrant two" projects into smaller chunks so that I could do them in punctuated breaks that I have, rather than the large chunks of time I used to address them in (before I had kids, dogs, and a business).

3. I also knew that I needed to connect with my values at the start of each day so that I would remember what the day was supposed to be about. Now, values is another blog-post entirely but it's essentially, "where does today fit in to my life overall and what do I need to accomplish today?"

Today I woke up and thought, "what is today going to be about?" I decided that it would be focused on getting my house in order, taking some personal time, and perhaps doing a few quadrant two things for my website (including this blog). It's only 2pm but so far, I'm feeling quite good about today, even though I'm about to watch a movie on a day with beautiful weather. 

Katie Playfair