I tend to be an eternal optimist. But I'm also a worrier. Lately, I've begun to feel the need for the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) wellness webinars offered at work. I'm a software engineer at iRobot, which uses KGA as their EAP provider.
Partly this is the pandemic finally getting to me, two years of being cooped up indoors nearly 100% of the time. That aggravated what was already a turbulent time in our country. All grist for the worrier's mill.
What do I have to complain about? Really, I have a great life, and I don't have nearly the things that are real tribulations for others. So this is definitely a case of first-world problems.
- We have an endless supply of bad news.
- There's always something at work not going as desired, something I'm not getting done or banging my head against the wall over.
- There's always something at home needing service or repair, the car, the furnace.
- There's always fretting over personal finances, costs going up, the arrival of tax season, bills to pay, retirement to save for (like that will ever happen!).
- There's always that endless thought loop of worry. What if, what if???
What finally pushed me over the edge was getting sick a few weeks ago. We had our first real snowstorm of the season here in the Boston area. Not really significant, but enough to go out and clear the driveway. I spent an hour or so working on it.
The next day, Saturday, I woke up with a sore throat. My first concern was Covid, so I found a local facility offering rapid testing and went and got a test as I tried to think through where I might have gotten exposed while grocery shopping or eating at a restaurant (you know, the worrying part). I didn't have any fever, but my throat got worse over the next couple days. I ended up taking a couple of sick days off from work.
Fortunately, the test came back negative, and by Wednesday I felt well enough to work, but was still tired the rest of the week.
So an hour of time outside during some winter weather took me out for 4 days, and kept me mostly down for a week. That was pretty sad.
I realized I wasn't getting the outdoor time that I normally did pre-pandemic. All my exercise is indoors. All my life is indoors. So I resolved to take the dog out for at least 15 minutes a few times a week. Get some air, get some sun, get exposed to the elements.
I also realized the negative mental effects were starting to accumulate. I was just feeling bad, for no real reason. I was just down. This is like the "drift to low performance" system trap that Donella Meadows talked about in her fantastic book Thinking in Systems: A Primer.
Time to do something about it. Of the things in life we can control, this is one.
Serendipitously, the company had an upcoming EAP wellness webinar. So I resolved to participate in all the wellness webinars the company offers. I appreciate the commitment and effort they've made to support their employees as people. Time to put that to use.
The first webinar was "Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results." It was excellent. I realized I had completely misinterpreted the title of James Clear's book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. I had thought it was about large, monumental, difficult, powerful, explosive changes. But it was the opposite metaphor: tiny, achievable atom-sized changes that add up.
So I ordered the book. I also requested a copy of BJ Fogg's book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything through KGA's bookshelf benefit.
I'm applying the advice from the webinar and Clear's book, primarily habit stacking and the 4 laws. This is definitely worth following.
Yesterday was the second webinar, "Cultivating Wellbeing Through the Science of Thanks." This was also excellent. While this kind of thing can sound eye-roll-worthy, it's a very practical attitude adjustment.
Rather than focusing on all the negative things, actively focus on the good things. Those are the things to be thankful for.
It doesn't make the negatives go away, or affect them in any way. But it does affect the way your mind deals with them. It reminds you that in the midst of all those negatives crowding out everything else, there are good things in your life. Maybe very small, but there nonetheless.
There's a whole Positive Psychology study and practice. One of the items is three good things: write down at least 3 good things that you noted for the day. The presenter was very adamant that you have to write them down, not just think about them. That act of writing plants them more firmly in your brain.
At first this seemed like so much fluff to me. But then I started to think about 3 good things for the day. And it actually felt pretty good! So, OK, I resolved to do that.
I have a stack of traveler's pocket journal notebooks that I got for recording random mind maps. I took one of those to use for a daily 3 Good Things.
My guidelines for this are simple:
- Think about whatever good things were in the day.
- Find at least 3. More is fine.
- "Good things" can be anything from stupid little things that spark joy or trigger a dopamine spike, up to major accomplishments. Something that feels good, big or little.
- It can be something observed, something done, something experienced, or something thought.
- Write down a brief line about it, enough to spark the memory.
- Don't worry about keeping them in chronological order.
- Add more things later if they happen or come to mind. Those "Oh yeah, that was good, add that one!" moments are part of the mindfulness.
Some advice for this says to go into great detail, but I want to keep it as simple and easy to maintain as possible so that I maintain the benefit it provides. That's applying Clear's 3rd Law for habits.
For yesterday, I wrote down 12 things:
- Good yoga workout.
- Helped a new college grad with resume review and job-hunting/interviewing advice.
- Good avocado lunch salad.
- Read a few pages of Atomic Habits over lunch.
- Updated my interview question Confluence page (questions we use for interviewing candidates).
- Good EAP webinar.
- 3 Good Things is a great idea!
- Good sunny walk with the dog: bright clear blue sky, green pine trees, white snow on the ground, crisp air, smiling happy dog.
- Ducks on the pond: the emerald flash of the mallard's head turning in the sunlight.
- Did 2 easy leetcode questions (taking my own advice to the college grad about practicing coding).
- Instant Pot collard greens came out well.
- Started 3 Good Things habit.
Nothing big. Mostly just trivia. But this is for rebuilding. Baby steps. Small successes become big successes. Small positives become big positives.
Were there bad things or frustrations during the day? Yes. But that's not the point here. The good things are.
Just reading back through them makes the dopamine sparkle. That's the real benefit, like Dr. Herbert Benson's relaxation response
, the brain chemistry changes to face the world, good and bad.