For years I worked too much. Although I created financial stability and received recognition as a top performer, long hours deprived me of other experiences I desperately wanted.
Even though I loved my work, 12-14 hour workdays exhausted me. I wanted more time with my daughter and my recently-retired husband, and for traveling and indulging my creativity. Last year, I reduced my Vistage workload by 50%, but, my workaholic self said, “I’m not giving up that easily.”
Almost as soon as I implemented my reduced Vistage schedule, I started a large Enneagram project (so much for cutting back).
Moment of Reckoning
Six months later, I sat beside an old friend during a flight to San Diego. After 3 enjoyable hours of catching up, we finished our conversation. As our plane passed over Arizona’s desert, my internal critic complained:
“How dare you waste 3 hours talking with a friend? You know the rule. Airplane time is for work, not pleasure! Now, you have wasted your opportunity and are even farther behind. How stupid are you?”
As the weight of my self-imposed deadline sat on my shoulder like a boulder, I struggled with my internal critic:
“This is ridiculous. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. You served a purpose once. Now, you don’t. Stop nagging me, PLEASE!”
“You think it is that easy to make me go away?”
“No, but could you just give me a break on this flight?”
No, not now.
No! I’m not working.
I looked out the window and marveled at the vastness and beauty of the land below. Its patterns fascinated me. I saw channels where seasonal monsoons had pushed the river out of its bed and scarred the landscape in fanning feathery shapes. Some were large, some small, but all were unique.
Then, I noticed something else in me-a new feeling-awe.
The human brain is a pattern-making machine. It forms habits, or shortcuts, to conserve its energy. To illustrate, assume that you don’t have a GPS and you need to go somewhere new. What do you do? You find a map and plot your route. Your brain needed significant time and energy for this new task.
What happens when you drive to that same place one hundred times or more? The route becomes so engrained in your brain that you arrive home and may not even remember how you got there. Your brain used almost no time or energy to navigate. As Charles Duhigg points out in The Power of Habit, a habit “loop” comprises three parts:
My old air travel routine followed this pattern:
You change a habit when you replace an old routine with a new one while keeping the same cue and the same reward. Here is my new airplane routine:
The hardest habit to change was this first one. After my “Aha” revelation on the plane, changing other bad habits became easier. Examples included redesigning my morning routine, not working on Friday afternoons, and allowing myself to take a 15 day cruise (with no internet connectivity!) with my husband.
Fifteen months after my major work reduction, I no longer feel overworked. My previous addiction to work caused me to miss many things in my life, but I love my new one, and I’m committed to making the most of it!