Help! My Job Is Killing Me! with Encore Guest Elaine Smookler
There are times when we feel we are overwhelmed with life’s situations. We are flooded with lots of emotions inside and we don’t know what to do with them. Elaine Smookler, a registered psychotherapist and a corporate trainer, talks about how to manage stress when we are overwhelmed at work and at home. Elaine shares why we must be mindful of our attitude when we feel so many emotions inside. She further gives some tips on how to alleviate some of our sufferings and how we can soften the things we can’t change.
Listen to the podcast here:
Help! My Job Is Killing Me! with Encore Guest Elaine Smookler
Strategies For Stress Relief When You Are Overwhelmed In Life
I am in a great mood because I’ve already been talking to our next guest. What we’ve been discussing and I’m anxious to share with you is the idea that you don’t have to be stuck in situations and circumstances that are stressing you out to the point where you’re in danger of having your job kill you. I’m also very excited because this person is an Encore Guest for The Successful Thinker. Her name is Elaine Smookler. She’s a registered psychotherapist, a corporate trainer who works with individuals and organizations to help wellness and well-being. Elaine is more than that. Elaine is a person who has been there, done that.
She’s worked in retail sales. She’s worked in phone sales. She’s been in marketing. She’s even wielded a chainsaw in a pulp and paper mill. She’s worked at hospitals. She’s been a comedian. She’s done a lot of things. In other words, one of the things that we promised each other is that we are not going to involve you in theory and conjecture. We’re going to talk about the real stuff that people are out there facing every day, all day, and what to do when you don’t know what to do. Elaine, I am thrilled to have you with us. Can you tell our audience a little bit about how you’re feeling about the things that we talked about?
First, let me say thank you so much for inviting me back, Corey. It’s wonderful getting to know you. Since my whole interest is in trying to be of assistance to people and trying to help people feel less suffering basically in their lives, I’ve been touched to discover that this is also your mission. As you and I continue to deepen our conversation, also recognizing that we both care so much about trying not to be glib about how to alleviate some of our sufferings, but to look more deeply at the things that we can change, find ways to soften the things that we can’t change so that we’re not here giving a cheerleading a message. Not everybody is going to be in a situation to wholesale, quit their job and go find their bliss. Instead, what I feel that you and I have been looking at both personally in our own lives and in terms of what we try to share with other people in our work life is how we can work with the situations that we have, even when they’re unpleasant, even when they’re difficult. It’s important for us to understand how we can scan for joy in our lives, how we can find the moments of peace, how we can find the ways to soften difficulty, difficult relations and increase our overall brilliance on how we might be able to live with greater freedom in our lives.
One of the things that we both come into in our professional careers are people who have gotten to the end of a career or even the end of their life and they’ve had regrets because they didn’t live as they were living. Is that something that has affected you in your life and in your career? What advice would you give to people who feel like they’re stuck right now and not sure what their next piece of planning in life should be?
When you frame it in that particular way like you just relate an image of the notion of being on our deathbed, what I would say about that and how I frame it for myself is life can show up for us in so many different ways. There’s no question is going to be a combination of chills, spills and thrills. There’s nothing at all that I can say to you that will bring you complete happiness every second of your day. This show is called The Successful Thinker, so I’d like to call this The Successful Beer. What I have found is I have turned inwards and noticed what it means for me to be living my life in alignment with my own values. If I haven’t been so sure about what that’s meant along the way, I have done whatever work I’ve needed to in my life to get closer to knowing what sits in my heart, what’s where my ethics, where are my morals? What are the boundary crossings for me? As I become more and more tuned into my inner self and what nobility of purpose and life is for me, it’s made it clearer and clearer to me when I leave the path of what is righteous or right or appropriate or less stressful for me.
As I live in alignment with my own values, I can begin to tinker with the requests even that come my way, that maybe I can find a different way to do something that doesn’t compromise my integrity but still allows me to get the job done. This to me is the balancing act. You’re a pharmacist, so I think about chemistry. This to me is the chemical equation that we’re working with. There a certain amount of things that are choiceless. I may not have control over all of the things in my life. I’d say most of us have been into this category. We don’t have control over everything. We can start to become clearer about what takes us away from ourselves, away from our integrity. In that rub is where humongous stress is when we’re not aligned with ourselves, listening to somebody else and trying to get a job done without really checking in with ourselves and knowing is this in alignment with myself? Am I handling my moments in alignment with how I want to show up in this life? I can check that by saying, “If I were on my deathbed right now, what might I say to myself about how I’m operating at this moment?”
What happened in the world, the way I see it or the way I’ve experienced it in the pharmacy, is you begin to get a tunnel vision of the immediate moment and the immediate circumstances. It shows up in a physiological, almost like a panic-stricken thought process. One of the things that I admire about you is that you seem to be able to find those mindfulness exercises at the moment that might take someone out of that tunnel vision panic mode if you know what I’m referring to. Let’s say you get a nasty email from your boss and immediately your physiology takes over. Can you help our audience maybe find their way out of the moment?
I don’t know if I would quite frame it that way. I’d like to help them find their way into the moment. Let’s say somebody surprises us. They can surprise us in a wonderful way or they can surprise us in a horrible way, by a nasty email or something that’s too much gasoline and the emotional reaction that comes our way. What that does when we feel under threat, because we are animals, the animal part of ourselves takes over. Probably our audience has heard there’s so much out there about fight, flight and freeze. This so-called idea of how we as animals react to threat has a physiological component to it. It has a chemical component to it. It isn’t simply a matter of digging in and being able to hang in there when somebody comes at you. It’s recognizing that in that moment of surprise, when that nasty email came or that unpleasant encounter at the window from some customer or a bill that you weren’t expecting or somebody cuts you off in traffic.
All of these ordinary day-to-day things, one of the things that happen is we move out of the moment. We go into fight, flight, freeze. Our body gets cortisol and adrenaline, and they start to get dumped. Many other chemical interactions start to happen within. What’s been noticed in the evidence around mental health is that when we’re under threat, we tend to go into automatic pilot. Our brain gets flooded with these chemicals. We go into freeze. We tend to go into the past where some horrible thing has happened. Somehow, we go into a PTSD moment. That person’s triggered us, maybe it reminds us of our parent that screamed at us, or maybe some trauma from the past. It usually pulls us into the past or some catastrophic thought about the future. In spite of how it might seem to revert us in the present, what happened is we lose our footing in the present. We’ve pulled apart and we lose therefore our wisdom on how to best operate in the present. The first thing that we want to do is ground ourselves in the present moment. You used the term mindfulness. I’m a psychotherapist with a focus on something called mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that’s come into the world in a big way in the last couple of decades. What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way for us to be more greatly aware of what’s happening inside ourselves with the evidence showing us that even just this ability to notice and connect with ourselves has the effect of causing that activated center of the brain to calm down. In other words, it’s not that we’re out of the difficult situation, but we suddenly can come back to our senses and have the presence of mind. That’s the first step. It’s recognizing, “I’ve just been tipped over here emotionally.” First I have to recognize that’s what’s happened. One of the things that I had mentioned to you that I find helpful is a very pithy practice, pithy and that you can do it on the spot the moment somebody has cut you off in traffic, the moment you get that unpleasant email. That practice is helpfully called stop, breathe and connect.Rather than try to exit the moment, the best strategy is to bring yourself into the moment by stopping, breathing, and recognizing your worth. Click To Tweet
We’ll take a second to do this together and I’m going to ask you a question about it, Corey. First, this notion of stop. Stop for me is a way of saying, “I’m going to stop because I recognize that I’ve been activated by something.” How can I tell? Maybe I’ve noticed my heartbeat has caught up. Maybe I’ve noticed I’ve stopped breathing. Maybe I’ve noticed I can’t form two words without stumbling over myself. There can be some tip-offs that tell me that I’ve just been activated. That gives me the cue to tell myself, “Stop. Press the pause button right now.” The second step of this very quick practice is to breathe. We want to take this moment of awareness that we’ve been activated to connect with our breath. This does several things. First, connecting with our breath helps activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which physiologically calms the body. We’ve already just stepped in as a coach to ourselves and said, “Let’s find some ground zero here before we do anything that’s going to make the situation worse. We’ve pressed the pause button or stop. We have engaged.” Engagement is a significant word here. We have engaged with our breath.
Obviously, you’re breathing, I’m assuming that because you’re talking to me and you’re alive. We’re talking about an intentional breath. In other words, allowing ourselves to anchor our attention in the present moment by feeling the breath coming in. The third part of this practice is the word connect. This is the engagement part. We have probably disconnected from ourselves, which is usually the habit of animals when they’re under stress. They disconnect, go into fight, flight, freeze. The muscles shorten, adrenaline pumps in because the whole focus is survival. We’re not trying to think our way through. We’re trying to run like heck. Instead, we’re trying to bring a manual override to this autopilot tendency and connect, do what is counterintuitive. We’re trying to turn back towards ourselves when we want to run and connect. We want to come back into the present moment and notice, “I feel activated. I’m noticing myself breathing and I’m going to connect with what I’m feeling here with me right now.” It could be as simple as, “I’m going to connect with the feeling of my body touching the chair right now.
I’m going to connect with the feeling of my feet touching the floor. I’m going to connect with noticing if my shoulders have crept up around my ears and I could release them. I’m going to connect with noticing if my brain is filled with a million catastrophic thoughts.” The what ifs, things that aren’t happening right now, they’re all part of the panic thinking. In that moment when we have been activated and we can intentionally say to ourselves, “I don’t know what else to do, but right at this moment, I’m going to stop and recognize I’ve been activated. I’m going to connect with my breath, feeling myself breathing right now, counting the breath if I need to, whatever I need to do to help me feel myself breathing. Connect with the thoughts that are here that are throwing me into a panic, connect with the emotions that I’m feeling, noticing how my body is taking the hit.” All of this could be accomplished even in 30 seconds. Corey, I’ve invited you to give this a whirl. What have you noticed if you’ve been working with the stop, breathe and connect practice?
I want to congratulate you on changing my perspective because when you talked about to go back into the moment, that was pretty life-changing for me because what it signaled to me was that I always go gallivanting off into the future. Is this going to mean that I’m going to get fired? Is this going to mean that I’m going to have trouble making the house payment? The images of my wife and son come to me. All of a sudden, you’re flooded with these emotions that usually, especially when I was younger, cause you to do something to make the situation worse. When you tell me, “Just stop,” absorb that activation and realize, “I’m activated.” I like that word. I like the word triggered because it shows you that now all of a sudden what you said is true. I’m not me anymore. I’m that person that none of us want to be.
You said, “I’m not me anymore. I’m that person that I don’t want to be.” I want to frame that by saying that what we’re saying is, “I’m disconnected. Why do what I want to be that? I’m disconnected from myself. I’m no longer in touch with my body, in touch with my emotions, in touch with how I’m feeling and what’s happening. I’m disconnected and that’s why I don’t want to be that person,” because that person is not operating in wisdom. They’re pieces of a person. That’s why we don’t want to be that person because it’s just a piece of a person. It’s not our whole selves.
It brings to mind like a Picasso painting or a shattered mirror.
Does that make sense to what I said? Please tell me if it doesn’t, because there’s that idea that sometimes we are so mean to ourselves. We’re so harmful to ourselves in terms of we don’t like how we reacted and so we feel ashamed. It’d be helpful to remember that part of what happened is not that we are a bad person and that’s why we’re showing up. It’s that we’re no longer a whole person. We’re not able to operate the way a whole person would operate.
That’s a great distinction because very few people enjoy being emotional. Many people are under the impression that’s just the way I’m wired. I have no control over it. If you expect those types of reactions, you are giving away your personal power. You’re in a sense intensifying your own stress. If it’s out of your control, you’re helpless. I love the idea of experiencing the stop, breathe and connect because now you’re saying, “Even though I can’t do anything about what triggered this, I can do something about the way I respond to it.”
I call it the, “and then what?” I reacted, as many of us will. We’re mammals. We’re going to react. That’s how we’re keyed. We’re going to react. Wisdom lets me have the, “and then what?” rather than go with my reaction. We’re trying to have this pause so that I can notice what is the best way for me to proceed so I don’t make the situation worse. It doesn’t matter whether it was even unfair. We’re trying to notice and then what, and now what, how should I best proceed with wisdom?
One of the things that I used to do that I always found helpful, I learned this from one of my customers, is following that. I didn’t call it that. Let’s say you’ve had a stressful day so you’re on edge or tense or whatever. Someone says, “I’m not sure if the water heater is working.” You’re starting to go into like this panic thing. I always found that it was helpful to do that. Let’s just suppose the water heater is out. What would I do then? I’ll call the guy, and then what? He would say it cost $1,000, and then what? I’d have to figure out a way to pay him. What if I don’t have the money? I’ve got a $5,000 limit on my Visa. That’s what you do. You pay the guy. He’d fix the thing and everything would be okay. Suddenly I would feel better versus letting that sit there and churn and spin around in my head because I always found that if I let it spin in my head, something else would come in.Stay close to your heart, integrity, and values. Click To Tweet
There’s something that I’d like to add one more step into. If I could, because if I heard you correctly, you began that story about the water heater by saying that you’d already had a big day. You said that you were already feeling overwhelmed at work, and the water heater goes. What I would like to inject there is the extremely important and significant piece of being able to recognize my starting spot is overwhelmed. The last time I talked about noticing how you’re maybe you just got cut off in traffic and you have an interaction with a customer, that wouldn’t have been difficult if you’re starting spot was more neutral. Your starting spot was stressed out because you’ve been cut off in traffic on the way to the store.
A lot of the decisions that you might make about your water heater, it’s important before you even get into the “and then what” to be able to stop, breathe and connect with ourselves and notice right now that I’ve gotten this information about the water heater, my starting spot is overwhelmed. I may not have the greatest amount of wisdom right now to be able to answer this problem. How can I help myself right now so that I can wait to answer how to handle the water heater even for a minute if I have to? How many people make rash decisions about how the “and then what” because they don’t recognize that their starting spot is that they’re hungry. Their blood sugar’s gone. They’re already upset about something. They are already sad. Sometimes a water heater becomes an opportunistic moment to upgrade to a $5,000 water heater that you don’t notice.
In fact, an interesting parallel or example to that is around death. When you go in to try to choose what coffin, your starting spot is not a level playing field because you’re in overwhelm, you’re in grief and maybe you’ll buy a coffin that you shouldn’t buy for somebody. That might sound like a weird thing to say. I’m saying that this is all part of our lives. We’re trying to notice how can I bring wisdom into every moment so that I know maybe I can’t make that decision right now of a water heater or maybe I make a smaller decision right now and know that I need to wait until I recalibrate before I make a bigger decision. I don’t know if that’s too outrageous.
You answered something that has always bothered me. I’m sitting here talking to you, you’re sitting here talking to me and, either one of us is a phone call away from sitting in that guy’s office. Not ever having to do it, I’ve always wondered how you’re supposed to even function, let alone make major decisions. That’s about a funeral. When you talk about major life decisions that are going to affect your next ten or twenty years, you’re right. Let’s take a look. I wrote down, what is my starting spot? As a supervisor or a person that’s worked with other people for years, it’s easy for me to recognize in my co-workers or when people would work for me, “She’s in a bad spot now,” especially if she’s given me any hints. Maybe she fought with her husband or I know she hasn’t gotten a break or I know what the last customer yelled at her. It’s always been difficult to recognize in me because we tried to put up this wall that I’m not affected.
You said something about most of us don’t like to feel emotions. Probably what you mean is most of us don’t like to feel negative emotions because I would say most people probably enjoy joy or they enjoy happiness. They do want to feel joy. They do want to feel pleasure. They do want to feel happiness. They don’t want to feel anxiety. They don’t want to feel depression. They don’t want to feel shame or discouragement or those kinds of emotions. Is that what you meant when you said people don’t want to feel their emotions, they don’t want to feel negative emotions?
I think so. I also think that we don’t want to feel out of control.
The key here is we don’t want to, but we don’t have an option. “I noticed I didn’t want to feel my emotions.” “Oh,” says your emotions, “Why didn’t you just tell us? Don’t worry, we won’t visit you anymore.” “Thanks. Bye.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. We have a thought. It doesn’t matter whether you recognize it or not, you said it. You have a thought the water heater is broken or I have to have a difficult conversation with my teenager later or whatever it is, we have thought. What we may not notice or want to acknowledge is like it or not, that thought is accompanied by an emotion. Part of what we need to do for our own mental health and well-being is to find a way to turn back to recognize the emotional charge that’s accompanying the thought, whether you want it or not. There’s much research around what happens when we can acknowledge the emotion that’s here, which for some we don’t have a lot of emotional literacy. It’s difficult. Me and my emotion, I don’t know. It’s something. It’s going to take a little bit to even feel, “What am I feeling right now?”
We’d like to suggest to people that they label their emotional awareness with one word: anxiety, joy, sadness, anger or whatever. Just one word because we’re trying not to say I am angry, I am anxious, but notice that is the emotion that’s here right now. Whether you want to have emotions is if you want to have mastery in your life. The topic is, “My job is killing me.” One of the things we need to do is be able to notice what thoughts are here, what emotional tinges do these thoughts have? It’s noticing the ability to recognize what emotions are here. The evidence from science when they hook people’s brains up to functional MRIs is that ability to recognize emotion is what causes that center of the brain to calm down. When you don’t recognize the emotion, it gets bigger until it gets your attention. We want to look at emotions as being in motion. You do need to let yourself know, “What thoughts are here? I don’t have to tell anybody what emotional charge is fueling this thought.”
Even if you think of emotions as the gasoline, it doesn’t matter whether you want to have your emotions, they’re the gasoline that is fueling the thought. It behooves you to know what is it that’s motivating my next action here? The thought and the emotion are going to be a direct connection to your behavior. What happens next? That’s what we’re saying, the “what next, and then what?” First I have to notice, “This is me in my private head.” When you said that to me about that prescription being wrong, I felt angry and resentful. Instead of getting into a big story about that, I’m going to let myself notice that’s what gasoline-fueled this thought. I’m going to let myself feel it. I’m going to notice it in my body. Interesting. I recognized I was feeling resentful about your comment. I could feel my heart tighten. I could feel the blood flow stop in my feet and hands. I could feel a tight band around my head. My jaw tightened. The stop, breathe, connect practice is saying you don’t have to like it, but if you can stop, breathe and tune in to what just got activated, that is how we begin to bring how we calm our nervous systems down. We bring ourselves back to a level playing field so that we can proceed with a more carefully crafted, “and then what?” It’s one that’s born out of brilliance rather than a childish tendency to seek revenge or hide under the porch.
One of the things that are important that we underscore here is that it’s one thing if we’re talking about isolated incidences. The other thing that’s critical though and that what is going on in most people’s lives is that this is a chronic problem for them. The more you’re operating out of sync, not only are their emotional consequences, but there are a ton of physiological consequences. I wanted to underscore at this point, Successful Thinkers, that this is important because of this ability to stop, breathe, and connect affects everything about your health and everything about your life.Trauma pulls us into the past and we lose our footing in the present. Click To Tweet
Corey, if you’re willing, I would love to lay out a few other suggestions that I might have for people who may be reading and feeling crushed by their jobs. I do have a few suggestions that might be worthwhile for them to investigate.
If you would, please share those with us.
I’d like to suggest that sometimes it’s easier for us to see other people. We can recognize when other people are having a bad day or how other people feel about things or what their emotions are. Sometimes it’s very difficult for us to notice how we feel. I might suggest that you take a moment to even start since we’re on the topic, “My job is killing me,” to notice what your starting spot is. I ask you to close your eyes right now. I’d like you to take a moment and notice when I ask you to picture yourself in your job doing your job right now. Picture some random moment in your day. Take a few breaths to settle yourself and see if you can picture yourself. Can you notice what thoughts come up when you see yourself in your day? Are you smiling? Are you holding your breath? Are you watching the clock? Are you engaged? Are you deadened? Are you miserable? I’d like you to be honest. Nobody has to know this, but we’re trying to garner what your starting spot is. What emotions do you notice accompanying this thought or image? Are they’re like joy, rage or boredom or anxiety? We’re trying to get the territory here. Could you check in with your body right now in this little visualization and notice if anything is suddenly tight? Check with your jaw or notice if your shoulders are up or you’re breathing.
I want you to start by recognizing how we feel when we think about being in our jobs. One of the things I find is challenging is that we believe that some jobs are better than others. Whose mother does not want them to grow up to be a doctor or maybe a pharmacist? Whereas if you’re a ditch digger or if you clean houses, that’s not a good job. I told you, Corey, that when I see people in my work, it’s often after they’ve already grabbed the brass ring. I usually see the people who are at the top of their game, they’ve already come through tremendous success, money, esteem, great job life. They come to see me because, “When they wake up in the morning, they don’t feel the way they think they should.” It’s not a given that having an amazing job is going to be a key to not feeling your job is killing you. First, we want to recognize that maybe we harbor a fairy tale that tells us, “If only I had a better job, everything would be better.” There’s a saying, “Wherever we go, there we are.” We take ourselves with us. Corey, can you just give some idea from your standpoint? What are some of the situations that you think cause people to feel that their jobs are killing them?
First and foremost is that a lot of people don’t take the time to recognize “Am I in control here?” Most people feel like they’re victimized in some way with too much responsibility and not enough authority. “The boss makes all the decisions. No matter what I try to do, the employees are upset.” A lot of it is that we tell ourselves a lot of stories. You came up with a great one. “My job sucks,” you hear people say. Does it or are you doing it in a way that makes it suck for you? The big one is that people get very stressed out when they have to implement something that wasn’t their idea. Ultimately that’s when we feel powerless. Part of it is that people had this idea going into their job and you’re hearing them say things like, “This is not what I signed up for,” even though they had no idea what it was they signed up for.
That’s why I said that my feeling. If we can start with inner alignment, one of the things that can happen, and this is key, is we’re signing up to stay in close touch with our own internal values and integrity. That’s what we signed up for. It’s going to look like a million different things. In the list of the things that have jobs I’ve done, I have cleaned many a toilet in my day, washed many a dish, waitressed, done excruciatingly painful telephone sales and point of purchase. I’ve been producers of citywide festivals. I’ve been live on air, on radio and television. I’ve done all kinds of things. Every one of those things brings stress and every one of those things potentially has joy components in it. Part of what we’re trying to notice is what you alluded to earlier, that it is our attitude. Sometimes when we feel that our jobs are killing us, it’s because we have tuned into some fantasy that doesn’t exist. Whether you’re under someone’s thumb, you think or whether you’re the boss. Corey, didn’t you say you’re a supervisor? Are you saying that when you’re in the supervisory mode, it’s super peaceful? There’s no problem because suddenly you’re in control.
That’s the interesting problem that we wanted to tell ourselves. I’m in control, but my people won’t do what I say. I’m not really in control.
You’re not in control. Plus suddenly, even if you’re the same guy who yesterday was eating his tuna fish sandwich and laughing it up with the other people, the next day, if you’re the boss, suddenly why does everybody hate your guts? It’s not that simple to say, “I dreamed someday of being the boss and everything will be wonderful,” because of how we’re so caught up in our stories about who we are and what makes us happy. The minute somebody gets ahead of us, we might feel, “Yesterday you were my friend, but now I hate you.” Here are some of the suggestions that I have because part of why I want to lay it out like that is to say, as you alluded to, Corey, many of us feel victimized in our lives. The problem with that is there’s nowhere to go. If your attitude is that you are a victim of your life, I’m so sorry to say this to you and it hurts me to say it, but you will be a victim of your life. If your attitude is that you have decided you need a job because you have things that you want to pay for in your life and you recognize that there is a bartering of time to get these this thing called money, instead of feeling identified with your job, everything you are in your job and you can begin to put boundaries around your job.
If this is the situation you need to enter it with, you can say, “My job is a place that I can go to get the money that I need to help me live my life and do everything else I want to do.” When I wad in the pulp and paper mill to pay my way through university, I would take a fire hose and go into a crazy, gigantic, scary dark boiler. I had to clean the scum off the inside of a giant boiler. I had to chop a tree off that was coming through in this giant blast furnace that had a huge mill. I had to dig ditches. I did so much manual labor during those years that I worked in the pulp and paper mill, but it paid my way through university. I was able to say to myself, “This is a horrible way to spend my summer, but I paid my own way through university.” We’re trying to notice that’s where we can be in control as our awareness that we are paying our way through life and taking care of stuff. That’s one thing. It’s a change of attitude, recognizing I’m not my job, I have a job and I can barter my time, energy and effort in exchange for money to do the things I want to do.
That to me changes some of the weightiness of identifying with the job. The next thing I would suggest is how important preparation is. For anybody here who was in the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts, being prepared was the first thing that I learned. I don’t know if you have Brownies in America, but the Brownies were before the Girl Scouts. Be prepared. One of the ways that you could prepare for a difficult situation, a job, even a social situation that’s difficult, but we’re talking about job life, is something that comes from cognitive behavior therap. It’s called nourishing and depleting a calendar. It’s what you would do. Part of this is related to the preparation that you could do. Let’s say you know, Corey, that tomorrow is going to be a crazy day. Maybe you know that Tuesdays or Fridays in the pharmacy are a zoo. You might even have a lot of historical evidence that tells you, “I know this is the case,” so in which case you could begin to bring wisdom in by preparing.Thoughts are accompanied by emotions. Click To Tweet
This nourishing and depleting list, the intention here is you would take a list, put two columns down, a very wide column and a very narrow one. In the very wide column, list all of the things and people that you encounter in your regular day or weekend. We could include things like having to do compounding, the people that you meet, meetings you have to go to. Maybe it’s going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, getting up, having a coffee, talking to Grandpa, playing with the dog, walking to your car for your commute, having lunch, having dinner, making dinner. We’re talking about writing down the list of everything and the people that you encounter as many things as you can remember from the second you wake up until the second you go to sleep. In your second narrow list, you want to write, put beside it an N, a D or a zero. Don’t think about it too much, just see what pops up. You’re wanting to put an N if that activity or person is experienced by you as nourishing, you want to put a D if you experienced that person or activity as depleting, and maybe zero if you just consider it neutral.
You go through, put everything in. One of the things that you might discover if you do this is that not everything is only depleting or only nourishing or only neutral. You might discover number one, that they can be context-dependent. When I’m tired, having a long conversation with somebody is really depleting. When I’ve well slept, I feel good, it’s the weekend and somebody I like, it’s nourishing. If I go on Facebook and I’m on it for a couple of minutes, I feel connected to my friends and it’s nourishing. If I go on Facebook and I fall down the rabbit hole and I’m there for hours and I ended up with what I called RABLO, which is Resentment At Being Left Out, so maybe I’m experiencing RABLO like, “I believe all those people are doing these things and they didn’t invite me,” or you just noticed that you wasted hours and hours and got nothing done. A little bit of Facebook time might be nourishing. A lot of Facebook time might be depleting.
First of all, we want to start with recognition. What am I noticing about the components of my day and how am I experiencing them? This is in the preparation phase because the next thing that you can do is recognize which things you’ve listed as nourishing and ask yourself on a day when I need extra help or when I feel especially crushed, how might I be able to increase the number of nourishing things in my day? First, you had to identify what they were and maybe you noticed the days that I make my own lunch, rather than go and get takeout, I feel better. I liked the fact it didn’t cost me as much. I like what I made for myself. It gives me a little bit of a boost.
I noticed the days that I bring my own coffee, I feel better. I noticed the days when I go for a little walk for a minute at my lunch break, I feel a little bit more nourished. We’re trying to identify and prepare. The first thing is that nourishing and depleting list, which is a way to take a snapshot of how things are impacting us, even if it’s changing depending on the context. The first thing you can do if you feel your job is killing you is to prepare by noticing how you can increase nourishing things. Some of them won’t be in your control and how you can decrease the depleting things. Again, some of them won’t be in your control, but some of them like spending too much time on social media could be in your control.
The next thing I would say is for those people who feel defined in a negative way by their job. Corey, both you and your wife, Tanya, because I’ve talked to you and her, I know that both of you have work lives. You then both have completely huge other lives outside of your work lives. You have The Successful Thinker podcast, Tonya has Healthy Habits Girl. What that says to me is that you decided not to be defined by the boundaries of your job and recognize that you could put some containment around that. Let yourself begin to explore other passions, which allow you to ignite in other areas of your life so that you don’t only feel that you’re defined by your job. Is that true?
It’s absolutely true. The thing that I was thinking about when you were talking originally about how we talk to ourselves about our job was that we have a unique problem, in America at least, and probably all over the world, where we place importance on jobs that make me scratch my head. We pay the professional golfer $1.3 million to win a tournament when the guy who can pump my septic when it backs up is the most important guy in the world. I was thinking about Walt Disney and how it was important to Walt Disney that when you went to his park, the hydrants were painted, clean and fresh, and the streets were clean and picked up, and so forth. Those jobs may not seem glamorous to the person who is doing them at the time, but you’re building a little girl’s dream. In The Successful Thinker book, we call that the law of the story.
It simply says if you want a better life, you got to tell yourself a better story. The second part where you were talking about preparation, I love how you talked about preparing that physical environment around you. As a pharmacist, I would get by days and days on Diet Coke and M&M’s. When I wasn’t young enough to pull that off, that’s what I learned I had to change. What The Successful Thinker does for me and what Healthy Habits Girl does for Tanya, and what I want the readers to understand is what it does. It negates that erosion of confidence that happens when we feel victimized, when we feel beat up at work. What it does for me is it says, “My job is not me. My job is what I do, but it’s who I become that defines how my internal organs operate.” That’s the way I look at it.
We’ve looked at the notion of being how we define ourselves by the job and how that can be part of why we feel our job is killing us or we’re not preparing enough for a difficult day. That might be part of why we feel the job is killing us. Sometimes, as you alluded to earlier about getting a nasty email or maybe just feeling like if you’re an accountant, maybe it’s tax time and you’re on overwhelm all the time or maybe if you work in the financial industry. I know several young people who are making fantastic money, it’s ridiculous the amount of money they’re working, but they use the word crushed. “I’m crushed.” I ask, “How was Ireland?” They said, “I don’t know. They had me working 22 hours a day.” Some of us find ourselves in situations where we’ve grabbed the brass ring. We’re making tons of money. All of those things are happening, but now we’re facing overwhelm. You and I were both in agreement that we were not trying to be glib. We’re trying to look deeply at the real situations people find themselves in, rather than just say, “Turn that frown upside down. Job done.”
Let’s say in a situation I described where you’re doing very well, but you’re on overwhelm. That’s a situation where you can employ that stop, breathe, connect practice regularly, even setting the alarm on your phone as an example. Every hour if you could take a moment to stop, breathe and connect, what that does is it interrupts the tendency for things to build like a snowball. It interrupts the snowballing where many people feel they can’t sleep at night because everything has snowballed throughout the day. They haven’t been releasing things throughout the day. You’re lying in bed at the end of an overwhelming day. You’re buzzing on every level. You’re wondering, why can’t I sleep? It was because every single part of you has been overtaxed. It was very important.
You could treat yourself as a car or think of yourself as a piece of machinery from the standpoint and put an alarm on your phone and every hour or every however much you can, it takes only seconds to stop, take a breath, even if that’s all you have time for. Check in with yourself. Connect with yourself. Check-in may be with your own values and notice, “What do I need right now? Do I need a glass of water? Do I need to get up and go to the bathroom? Do I need to stretch for just a moment?” We’re talking about a one-minute check-in or one-minute interrupt of the overwhelm that can be a way also to deal with this experience that your job is trying to show you. The next thing I’d like to identify that many people have challenges with would be they can’t stand their colleagues.Wherever we go, there we are. Click To Tweet
There was a line in Fiddler on the Roof. “May God bless and keep the Czar far away from us.” Some of us might feel that way about our colleagues. May God bless and keep you as far away from me as possible. Sometimes our challenge is colleagues that we work next to, in the next cubicle, they stand next to us, they’re loud, to us we experience them as loud or we experience them as having a style that we don’t like. Maybe they’re rude to us, maybe they’re disrespectful. Part of what you can do in a situation like this is a compassion practice. Compassion practice is being able to look at somebody and yourself. Let’s say we’re talking about a boss or any person that you find yourself with. It could be a person who stinks on the commute. Who knows? If you could, try to find a way, remember that they’re suggestions on how you can help make yourself feel less overwhelmed, less stressed.
This isn’t about why should I. These are antidotes to overwhelm. The antidote to a colleague or colleagues that you think you hate, have that attitude, is to look more deeply into the eyes with your mind’s eye at that person. Begin to allow yourself the honest recognition that you have no idea what’s going on with that person. You have no idea what miseries they might be going through right now. You don’t know whether they might have a diagnosis of cancer or someone they love is dying, or whether they were raised by an alcoholic. Whether they have a substance abuse problem, or whether they have a child that has a substance abuse problem. Whether they were not raised in a way to have high self-esteem, or whether they were taught to believe that only when you hold other people accountable in a firm way, are you doing right by yourself. We don’t know where that person’s starting spot is.
Especially when we feel exhausted and overwhelmed anyhow, we tend to take things personally. When somebody says something because maybe they say, “You…” we take that. It’s becomes very sticky. We go, “Me. You’re talking about the me.” Instead what we want to be able to do is unhook from personalizing our colleagues’ attitudes and what they’re projecting onto us and instead turn towards them with an open heart. Even if you think, “Why should I?” Why? For you, for your well-being. You can turn to them and first of all let go of some of the fight, flight, freeze you’re experiencing by saying, “I don’t know what’s going on in your mind.”
You don’t have to say this to them out loud. “I don’t know what’s up with you. My heart feels compassion because whatever you’ve got going on, it can’t be pleasant for you to be that way.” All you got to do is think about how you feel when you’re hostile, how you feel when you’re aggressive. It might give you a little sugar high. I know this as a psychotherapist because I talk to people all the time, it doesn’t make people happy. It might give them an initial feeling of power, but generally speaking, it doesn’t nourish relationships. It doesn’t cause people to like them. It doesn’t bring them joy. They find themselves in a very unhappy situation. There’s no reason for us not to feel compassion. By doing so, we can also free ourselves from taking the burden on that person’s poison. We don’t want to poison ourselves with it and we don’t want to further poison them. We want to try to find a way to decrease suffering for all beings. That’s where happiness comes from.
We want to wish everyone well. We want to hold in our heart the thought, “Peace be to you.” Peace be to you. Whoever you are, you’ve got a gun holding it in my face. I know this sounds bizarre, but my attitude is I wish you peace because if I can come to a place where I wish you peace, probably you will calm down, the other person will calm down a bit. I suggested to you, Corey, that you think about the notion of breathing for other people. You can experiment with this. Take a moment with somebody difficult and if you’re courageous, take a leap of faith and breathe them in, actively breathe in their suffering. You can probably smell it, feel it, taste it, but your attitude is that as you breathe in, you’re like a purification plant. You’re not breathing in and taking these to yourself. You’re breathing all of the sufferings in and as you breathe it in, it’s actually transforming inside of you in your breath. You’re breathing out a blessing or kindness or gentleness to that person and to yourself. “I can take in all of this poison. I can transmute it. I can send it out as an essence of beauty and kindness.” Why would we do this? Why might we do this when we feel aggressed? It makes us free. It frees us from feeling tyrannized by what we otherwise feel is someone’s power over us. Does that resonate, Corey?
It’s valuable because I had a lady, a nurse, coming onto our shift. She didn’t seem like herself. I asked her what was going on with her and she said, “I have to call social services on my own daughter to protect my granddaughter.” Here she’s got to do her shift with that on her. As a pharmacist, I’ve serviced millions and millions of people. There are people that other people think to have it all together. They’re fighting stuff or their spouse is fighting stuff or their son or daughter are fighting stuff that you couldn’t even imagine on your worst day. I want to honor you, Elaine, for bringing that to our attention. The last thing that I was thinking about as you are describing this was I do two fellows when I worked at Walmart. One of them was the nicest, most jovial. He was a co-worker. He was the happiest guy you’ve ever met. His brother was a customer and his brother was nasty. People were afraid to wait on him. I got along with him okay. The other people couldn’t understand why he was always so angry. One of them went to the brother that we worked with it and asked him, “What’s the matter with your brother?” He said this, and I thought this was very pointed. He said, “Something happened when we were kids. He won’t talk about it, but whatever it was that happened made him this way. He’s almost 70 now.” The point being, everybody has got a monkey and some people’s monkeys, we wouldn’t want to trade for it all.
We would never have a clue. We don’t think to ourselves, “I bet you were beaten as a child. I bet your husband or wife disrespects you. I bet you don’t have to worry about your Visa bills.” We don’t know. I have a friend, when I said to her, “I look in your eyes and all I see as fierceness,” and she said to me, “I want to tell you something. People tell me that all the time. What you’re not realizing is what you’re seeing is pain. I had a car accident 30 years ago. It almost killed me. I shouldn’t be alive. I am in deep pain every day of my life. I cannot take any painkillers because my liver was destroyed in the accident. I have to live with profound chronic pain every second of my life.” This woman has a PhD. She’s done incredible things. She is one of the most astonishing people I know. Until she told me that, how did I know that she was in chronic pain all the time? I just assumed. I projected my story onto her.
Try to notice that we’re all projecting stories onto each other all the time. If I feel I’m a victim, my story on you is that you’re a horrible person. If I feel like I’m a perpetrator, maybe my story is I’m a shameful person. The reality is we’re all in this together. We’re all everything. What did it say in the Bible? “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” We’re not talking about sin here, but we are talking about the reality that all of us have a story that has some impressive things and some not so impressive things. Can we try to find a way to go through our lives a bit more gently? The final thing that I wanted to say about all of this is we may not have the luxury. You might go to hear a talk where some inspirational speaker says, “Get off your butt, quit your job, and just go out and find your blessing.” You might think, “I’m going to do that.”
A lot of us don’t have that luxury. Maybe there are children involved. Maybe you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe you find yourself in a situation where you’re being discriminated against in many levels. We may not have the luxury of doing anything but keep your head down and trying to find your way through moment by moment. However, you may not realize that you’re being letting fear cause laziness. You may find yourself in a situation like your wife’s story, Tanya, about where she was at and had to turn towards her life and decide she wanted to become a nurse. The amount of work that she had to do, when you listen to Tanya’s podcast about how much effort and energy she put into it, she did not allow herself to be a victim.
She had to still come up. She had a job and she was in school. She had these assignments that felt way beyond her based on what she said in the podcast, but she did it. It’s so important for us to remember that if you have the wherewithal, if you do, once you’ve decided that you can live in alignment with yourself, once you start to try to notice what is it you want to do, you have to accept that it will take a tremendous amount of effort and energy to change your life. If you can galvanize that effort and energy, you’re living in alignment with yourself. When we talk about the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of happiness is our ability to live in alignment with ourselves, bring whatever energy and effort we have to bear, not get stopped by fear, not let fear inform our laziness and tell ourselves, “I’m not dead yet.”We feel powerless when we implement things that are not our ideas. Click To Tweet
My father is about to turn 90. He had his first book published. It’s not self-published. He found a publisher. He was a lawyer. He had had this fantasy. He liked fairy tales and stories. He said, “I want to write a book on legal opinions on fairy tales.” If I was the judge, how would I have said, “Your house was made of straw and it was burnt down.” He wanted to do legal opinions on fairy tales and somebody thought that was a hilarious idea. We’ll publish his book. It took a lot of effort and energy for my dad to write that book. It took a while. The point is, if we want to make changes to our lives, when you use the word control, the control that we have is the control of our willingness to galvanize our energy, our heart, our mind, and not let passively sitting in front of the TV or social media steal whatever tiny bit of energy we have.
We want to pick ourselves up and get ourselves to the gym, get ourselves to a course. Pick up the pen. Whatever it is, tell yourself you only have so many seconds on planet earth. Your job life is one piece of that. How do you want to show up before you’re dead? What I’d want to say to people is stay close to your heart, stay close to your integrity and your values. Nourish yourselves in the ways that you can. Diminish the depleting things as much as you’re able and let go of this idea that you’re a victim. You are free to live on open-hearted life with awareness and presence. When you live from that place, I would love to hear from you as you tell me how this has transformed your life. Let go of your concept that your job is killing you and find a way to scan for joy and be alive wherever you can.
That was so well said because what Elaine is talking about is how do you build a bridge from where you are to where you want to be? Every single person who’s ever been successful at anything has had to face odds and failures that were devastating that somehow someway found a way to keep moving through that. I was watching a Netflix special with Brene Brown talking and she said, “It’s not whether you will fail. It’s when you fail, will you keep going?” Elaine, this has been the most amazing interview. I appreciate your sharing your wisdom, expertise and life experience with The Successful Thinkers out there. You’re always welcome to reach out to me on The Successful Thinker website for the practical how-to. “This all sounds wonderful, but how do I get started?” Elaine and I are both here for you. Reach out to us. If you found value in this episode, I would appreciate it if you would consider stopping over to iTunes and subscribing to The Successful Thinker, rating and reviewing so that we can help other people who feel their jobs are killing them. Until next time, I want to appreciate you for struggling as hard and as far as you’ve come. Remember, you’re better than a struggle. Elaine is right in that you can be an alignment, total alignment with the person that you are. No matter what you do, I believe in you. Thank you. God bless.
Thanks so much, Corey.
Thank you, Elaine.
- Elaine Smookler
- The Successful Thinker
- Healthy Habits Girl
- The Successful Thinker – iTunes
- Healthy Habits Girl
About Elaine Smookler
Elaine Smookler is a registered psychotherapist and corporate trainer who works with individuals and organizations to help increase wellness and wellbeing.
Prior to becoming a psychotherapist, Elaine produced hundreds of live large-scale public events, worked in retail, in phone sales, in marketing and publicity and wielded a chain saw in a pulp and paper mill.
She’s done work for hospitals, been a consultant to universities and government granting agencies, she has been a caterer, a secretary, a waitress, a professional actor, a writer, a comedian, and taught mindfulness at University of Toronto medical school. In other words, she’s had a lot of jobs, cleaned a lot of toilets and slung hash with the best and worst of them