The Eternal Daily Climb

Posted on September 2, 2019 · Posted in blog, News

Here’s a true story:

A client, a successful executive in a medium-size company, complained in our first of eight biweekly sessions about a level of frustration and anxiety that became like a buzzing swarm of bees in her head. She thought: “I know that I will sit in meetings for far too long, and this means I will not be able to complete my daily tasks at my desk. Then I will get home and will need to apply my mind to my children and to making supper. Then I will try to catch up with work and I will disappoint my husband. Again. Then, the next morning it all starts again.”

We started checking her expectations, laid out her values, what’s important to her. We sometimes call this: unpacking one’s reality.

Here are some crucial elements that we discovered:

– She was very committed to being excellent in everything she did.

– She was a straight-A student throughout her school years and continued to shine at university.

– She was very devoted to her CEO to whom she owed her position (he had been her boss in a previous business).

– She was in a senior position in a very dynamic and competitive business.

– She hated disappointing people – as her core values (supported by assessments we ran) were: being helpful to others, being supportive and caring.

With this powerful package of goods, it’s no wonder she was “failing every day”: She felt like she was not a good enough manager, not a good enough contributor (not as good as she knew she could be, at least), not a good enough mother, and definitely not a good enough wife.

I asked her to describe to me how she felt when she was tackling a task (any task – from compiling a report to cooking dinner, it doesn’t matter which). She was puzzled and finally said: “I will complete it as fast and as best as I can and then I immediately tackle the next one”.

And even before she completed the sentence she fell back on the chair and laughed. “Oh dear. I am Sisyphus, am I not?”

I asked her to expand. She explained: “I can never really relax and feel one thing is done, and take a breath. There’s always another climb, and then I can never reach the peak and rest.”

This is a typical pattern for what you might recognise as “type A” people, high achievers, or simply ambitious people.

When I suggest to a client that one cannot do absolutely everything excellently – I usually get a push back. “I am not lowering my standards!” – which is exactly what she said to me in that particular session.

“Fair enough,” I responded, “But here’s the thing: if you never stop and apply your mind to what has been achieved, to what you did do reasonably well, and take it in, really take it in, you are not allowing yourself a respite. Apart from running the risk of burnout, how effective is your thinking if you do not stop to measure, assess, and celebrate? What message do you send to the people you manage?”

She said, “But I do celebrate their achievements. I know that. I do catch people doing the right thing all the time…”

After a pause, she added: “But I need to get good at doing it for myself. I do not do that. It is as if I would get slack if I start celebrating my own achievements. There is always the underlying wonder of ‘Did I earn it?’”

I did not have to say anything.

We spent the next few sessions assessing and reassessing how to look at what she has achieved each day, how to reframe her outlook away from a Sisyphean never-ending task mindset. Instead, we were trying ways for her to break her various roles into smaller pieces, and learn to stop, celebrate, recalibrate, and then go back to work.

She found that instead of slowing her down, this set of habits actually helped her become more efficient; and be less hard on herself. And she became less frustrated. We also inserted a few rules, like no work after hours at home unless there was a real crisis.

What is your process? Do you celebrate your small achievements?

Some practices which help clients with similar challenges include:

– Ensure that after completion of any task (a meeting ended, a paragraph written, a phone call ended, a meal cooked…any task) you pause and do a breathing exercise. Breath in deeply, centring yourself, and breathe it all out. Then mark to yourself that you have completed that chunk/task. (Why this works?)

– Make a gratitude list at the end of each day. Have a small notebook and a pen next to the bed, and simply write down at least 5 items that you’re happy to have accomplished that day, or that you simply feel grateful for. Yes, you can list the obvious! (I am grateful to have a dry warm bed with an electric blanket is good, too…it’s definitely my absolute first every night in winter). Why this works?

– Try to manage your tasks in a different way. There are different ways to “manage time” (write to us and we will send you specific reading and tips on that). But we found that clients that become better at consciously looking at various areas of their life and setting bigger goals, then working on weekly planners rather than daily, get a much better sense of progress and control. (How can this work?)

Other practices should be fitted for you and your values and reality. Ultimately, the solutions must be aligned with your motivation, values, reality and goals. Coaching is the best way we know to tailor-make solutions for each person’s reality and style.