Suffering for the sake of suffering is a fool’s choice.
And I had been a fool lately.
I’d had some tough workdays. The kind of days that make you doubt the path you are on. The ones that cast a pretty big cloud and bleed over outside of work.
I was letting them spill over into the most sacred and scarce moments of my day – time spent with my family or time spent engaged in regenerative activities such as sleep, exercise and play.
One minute I’d be watching my daughters do something silly and the next I found my mind drifting back towards work.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night and work would pop into my head and shine like a blinding neon light, kissing any chance I had of going back to sleep goodbye.
Or I’d be at the gym in the early morning, I’d remember something about work and start worrying about the day and lose focus on my workout.
I would let myself suffer in advance or relive a difficult day outside the boundaries it existed rather than being present in the moment.
I would get irritated. My patience became nonexistent. Every little thing would rub me wrong and I’d get dramatically mad and curse the gods for being drunk on ambrosia.
I was allowing these bad days to encroach on the best parts of my day.
I needed to figure out how to free myself from this hostage situation.
Philosophy Meets Application
Over the past year and a half, I’ve been working with a fitness and nutrition coach. One of the things we always talk about is the discipline of controlling what you can control.
- Control the number of calories you consume.
- Control for your macronutrients.
- Control for hours of sleep.
- Control for your daily movement or exercise.
- Control for doing the minimum effective dose.
- Control your emotions and assess results objectively.
- Focus on the key inputs that drive results and do your best to execute on those, ignore everything else.
This focused mindset has yielded impressive results in my fitness and nutrition.
I wondered…could the same principle apply to the shadowed mindset I was experiencing from work?
Perhaps I was focusing on the wrong things. Was I trying to control things outside my control?
Upon examiniation, I found that I was trying to control for clients emotions – did they like me or were they upset? I was trying to control for the types of problems I hoped to solve that day but didn’t. I was too attached to expectations about how the day should go.
Instead of focusing on the things within my control – was I showing up and contributing to the best of my abilities, did I help my team grow, was I setting the right leadership example – I was focused on the wrong things.
When I realized this, I recalibrated my internal score keeper to focus only on what I could control. Once this shift in mindset occurred, I noticed a couple things that hadn’t been clear to me before.
When I didn’t maintain clear boundaries that helped me live in the present (like being intentional to not check work email after hours), that lack of discipline shifted my focus to things outside my control.
The mornings I woke up and dove straight into the maddening world of social media or the infinite news cycle, my focus would shift to a mindset of comparison or outrage. I was starting the day at a mental deficit. Goodbye self-esteem and empathy.
Over the next couple of weeks, I found that controlling for what I could control didn’t eliminate bad days. Rather it helped me quickly assess if I was focused on the wrong things.
Once I noticed it, I could refocus and start again.
The discipline is in learning to ignore the outcome of the day, which can be as predictable as a spider monkey that’s just chugged a Four Loko.
Instead, it meant focusing on the critical few things within my control.
I found that I got to decide what the day meant by what I focused on.