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How to take care of your mind like you’re getting paid for it

We’ve all heard it—Americans work more than the rest of the world.

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According to the U.S. Travel Association report “Overwhelmed America: Why Don’t We Use Our Earned Leave?” four in ten workers don’t use their paid time off in its entirety due to a range of barriers, from not wanting to return to a “mountain of work” to feeling like using all their PTO gives off the impression that they’re not fully dedicated to their jobs. On the contrary, we feel so dedicated to our careers and earning a living that we often place that area of our lives on a pedestal, as if it’s the most important thing in regards to our livelihood. But what if we were to treat our mental well being as if it were as important as our paycheck? What if, instead of waking up and immediately checking our calendars and social feeds, we dedicated the first 10 minutes of our mornings to self-care, may it be through meditation, a morning bath (I strongly recommend this), or a brisk walk around the block? If we treated meditation or any other practice of well being like we do our jobs, we’d gain a wealth of benefits: We’d show up on time for it. Instead of hitting the snooze button when our alarms beep, we’d listen to the rules we’ve set for ourselves and meditate like we’d planned.

We’d celebrate treating ourselves well. Instead of clinking glasses in honor of our big promotion (that came with a hefty salary increase), we’d consider personal accomplishments such as meditating for 30 days straight a valiant win. We’d write down our goals for our mental well being and outline a plan for achieving them. Just like planning a long-term work project with a bunch of moving parts, we’d map out our goals and the supporting tactics needed to achieve them, from waking up 10 minutes earlier a day to dedicating a half hour to creating a peaceful meditation zone. All sounds fine and dandy, hypothetically, right? Who wouldn’t want to commit to more meditation or any other healthful practice? It’s getting started that’s the hard part. And behind every scenario of “getting started” lies the question of how to get motivated. In the TED Talk “The Puzzle of Motivation,” Career Analyst Dan Pink discusses extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. He believes that the business world has been built around extrinsic motivators (think: carrot and stick), but this kind of “if-then approach” no longer works. In fact, Pink isn’t convinced it ever really did. Monetary bonuses for high performance, for instance, aren’t based on scientific evidence. Despite popular belief, bonuses don’t lead to better performance. And that’s because humans aren’t wired that way. Money doesn’t motivate; purpose motivates. In that sense, when we think about how we can better encourage ourselves to pursue wellness practices such as meditation, we should consider the greater purpose, not what we’re going to gain in the end. You don’t apply for a dream job to be able to list it on your résumé—you apply because you feel passionate about the work and want to spend your time doing it.

Donna Sweidan, therapist and founder of career coaching consultancy Careerfolk, gets people “unstuck” from stagnant places in their professional lives. She comments, “Over time, our values change and we can feel a sense of misalignment with our work, industry, or company that once met our needs. It often takes a heightened level of discomfort for people to feel compelled to pursue change whether in terms of health, career, or life in general.” Sweidan believes finding a new job or developing a healthful new habit aren’t that different when it comes to what motivates us to do so. “Both require you to look at intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Recognizing the extrinsic rewards of embarking on something like meditation and how it can positively impact aspects of our lives outside of us such as in relationships can be as strong of a driver as our intrinsic motivators.” Valid point. “In the case of meditation, the internal benefits are inextricably linked to the external benefits,” she adds. To feel more inclined to make a change, Sweidan suggests:

  • Linking the new habit to an activity you’re already doing daily, such as taking vitamins with lunch so you don’t forget
  • Rewarding yourself with positive reinforcements when you’ve done a good job
  • Using the S.M.A.R.T goals strategy. Get specific, start small, and set goals that are measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound

Sweidan also suggests embracing technology for extra oomph. MotivAction is an app that helps users achieve goals through daily reminders that enforce accountability and the Headspace app offers automated notifications as meditation-time reminders. Now, if we could just transfer some of that insatiable work ethic to the work we do on our minds, our bodies, ourselves. Maybe we all just need to give ourselves permission to do so. How about this? You are officially permitted to treat meditation and other personal-development habits with as much rigor and drive as you do your job.

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Despite popular belief, bonuses don’t lead to better performance. Money doesn’t motivate; purpose motivates.

Laura Vrcek

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