They can be powerful, often determining the way we act and think. Are yours preventing you from taking a well-deserved break from the rat race? Challenge your beliefs and enjoy life with some helpful advice from The Little Book of Stress Relief.
How many of you feel comfortable getting up from dinner on a summer evening and going for a walk or a bike ride before you clean up the kitchen and wash the dishes?" This is the question I posed at one of my work-life balance seminars. A few liberated souls put up their hands, but most people felt uncomfortable with the idea. (A few even shuddered at the notion.) We then explored the thinking behind this reluctance. We discovered it was based on a series of beliefs they held about work and leisure -- the most basic of which was "work should come before pleasure." As we probed deeper, someone blurted out, "My house has to be clean before I can enjoy myself." As soon as she said it, she registered a look of surprise at her own discovery. This message had been in her mind (and guiding her behaviour) for years without her ever being aware of it until that moment.
Notice the certainty with which the remark was made -- like it was some fundamental, unassailable fact of life. This is what makes belief systems so fascinating.
Here's why beliefs are so powerful:
1. Beliefs are premises and assumptions that we hold about how things should be, how people should behave and how the world works.
2. We generally hold our beliefs subconsciously, unaware of them and their power over us. In fact, they're more powerful because they're hidden from view.
3. We hold our beliefs to be "the Truth" -- therefore they become the Truth for us.
4. Beliefs guide and often dictate our behaviour and decisions. They literally run our lives. (And you thought it was your mother, your boss and your homeroom teacher!)
Over the years, I've collected a list of beliefs that oppose balance and leisure. Most of the people who made these claims were surprised to hear themselves stating rules and regulations about how to live that seemed to come out of nowhere:
• You have to meet other people's needs before you meet your own.
• If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
• You have to finish everything every day.
• You should always be busy.
• Leisure is a luxury.
• You have to be all things to all people.
• Sleep is for wimps.
• A woman's work is never done.
• If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right.
• You shouldn't watch TV during the day (even on weekends).
• If you don't work hard and work long hours, you won't get ahead.
• Hard work = money = success.
• Being seen = commitment.
• I don't need breaks.
• Saying No is not acceptable and, therefore, not an option.
• To ask for help is a weakness.
• If your boss is there, you should be there.
• I need to be available 24/7.
• Being a "work martyr" is a badge of honour.
• Do whatever it takes (to deliver, to get ahead, to succeed).
These are real statements from real people. It's no wonder that balance and leisure are in short supply.
Phrases that include "should," "need to," "have to," or "must" are usually beliefs. Generalizations and judgments, such as "People who leave early are slackers," are also beliefs. The problem with beliefs is they often don't serve us very well. To take more control of our lives and create better balance, we need to do three things (oops, that's stated as yet another "belief." How about "I suggest we do three things?"):
1. Identify our beliefs that oppose balance and leisure.
2. Challenge those beliefs. Stop accepting them as the Truth. Hold them up to the light and look at them critically. Beliefs are not the Truth but simply our version of the truth, our opinions about things.
3. Revise the beliefs that are limiting us and replace them with new ones (or expand them to be more inclusive and less rigid).
Here are some examples of more constructive beliefs:
• It's okay, even desirable, to make time for yourself each day.
• Leisure is not a luxury, it's a necessity for good health, energy and workplace productivity.
• There are times when it's okay -- even necessary -- to say No.
• Taking breaks actually improves work performance.
• It's possible to meet my own needs as well as the needs of others. I can do both.
• Other people can do things as well as I can -- sometimes even better (or, at least, well enough).
The woman in my seminar who stated "My house has to be clean before I can enjoy myself" walked away that day with a smile of profound discovery, determined to question and replace the "rules" that were running her life.
Prescription for Change
• This week, start to notice your priorities -- the order in which you do things -- and observe how your belief systems maybe influencing your daily choices.
• Start to ask questions that will reveal your hidden beliefs ("Why am I working long hours?", "Why am I doing house chores when I'd rather be outside?", etc.)
• Try to determine where these beliefs came from or who taught them to you.
• Talk to people whose balance you admire. Find out what beliefs are supporting them.
• Pick one belief to revise or reword so that it supports balance in your life (for example, change "work before pleasure" to "work in addition to pleasure").
Excerpted from The Little Book of Stress Relief by Dr. David Posen (Key Porter Books, 2003).