On taking my own advice...

Post date: 30-Oct-2011 20:57:17

“Physician heal thyself” is a phrase that is occasionally (or more than occasionally) uttered to me in a somewhat accusatory tone as I struggle unsuccessfully with many of the same challenges that I have built a strong reputation for helping others manage with ease!

It is undoubtedly true that it is easier to bring objectivity and perspective to someone else’s life, and therefore to help them to see where they need to be clearer in holding boundaries and saying no, where they need to focus on a little more self-care and stress management, where they need to make time for reflection in order to gain perspective and understand what needs to happen next.

Doing it for yourself, however, can be a very different matter. Late in the afternoon of the Friday of a really hectic week, I suddenly became aware that I was falling into a very familiar trap. It involved a lethal cocktail of neck tension, building to a potentially blistering headache, an internal monologue focused on the very unsatisfactory interaction I’d had with a colleague late that afternoon which would result in my having to do additional work the next week as well as likely having to confront an underlying issue in a more disciplinarian way than is my natural comfort zone as a manager. And running alongside all this was a relentless track about how bone-tired I really was, how I’m coming down with a cold, how it’s hardly surprising the week I’ve had...and this track was accompanied by a totally invidious sense of justifiable self-pity.

The miracle is that I got enough perspective to spot the pattern at all! These of course are the very moments for which the Tool Kit is provided and, ironically, the moments when we are most likely to abandon it!

On this occasion I salvaged just enough objectivity to quiet my chattering track and give myself a bit of a talking to which went along the lines of - Yes, you’ve had a really busy week. Much of that was your choice. Even that which wasn’t is now past so it’s beyond your control. Yes, you have a mess to deal with next week but don’t you always tell other people that the solution is there, even if you don’t currently see it, and anyway, dwelling on the problem will only magnify it and block you from finding the solution while simultaneously ruining your weekend. Yes, you may be tired, tense and on the verge of a headache, the choice now is whether you want to indulge that and spend your weekend suffering a headache as a badge of honour for how hard you’ve worked all week and how much you deserve sympathy and pampering, or you can take control of the situation and reduce (or hopefully remove) the chance of getting the headache in the first place.

Having made that mental breakthrough, I then applied the relevant tools in the time available by:

(a) choosing not to swim my 800m while the kids had their lessons but rather to sit on the bank for 40 min and thereby create time to take care of myself

(b) once sitting in the viewing gallery, I used the simple neck release technique, that I teach so often to others, to find and release some of that pent up tension which was threatening to creep up into my head

(c ) I sent one carefully worded text message designed to park the brewing conflict effectively until Monday morning when I would be in a better frame of mind to deal with it

(d) spending much of the rest of the session practising the breath of tranquility, focusing on how I would like to enjoy my weekend of leisure and relaxation, and recalling all the things that are currently going well in my life.

I shouldn’t really confess to any surprise that all of the above worked remarkably well to rescue what would otherwise have almost certainly been a lousy Friday evening. I will admit nonetheless that I was pleasantly surprised at just how effective it was and it reinforces my belief that having a range of tools at your fingertips for just such an eventuality is an absolute necessity.

It also helped me to understand that the first and most important tool is an awareness of my own self talk and the ability to recognise when it’s slipping into a negative spiral as well as the courage and self-discipline to intervene at that point rather than to wallow!