Is what you’re telling yourself really true?
I’ve yet to walk into an office where everyone isn’t really busy! Busyiness has become one of many well-worn ‘truths’ – a cultural norm that weighs us down and holds us back. We rarely think about or question the commonly used phrases that keep our stress levels in the red zone. But beware – these Rat Race Feeders are unconsciously undermining your potential and outlook on life.
Simple comments take off like wildfire and before you know it they are accepted as stress-inducing facts. Here are a few of my favourite Rat Race Feeders, which are guaranteed to keep you running faster and harder on life’s treadmill, no matter what.
- Everything’s a priority (a management favourite!)
- I haven’t got the bandwidth
- It’s out of my/our control
- I’m/we’re so busy/flat out
- My inbox is a ‘sea of red’ (unread emails)
- I’ve got back-to-back meetings all day
- We have to do more with less/work harder
- It’s too early/too late to …
- I’m/he’s/she’s really stressed
- My client/customer/manager is always shifting the goal posts/expecting more
- What work/life balance?
The problem with Rat Race Feeders is the way they often inflict unwarranted limits but few benefits. Before you know it, you too are ‘flat out’, ‘really stressed’ and feeling like you’ve little control over what’s going on around you. What you tell yourself is absolutely true for you in that moment.
Question the ‘truth’
Who says, ‘everything’s a priority’ and what’s that based on? If you had to decide what was most important right now, what would it be? Stepping back to question the reality behind a throw-away statement, will help you realise how baseless it really is and discover new options to take control of any situation.
Greg was putting in long hours at work and struggling to keep his head above water. No matter how hard he worked, new tasks continued to pour into his in-box. He just didn’t have the ‘bandwidth’ to get it all done. He was seeing precious little of his wife and children and when did, was often tired and abrupt.
It seemed like he was buying into the stresses of a high pressured work environment and felt powerless to change it. Besides, Greg didn’t like to say ‘no’ and never wanted to be seen as letting the team down.
You decide the truth
The ‘truth’ came to Greg when he realised he has far more control over his workload than he believed. Setting up his calendar to schedule his work; consciously deciding which meetings he really had to attend and turning automatic email off gave him fast relief and instant control.
Then he set up a meeting to play back the well-worn, stress-inducing phrases his team used often to raise awareness of how they were driving them to work harder but not necessarily smarter. They were surprised and amused, not realising how often they disempowered themselves and each other with throw away lines. Their favourite was “we’re under the pump and really stretched.” (Seriously, what ‘pump’ were they under and what’s actually ‘stretched’?!). The following week they set up a ‘rat race feeder radar’ team challenge to call out and question the validity of their common office cliches.
Within 2 months everyone in Greg’s team reported less stress, higher productivity and more fulfilment from their work. Rather than being ‘too busy’, they now agree the priorities every week and focus on the tasks that will make the biggest difference in the time available. Best of all, Greg’s achieving a lot more and enjoys his family time without worrying about work.
Over the next week, listen out for the unquestioned ‘truths’ used by your colleagues, friends and family. The words may differ slightly but their meaning will be the same. Once you start noticing them, you’ll be amused at how many pop up each day.
What are your favourite Rat Race Feeders?
Which limiting generalisations or hackneyed phrases are lurking around your office or home? Share them below – I’d love to hear your favourites!
© Caroline Cameron 2011: extract from The Great Life Redesign – change how you work, live how you dream and make it happen … TODAY