Is your work nourishing or depleting you?

mind at work

Sree Mitra

November 11, 2023

Author: Dr Steve Hickman

Take a moment in the midst of your ‘crazy’ busy work day to pause, look around, and look inside too. Notice how you feel as you consider your environment, your colleagues, the demands of your job, your overall workload, and your sense of satisfaction. Then make a simple “T chart” with “Nourishing” on one side and “Depleting” on the other side. Every job has some of both, but take a few minutes to think about all the different aspects of your job. Place each item on either side of the chart. Don’t overthink. Some things might fall on both sides of the chart, depending on the situation.

Now take some time to contemplate the chart and your assessment. With some time to reflect, what do you notice?

There may be no escaping the overall demands of your particular job situation or the tasks that need performing. Imagine deciding to get a dog and being happy to play with it, but declining to wake up at 5am to walk the dog and clean up its mess. It just doesn’t work that way! But are there ways that you can bring about a shift to make some of the tasks more pleasant and boost your overall ease and wellbeing at work? Is there a way you can transform a “Depleting” into a “Nourishing” item by shifting your attitude toward it?

Being present for the task at hand

There is research (by Killingsworth and colleagues in the journal Science) that joy and satisfaction comes not from the pleasantness of the tasks you do, but from how present you are for them. Look it up.

If you are putting together a tedious presentation but your mind is wandering to the meeting later on or to the delightful dinner you had last night with your partner, you are likely to be less happy with the task at hand. However, if you can bring your attention to what you are doing in the present, and more importantly why you are doing it, chances are you will find a better appreciation for it. An added bonus is that you are likely to do a more polished job on the presentation too!

Understanding the determining factor

Pay particular attention to the tasks that fall on both sides of your chart. What is the deciding factor as to whether a particular aspect of your job is nourishing or depleting? Sometimes fatigue is the deciding factor and simply shifting to doing that task in the morning when you are fresh, rather than at the end of the day when you’re exhausted and impatient to head home, can make the difference. Or maybe the fatigue factor speaks to focusing on getting better quality sleep at night (see the US Centers for Disease Control recommendations for better sleep hygiene). Other potential factors are overall workload, team camaraderie, the meaning of your work, and feeling safe and supported. Each has its own challenges, and delving into these factors can often be quite helpful in sorting out what you control, what you can change, and what you may need to accept or allow.

Taking control through mindful introspection

For many of us, a large portion of our days is spent at work; in fact, the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. It’s only common sense then, that we find satisfaction and a sense of purpose in what we do at work.

Intentionally stepping back from the day-to-day work schedule to see it from a larger perspective is a means of bringing awareness to your job situation. It helps us get unstuck to identify pain points and areas where we can make subtle but powerful changes in our routines and mindset.

Sometimes becoming more mindful may point us to substantial aspects of our jobs that need to change long-term, and this allows us to “course correct”; the way a ship might do to assure arriving at a desired destination. Staying vigilant to where we have drifted off-course can be the key to fostering greater mental wellbeing.

Practicing mindfulness, formally through meditation or informally through pausing throughout the day, can really make a significant difference in how we approach our job, career, and overall purpose at work.

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