Pressed for Time? Stop and Give Yourself a A Treat

Feb 24


Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.

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Why a Break Can Add Hours to Your Day.

Q. "I’m working on a huge project – and it’s hard to keep going. I promise myself rewards: I’ll treat myself to lunch – just as soon as I finish three pages a day,Pressed for Time? Stop and Give Yourself a A Treat Articles five days in a row. And of course each day the project seems bigger and I feel more overwhelmed."A. Your project may be a book, a new business, a dissertation, or a new system. When people keep pounding away, often they start feeling like a child who refused to eat his spinach – and old-fashioned parents who keep serving the same tired vegetable over and over. "You’ll get ice cream after you eat every bite," they threaten.Yuk. That’s how people become junk food junkies who cross the street to avoid the health food store. Applied to deadlines, we get people who call themselves lazy and give up too soon.Karen Pryor, author of Don’t Shoot the Dog (which is about people, not dogs) remembers going through a defiant teenage phase. Her parents didn’t lock her in her room (although they may have been tempted). Instead, they surprised her with an extra set of horseback riding lessons -- her teen passion.Pryor felt her rebellion and anger melt away. And now, as an expert professional trainer, she emphasizes the motivational power of unearned rewards -- an extra-long break or a handful of extra treats, just for fun, every so often.When faced with a dreaded task, do you force yourself to keep working when you’re no longer productive? Or do you keep feeding yourself the same task, over and over, like warmed-over spinach? Stop and enjoy some leisure time.Leisure is not to be confused with crashing on the sofa and watching television. Leisure means engaging in energizing, joyful, stimulating activities. Examples include attending a live cultural or sports event, hiking, doing something creative, or even (you knew this was coming) walking the dog along a new path.Don’t be surprised if you have to force yourself to take even an afternoon off. Achievers often fight the whole idea.Following a layoff, my client Melanie had been researching a career change for what seemed like forever. "I think about it all the time," she said. "I’m constantly on the Internet, looking up new sites, revising my resume, looking at my notes. I feel I can’t afford to take time for fun."When pressed, Melanie admitted she hadn’t accomplished anything useful for the last two weeks. So an afternoon – especially on Saturday–- probably wouldn’t set her back very much. She spent an entire afternoon driving through the countryside, stopping at roadside antique stores (her passion) and enjoying the scenery.Back at work on Monday, she sent me an email: "I had a breakthrough idea – a whole new area to explore." Melanie’s energy crackled through the phone when we talked later that week. I wasn’t surprised when she found a new position a few weeks later.Lessons Learned: When you’ve been working hard with no result, or you’re resisting hard and getting nowhere, time for a treat. If it’s true leisure – think protein instead of sugar candy – you won’t get addicted to a lazy lifestyle. But if you keep forcing yourself, you can get caught up in a never-ending cycle of meaningless activity.

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