100% of Overwhelmed in 1% the Time (Book Summary)

In the Middle Ages, the sin of sloth could mean two things: the laziness we picture now and the sense that “There’s no real place I’m going, but by God, I’m making great time getting there.”

It seems we have contradictory information. John Robinson’s studies show people work the same amount of time, or less, as 40 years ago. He believes “Saying, ‘I don’t have time,’ is just another way of saying, ‘I’d rather do something else.'” Meanwhile, a Health Canada report shows more and more experience role overload, leading to mental and physical ails, suggesting “these workloads re not sustainable over the long term.” Any leisure time is scattered and fragmented by multi-tasking.

Busyness serves many purposes, making people feel important with purpose. Many feel guilty for any leisure. But the chronic stress of busyness actually shrinks the prefrontal cortex (while mindfulness grows the prefrontal cortex), which is responsible for our highest cognitive executive functions. It also impairs the immune system, increasing vulnerability to inflammation and a host of ails. And, it can literally alter the DNA in children. How you feel about stress in your life is the best predictor of your general health.

Overwork is also harmful to work performance. Face time for the sake of face time, for instance, impedes creativity and good thinking. When employees have a full personal life, though, they are more engaged, productive, and innovative in their professional life. This is why France, Germany, and the Netherlands established rights to flexible or short work hours. This is why the Dutch government promotes a program that allows parents to work overlapping 4-day weeks so childcare is only needed for three days.

Danish mothers have on average 1.5 hours of child-less leisure time daily – more than any other country studied. They belong to sports clubs, take courses of interest, and build lasting friendships at mothers groups. They tend to value achievement and possessions less – instead prioritizing a good life and finding status in leisure activities. At work, they focus on efficiency. Denmark is one of the most productive countries with one of the highest standard of living, and the smallest gap between rich and poor.

Strategies

The ability to choose what really interests you and follow through on the leisure plans, without letting them become more work, may need to be re-learned. Part of it has to do with developing self-efficacy to put yourself first by (1) doing things you do well to remind yourself you can, (2) finding role models or mentors, and (3) accepting and believing positive feedback. When you worry you’re not enough, you set unrealistic expectations for yourself to try proving that worry wrong, but it backfires because you set yourself up to fall short. The other part is priority. Plan weekly the important stuff in the calendar, including a small chunk of time to complete the unimportant stuff, and everything else will flow around it.

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Healthy Alternatives to Unhealthy Behaviours

There are many reasons I can fall into unhealthy behaviours to soothe stress:

  1. Treat myself with a special reward I really want
  2. Comfort myself, soothing and licking my wounds of discomfort
  3. Escape reality: pressures, disappointments, limitations
  4. Change state of body, get outside and away from discomfort
  5. Recreation and entertainment of routine buying, eating, tasting
  6. Exert sense of freedom and choice, being selfish in my desires
  7. Act in congruence with mood: give up, self-pity, self-punish, wallow
  8. Show others I have a serious problem, externalize the pain, get help
  9. Stay safe with the familiar of what I know and what I can avoid
  10. Taste something delicious, sweet, satisfying, and normal

After reading about Willpower and Habit, I will experiment with other ways to satisfy the habits I aim to replace:

1. Treat myself with a special reward I really want

  • Buy something small like a magazine or home/personal gadget
  • Get a massage from my boyfriend or professionally
  • Get a spa experience like makeup or nails

2. Comfort myself, soothing and licking my wounds in safety

  • Get a new hobby like learning to cook healthy meals
  • Smell candles envisioning my safe place (luxury hotel)
  • Snuggle with my boyfriend and vent, ask for soothing

3. Escape reality: pressures, disappointments, limitations

  • Meditate
  • Yoga
  • Bath

4. Change state of body, get outside and away from discomfort

  • Walk outside
  • Hold ice pack or warm beverage
  • Watch an engaging movie

5. Recreation and entertainment of routine buying, eating, tasting

  • Cleaning routine
  • Go to a movie
  • Play a game

6. Exert sense of freedom and choice, being selfish in my desires

  • Draw or write or sing or dance however I want
  • Buy a day pass and go or do whatever I want
  • Tell my boyfriend exactly how to massage me

7. Act in congruence with mood: give up, self-pity, self-punish, wallow

  • Journal and find a similar movie
  • Listen to music, sing and dance
  • Cry or yell, stomp and kick

8. Show others I have a serious problem, externalize the pain, get help

  • Tell my boyfriend, mom, or close friend by text, phone, or in person
  • Write on my blog or a forum
  • Make an appointment to tell my doctor or therapist

9. Get energy to get through fatigue and draining activities

  • Coffee with fat and flavouring, mindfully, without distraction
  • Take a break from draining activities and rest or sleep
  • Take magnesium/calcium/melatonin to sleep; caffeine to wake

10. Taste something delicious, sweet, satisfying, and normal

  • Bowl of berries and yogurt or nut butter eaten mindfully without distraction
  • Bowl of mango or pineapple with dark chocolate mindfully without distraction
  • Chocolate flavoured protein shake – mindfully, of course, without distraction