Part II: Relaxing Your Mind

The last column you read in this series gave you three keys to gaining work life balance: relaxation, self-care and relationship maintenance. In this column we’re going to start with the hardest of the three topics – relaxation. We all want to know how to relax, but first it’s important to know what to relax.

The most important part of relaxation is calming the mind. Studies show that we have approximately 20,000 thoughts per day, and most of them are the same ones we had yesterday. Even worse, many of our thoughts are about ongoing problems in our lives. How can we relax if we are constantly thinking about our frustrations? The trick is to understand our thinking patterns that keep us from relaxing and do what we can to change them.

This idea is the main premise behind a field of psychology called cognitive therapy. This practice was developed by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck in the 1960’s when he realized that most of his patients were struggling with their perceptions about their lives. It became apparent to Beck that if people were given the right tools, they could re-examine their thinking, and actually begin to change their thoughts, and feel more at ease most of the time.

If you are not sure you can do it, start small and play with the steps you are about to read. You may find some fascinating results.

Step 1: Choose a common thought. Pick just one worry or concern that enters your mind more than three times per day. It may be concerns about your financial situation, your family, or work. Write down the thought precisely. It is not enough to say, “I’m thinking about my mortgage payments.” Instead, try to identify the exact words that come into your mind about the payments. Perhaps you might come up with something like, “I’m headed for financial disaster.”

Step 2: Examine the thought. Ask yourself two questions about this thought. First, what will happen in the worst-case scenario? Second, what can I do to prevent or deal with it?. If you can’t come up with answers, think about the advice you might give to a friend who confided in you he was having the same thought.

Step 3: Make a plan of action. Decide how you are going to deal with this particular problem. You may decide to make an appointment with your accountant to look at changing some of your investments or you may choose to take an online course on managing financial debt. Whatever it is, give yourself a deadline to do it.

Step 4: Re-word the thought. Consider the thought you want to change. Ask yourself to rephrase it with your new plan of action. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m headed for financial disaster,” you might try something like, “I have some major financial concerns right now, and I am taking every step I can to work them out.”

Step 5: Replace the thought. Observe yourself for just one day. Listen in your head for that thought. As soon as you hear it, stop whatever you are doing, and insert the new thought. Say it three or four times in your head, or out loud if you can. Try it again the next day. Make it a habit, and then move one to the next concern.

The practice of changing old thought patterns is labor intensive, but well worth the effort. The only way to happiness is inward, and the first step is with the mind. The next column will teach you how to achieve the second ingredient to work-life balance, self-care.