A lot of people who meet me can quickly tell that I exhibit many Type A personality traits. I eat and speak very quickly; I like to always keep busy with something; I frequently have a difficult time relaxing – all of these behaviors are typical of the Type A label. Yet, sometimes when I feel like I’m starting to burn myself out, I need a breather. I especially feel this way in the summer – I’ve just finished teaching two evening grad classes during the summer semester and they started immediately after the spring semester ended with little break between. This, in addition to prepping a new fall class, working on a half dozen pieces of research and doing some administrative work for the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, suggests that I need a little rest.
I don’t think that I’m alone with this need for relaxation during this time of year. People have been working on all cylinders for months and summer is the perfect time that people use to take a step back and relax. As noted in a previous blog, I believe work to be a spiritual act but relaxation can also be spiritual. Relaxation can help us find balance, aid in self-reflection, allow for mindfulness and create a sense of calmness that allows for a more peaceful existence. Many major world religions suggest that relaxation through meditation is an important act to find balance as is being purposefully mindful and reflexive (for an excellent discussion of similarities between some of the major world religions with this regard, see Smith 1991). My understanding is that contemplativeness (which suggests mindfulness, introspection and self-reflection) is especially important for Benedictines.
As I noted in a presentation at the 2015 Benedictine Pedagogy Conference, contemplativeness can be difficult in some contexts and for Type A individuals. Yet it is important! Though organizational behaviorists (such as myself) have not, in my opinion and despite personal attempts in my work with SVC’s Benedictine Leadership Studies program, come up with a perfect way of measuring contemplativeness, many agree that extreme stress is related to negative outcomes such as a decrease in physical, emotional and social health. This issue became so apparent to one of my graduate students during a recent internship that she decided to further study the causes and effects of stress in the workplace for her major assignment in my Research Methods class. Regardless of what you label the phenomenon, research suggests that contemplativeness (or mindfulness, reflection, meditation, etc.) can help reduce the negative effects of stress.
But, if you’re like me, creating the space for reflexiveness and relaxation can be difficult. Here are some things that work for me – maybe they could work for others as well:
- Pace yourself. I’m a very schedule-driven person. Any time I have a deadline, I immediately put it on my calendar and add it to a “To-Do” list. I’ve started making multiple lists recently – a long-term list with big picture goals, a mid-term one full of things I’d like to accomplish over the next several months, and a weekly list for things that I’d like to get done over the next few days. With these three lists, I can more clearly see what tasks I need to prioritize when scheduling my time. When I see gaps in my schedule given my tasks, I add in space to relax.
- Don’t feel guilty. Sometimes when I relax, my mind starts to wander to other productive things that I could be doing. When this happens, I remind myself that relaxation, meditation and self-reflection are actually productive activities because they help me recharge so that I will be more effective when I start tackling the tasks on my lists. I also remind myself that both work and relaxation can be a type of prayer.
- Find your “happy place.” Maybe rather than one happy place, you have multiple happy places that help you find balance and relaxation. One of my happy places is the beach and I am really looking forward to going to the shore later this summer to relax by the calming roar of the ocean and cry of the seagulls. Maybe your happy place isn’t a place at all. It could be an activity, for example. I love music and playing the trumpet and singing with my band are some of the most relaxing things I can think of – it truly helps me find balance. Whatever or wherever it is, finding that space in your life where you can find balance is important.
- Don’t overdo it. In most things, moderation is good and relaxation is no exception. Sometimes I start really enjoying the space I carve for reflection and on a few rare occasions get into the habit of wanting to add more. While a little reflexivity and relaxation is good, I also need to tell myself that I need to meet deadlines and obligations that are expected of me. In finding this balance I’m often reminded of two polar opposite characters from “The Jungle Book”: Baloo the Bear who focuses only on the “bare necessities” while seemingly shirking from responsibilities and Bagheera the Panther who has a hard time making space to relax. The proper virtue of mindfulness is perhaps between these two extremes.
How do you find the right balance between Baloo the Bear, who only relaxes, and Bagheera the Panther, who never does? Photo Credit: Disney.wikia.com
This month’s blog very briefly addressed personality types and goals. I hope to explore both of these concepts further in future blogs – especially in response to some comments I received from last month’s blog: how do more introverted personality types approach mentors and what are effective ways of setting goals which can then influence choice of mentor?
In the meantime, though, I’m interested in hearing about how you create space for relaxation and self-reflection. Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, through Facebook (www.facebook.com/urickmj), through LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-urick/a3/775/5b/), or in the comments below.
Smith, H. 1991. The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. 2nd edition. HarperCollins Publishers: New York, NY.