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  • Translator: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Krystian Aparta

  • I wanted to be a psychologist since I was a teenager,

  • and I spent years pursuing that one goal.

  • I opened my private practice as soon as I was licensed.

  • It was a risky move, not getting a day job at a hospital or a clinic,

  • but within one year, my practice was doing quite well

  • and I was making more money than I ever made before.

  • Of course, I was a full-time student my entire life.

  • (Laughter)

  • I could have worked at McDonald's

  • and made more money than I ever made before.

  • That one-year mark came on a Friday night in July.

  • I walked home to my apartment

  • and got into the elevator with a neighbor who was a doctor in the ER.

  • The elevator rose,

  • then it shuddered and stalled between floors.

  • And the man who dealt with emergencies for a living

  • began poking at the buttons and banging on the door, saying,

  • "This is my nightmare, this is my nightmare!"

  • And I was like, "And this is my nightmare."

  • (Laughter)

  • I felt terrible afterwards, though.

  • Because I wasn't panicked

  • and I knew what to say to calm him down.

  • I was just too depleted to do it,

  • I had nothing left to give, and that confused me.

  • After all, I was finally living my dream,

  • so why wasn't I happy?

  • Why did I feel so burned out?

  • For a few terrible weeks,

  • I questioned whether I'd made a mistake.

  • What if I had chosen the wrong profession?

  • What if I had spent my entire life pursuing the wrong career?

  • But then I realized, no, I still loved psychology.

  • The problem wasn't the work I did in my office.

  • It was the hours I spent ruminating about work

  • when I was home.

  • I closed the door to my office every night,

  • but the door in my head remained wide-open

  • and the stress just flooded in.

  • That's the interesting thing about work stress.

  • We don't really experience much of it at work.

  • We're too busy.

  • We experience it outside of work,

  • when we are commuting,

  • when we're home,

  • when we're trying to rejuvenate.

  • It is important to recover in our spare time,

  • to de-stress and do things we enjoy,

  • and the biggest obstruction we face in that regard is ruminating.

  • Because each time we do it,

  • we're actually activating our stress response.

  • Now, to ruminate means to chew over.

  • The word refers to how cows digest their food.

  • For those of you unfamiliar with the joys of cow digestion,

  • cows chew,

  • then they swallow,

  • then they regurgitate it back up and chew it again.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's disgusting.

  • (Laughter)

  • But it works for cows.

  • (Laughter)

  • It does not work for humans.

  • Because what we chew over are the upsetting things,

  • the distressing things,

  • and we do it in ways that are entirely unproductive.

  • It's the hours we spend obsessing about tasks we didn't complete

  • or stewing about tensions with a colleague,

  • or anxiously worrying about the future,

  • or second-guessing decisions we've made.

  • Now there's a lot of research on how we think about work

  • when we are not at work,

  • and the findings are quite alarming.

  • Ruminating about work,

  • replaying the same thoughts and worries over and over again,

  • significantly disrupts our ability to recover and recharge in the off hours.

  • The more we ruminate about work when we're home,

  • the more likely we are to experience sleep disturbances,

  • to eat unhealthier foods

  • and to have worse moods.

  • It may even increase our risk of cardiovascular disease

  • and of impairing our executive functioning,

  • the very skill sets we need to do our jobs well.

  • Not to mention the toll it takes on our relationships and family lives,

  • because people around us can tell we're checked out and preoccupied.

  • Now, those same studies found

  • that while ruminating about work when we're home

  • damages our emotional well-being,

  • thinking about work in creative or problem-solving ways does not.

  • Because those kinds of thinking do not elicit emotional distress

  • and, more importantly, they're in our control.

  • We can decide whether to respond to an email

  • or leave it till morning,

  • or whether we want to brainstorm about work projects that excite us.

  • But ruminations are involuntary.

  • They're intrusive.

  • They pop into our head when we don't want them to.

  • They upset us when we don't want to be upset.

  • They switch us on when we are trying to switch off.

  • And they are very difficult to resist,

  • because thinking of all our unfinished tasks feels urgent.

  • Anxiously worrying about the future feels compelling.

  • Ruminating always feels like we're doing something important,

  • when in fact, we're doing something harmful.

  • And we all do it far more than we realize.

  • Back when I was burned out,

  • I decided to keep a journal for a week

  • and document exactly how much time I spent ruminating.

  • And I was horrified by the results.

  • It was over 30 minutes a night when I was trying to fall asleep.

  • My entire commute, to and from my office --

  • that was 45 minutes a day.

  • Totally checked out for 20 minutes

  • during the dinner party at a colleague's house.

  • Never got invited there again.

  • (Laughter)

  • And 90 minutes during a friend's "talent show"

  • that, coincidentally, was 90 minutes long.

  • (Laughter)

  • In total, that week, it was almost 14 hours.

  • That's how much "downtime" I was losing

  • to something that actually increased my stress.

  • Try keeping a journal for one week.

  • See how much you do it.

  • That's what made me realize that I still loved my work.

  • But ruminating was destroying that love

  • and it was destroying my personal life, too.

  • So I read every study I could find,

  • and I went to war against my ruminations.

  • Now, habit change is hard.

  • It took real diligence to catch myself ruminating each time,

  • and real consistency to make the new habits stick.

  • But eventually, they did.

  • I won my war against ruminating,

  • and I'm here to tell you how you can win yours.

  • First, you need clear guardrails.

  • You have to define when you switch off every night,

  • when you stop working.

  • And you have to be strict about it.

  • The rule I made to myself at the time was that I was done at 8pm.

  • And I forced myself to stick to it.

  • Now people say to me,

  • "Really? You didn't return a single email after 8pm?

  • You didn't even look at your phone?"

  • No, not once.

  • Because it was the '90s, we didn't have smartphones.

  • (Laughter)

  • I got my first smartphone in 2007.

  • You know, the iPhone had just come out,

  • and I wanted a phone that was cool and hip.

  • I got a BlackBerry.

  • (Laughter)

  • I was excited, though,

  • you know, my first thought was, "I get my emails wherever I am."

  • And 24 hours later,

  • I was like, "I get my emails wherever I am."

  • (Laughter)

  • I mean, battling ruminations was hard enough

  • when they just invaded our thoughts.

  • But now they have this Trojan horse,

  • our phones, to hide within.

  • And each time we just look at our phone after hours,

  • we can be reminded of work

  • and ruminative thoughts can slip out

  • and slaughter our evening or weekend.

  • So, when you switch off,

  • switch off your email notifications.

  • And if you have to check them, decide on when to do it,

  • so it doesn't interfere with your plans,

  • and do it only then.

  • Cell phones aren't the only way technology is empowering rumination,

  • because we have an even bigger fight coming.

  • Telecommuting has increased 115 percent over the past decade.

  • And it's expected to increase even more dramatically going forward.

  • More and more of us are losing our physical boundary

  • between work and home.

  • And that means that reminders of work

  • will be able to trigger ruminations from anywhere in our home.

  • When we lack a physical boundary between work and home,

  • we have to create a psychological one.

  • We have to trick our mind

  • into defining work and nonwork times and spaces.

  • So here's how you do that.

  • First, create a defined work zone in your home,

  • even if it's tiny,

  • and try to work only there.

  • Try not to work on the living room couch

  • or on the bed

  • because really, those areas should be associated

  • with living and ... bedding.

  • (Laughter)

  • Next, when you're working from home,

  • wear clothes you only wear when you're working.

  • And then at the end of the day,

  • change clothes,

  • and use music and lighting to shift the atmosphere

  • from work to home.

  • Make it a ritual.

  • Now, some of you might think that's silly.

  • That changing clothes and lighting

  • will convince my mind I'm no longer at work.

  • Trust me, your mind will fall for it.

  • Because we are really smart, our mind is really stupid.

  • (Laughter)

  • It falls for random associations all the time, right?

  • I mean, that's why Pavlov's dog began drooling at the sound of a bell.

  • And why TED speakers begin sweating at the sight of a red circle.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now those things will help,

  • but ruminations will still invade.

  • And when they do, you have to convert them

  • into productive forms of thinking, like problem-solving.

  • My patient Sally is a good example.

  • Sally was given the promotion of a lifetime,

  • but it came with a price.

  • She was no longer able to pick up her daughter

  • from school every day,

  • and that broke her heart.

  • So she came up with a plan.

  • Every Tuesday and Thursday, Sally left work early,

  • picked up her daughter from school,

  • played with her, fed her, bathed her and put her to bed.

  • And then she went back to the office

  • and worked past midnight to catch up.

  • Only, Sally's rumination journal indicated

  • she spent almost every minute of her quality time with her daughter

  • ruminating about how much work she had to do.

  • Ruminations often deny us our most precious moments.

  • Sally's rumination, "I have so much work to do,"

  • is a very common one.

  • And like all of them,

  • it's useless and it's harmful,

  • because we'd never think it when we're at work, getting stuff done.

  • We think it when we're outside of work,

  • when we're trying to relax or do things that we find meaningful,

  • like playing with our children,

  • or having a date night with our partner.

  • To convert a ruminative thought into a productive one,

  • you have to pose it as a problem to be solved.

  • The problem-solving version of "I have so much work to do"

  • is a scheduling question.

  • Like, "Where in my schedule can I fit the tasks that are troubling me?"

  • Or, "What can I move in my schedule to make room for this more urgent thing?"

  • Or even, "When do I have 15 minutes to go over my schedule?"

  • All those are problems that can be solved.