We all struggle, period. None of us are perfect. Yet, we imperfect creatures have chosen a career of helping others. By the time we are done helping our clients, we have little to nothing left to offer our loved ones or ourselves. Many of us are searching for a way to cope, and yet we often fall short.
In a profession that seems to be feast-or-famine most days, we are constantly overwhelmed. We have either too much or not enough. We work long hours just to keep up with our overrunning plates, or we spend those same hours troubled because we don’t know when money will come in next. One day we may be worried about avoiding a grievance because we may miss something important (or, quite frankly, did miss something important), and another day we’re wondering how we’re going to pay the rent and keep the lights on.
I, like most of you, tend to say yes to everything and everyone while saying no to the most important person in my life: me. The psychological toll of this constant pressure can be quite staggering at times. If we are to survive mentally, emotionally, and even physically, we must learn coping mechanisms that will help us along the way. I wish I could say I know the one, perfect way to cope, and if you just did this one thing, your life would be so much better. Truth is, for as long as I’ve been writing this column, I’ve learned there is no one path, which is why I often write about different techniques to take care of ourselves.
I offer you this latest bit of advice: Focus on the next five minutes with full intention, presence, and awareness. In my last column, I spoke about fatigue in our profession. One way to combat fatigue is to break down your life into smaller increments, and such an exercise is focusing on the next five minutes.
Too often we react to what’s going on in our lives rather than being proactive. How many times has your day slipped away from you because you started reacting to one thing after another? How often have we let interruptions and non-essential tasks ruin a day that was perfectly suited for accomplishing those important items on our to-do list? This stems from not being intentional about our thoughts and actions.
Being intentional is quite hard because our minds tend to stray when we tell ourselves that we must be focused over a long period of time to accomplish many tasks or something big. Our bodies get worn out by the long stretches of intensity we put our minds through, so how do we overcome this problem?
Being intentional about the next five minutes will free your mind from worrying about all the burdens placed on it, whether voluntarily or by others. Give yourself five minutes just to think about what goals you want to accomplish, whether they be long-term, short-term, daily, or hourly goals. Force your mind for five minutes to corral your stray thoughts and focus on the task at hand. Turn off the various notifications in your life so that you can do something productive, proactive, and purposeful for the next five minutes.
The more you work at being intentional for the next five minutes, the easier it will get to be intentional for another five minutes, and another five minutes after that, and so on. With as short attention spans as we have these days, you will be surprised at how much you can get done with just five intentional minutes, and you will want more!
Being intentional and being present often go hand in hand, but they are not the same concept. What good is being intentional if you are not present mentally, emotionally, and physically? To be present means to exist in that moment for the thing you intend to do in that moment. Seems simple, but it’s easier said than done.
When your mind becomes intent on what it wants to do for the next five minutes, you must give that intention an ideal environment in which to flourish. For example, if I intend to write a part of this column in the next five minutes, then I must make the environment conducive to writing. If I try to write in a noisy environment or while I’m with family in the living room while half-watching television, then I defeat my intention. If you decide to return your client calls for the next five minutes, then you should be able to pull up their cases and hold other calls. How can you be present for a return call to a client if you are not prepared to answer the client’s questions or if you allow yourself to be interrupted?
To be present is to make your intention important and to allow your intention a space to manifest itself. A flower is unable to grow without the proper amount of sunlight and water. The environment that allows a seed to germinate is as important as the seed itself. Your resolution to be intentional will be defeated if you don’t couple it with being present for that intention.
The third part of making the most of the next five minutes is being aware. We live in a world of constant feedback, but our minds and bodies are the ultimate feedback machines. As humans, we have the capacity to accomplish a great deal, but study after study has shown we are terrible at multitasking. Our minds tend to wander, and our bodies itch to do something else. To accomplish what we want to do in the next five minutes, we must be aware.
The question we must answer: Of what must we be aware? Our straying mind? Our distractions and interruptions? Our mental and physical energy? Yes to all those and much more. How can we stay the course and keep being intentional and present if we aren’t constantly aware of what’s going on around and in us? Your mind will resent itself if it decides to give you an excellent, focused five minute but you abuse it and decide to look up after an hour. Instead of doing that to yourself, be aware of the time and the effort and give yourself a break or at least a sense of accomplishment before heading into another five minutes. If I decide to start writing my column and give myself an ideal environment in which to do so, I must be aware when my brain is fatigued or my writing is suffering from a lack of focus. I must train myself to finish a concept or section and take a break to read what I have written and ensure it’s what I want to say and how I want to say it so that I’m not too far afield by the end of the column. I must keep myself aware of my writing so that I can keep writing.
Being aware also means knowing when to stop and give yourself a break. Five-minute sessions can add up to a lot of time if we are unaware, so we must know when our brain or body is too tired or distracted to keep going. If we allow ourselves a break, we more readily accept another five minutes of intentional presence in whatever we are doing. Being aware also means knowing when to get back to work or stay engaged in whatever we are doing, so don’t let it be a crutch, either.
Overcoming Adversity Five Minutes at a Time
As I mentioned above, focusing on the next five minutes may not be the cure to all your woes, but it is a tool you can put in your arsenal to use as needed. I often have found that when I am overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, I can accomplish a great deal if I just focus on the next five minutes and then five-minute increments thereafter. I can spend the first five minutes just breaking down my larger tasks into smaller ones and then prioritizing those tasks. Once my priorities are straight, then I can focus on setting up an environment conducive to getting them done. Try it sometime . . . just for five minutes!