Be a Workaholic for Today

Manic Monday. Hump Day Wednesday. TGIF.

We have all these expressions that connote one statement: work sucks, and you shouldn’t want to do it.

Of course, that’s not always true. If you play your cards right, you will most likely end up in a job that you enjoy on a career track that’s fulfilling. However, because life is life, we know that there’s no way a high can stay. What goes up, must come down. And the struggle through the down days can be really, really exhausting.

In a previous post, I touched on the concept of lying to get through a grind. That got me thinking about the different ways we lie to ourselves: self-lies make us feel good about ourselves, drive us to make certain purchasing decisions, and direct other aspects of our behavior. So, why can’t we take some of those lies, tweak them, and use them to make ourselves more productive?

“I Can Quit Anytime I Want”

Do a Google search on addiction, and you’ll eventually find some resources that talk about how much addicts lie. They use these lies to support and justify their addiction. Whether it’s gambling, alcohol, drugs, or anything else, many addicts are characterized by how untruthful they are—to others as well as to themselves.

So, here’s one thing that may work for you if you’re struggling to get through the workday: do a little bit of roleplaying. Pretend that you’re a workaholic. Try to visualize yourself not as a working stiff, but as a productivity-driven madman who can’t get enough, who needs to stay busy. Imagine what it would be like, and think the thoughts that would motivate such an individual. Below are a few suggestions:

“I can quit anytime I want”: this one’s pretty common, and it’s pretty powerful. Addicts often go for one more hit, one more smoke, or one more round at the table, telling themselves it’s the last one and they can then quit. So I believe pretending to be a workaholic involves the same kind of self-negotiation. Tell yourself you’ll just finish one more report, one more job, or one more task, and then set to it. Then when it’s done, tell yourself that again. Keep making incremental progress, and you’ll pretty much make it through.

“Other people don’t know what they’re missing”: Sometimes it’s easy to get affected by others’ opinions of a job. They may say that it’s useless, or fruitless, or otherwise a waste of time. Instead of getting bogged down by other people’s negativity and low morale, try thinking about the job as a fulfilling endeavor. Maybe there’s a rush you get from getting the formulas in a spreadsheet to add up right. Maybe you get some kind of high from spotting an incorrect use of a semicolon or apostrophe in a report or a piece of creative copy. The point is, if you look hard, you’ll probably find something about your current job from which you can derive satisfaction, and you can cling to it like no one else can.

“There are other people who do more”: A lot of addicts will use this defense, saying that they are not as bad as others who do more drugs, gamble more, or otherwise indulge more in the addictive habits that they are accused of submitting themselves to. They say that they’re still okay because they haven’t hit rock bottom yet. In the context of work, we can flip this by thinking about other people who have worked harder or achieved more. Compare what you have done with what others have, and see if you can match their accomplishments. On the flip side, if you respond more to negative, cynical viewpoints, maybe you can look at how much worse other people have it; maybe they have to do more work, or their tasks are more demanding, so you should consider yourself fortunate.

When Lies Don’t Work, Go with Mantras

If you don’t want to identify with addicts and their self-lies, that’s okay: there are still some thoughts you can use to get yourself through the ennui and tedium that work sometimes brings.

“Someone’s got to do it”: I have a colleague at work who describes himself as having a “Superman” complex, and I can see why. The guy basically does a lot of different tasks covering a lot of different functions. He’s basically a jack of all trades, and not a week goes by that I don’t admire his tenacity, and his determination to help the team. So that’s one thing you can tap into. Don’t do it for abstract concepts like KPIs, or distant targets like quarterly sales goals. Do it for your team.

“Work gives life meaning”: Realistically, it’s quite possible that you’re not engaged enough in your company to care much about your team. In that case, you can just try to convince yourself to ignore everything else, and just do the work for the work’s sake. No man should rely on the world to reward him unconditionally; one must channel his talents, skills, and knowledge into a worthy endeavor that adds value to the world. No matter how small your job is, believe that it contributes to society in some way, and doing the work adds more to your character than leisure or laziness ever will.

So, when you find your motivation waning, try changing your mindset. Pretend to be a workaholic, even if you’re not. Maybe you won’t believe it all the way, but then again, you won’t believe how far it can take you, either.

Start with the Small Wins

What do you do when the hardest part is at the start?

You know what I’m talking about.

Maybe you’re looking at that cursor on your word processor, mocking you as it blinks on and off in the blankness.

Or maybe your mind is whirring at octo-core speeds in the presence of your crush, dismissing conversation starters almost as soon it conceives them in an infinite loop of anxiety.

Or maybe you want to quit smoking and are smoking just one last cigarette–for the hundredth time. 

It’s like when you’re pushing something. Ever notice how when you start to push something, it’ll refuse to budge at first, but it feels like it doesn’t resist as much once you’ve gotten it to move? (Remember the concepts of static friction and kinetic friction from your high school physics classes?) Or in certain chemical reactions, there’s a high energy toll that needs to be paid (technically called activation energy) before the reaction can take place.

A more fun metaphor is when you’re on a roller coaster. Sure, it’s exciting, with the cars going through the twists, turns, and loops at devil-daring speeds. But before that, the cars have to slowly go up the highest peak of the ride, getting pulled up by a heavy chain, each clack-clack of the wheels against the rails building anticipation, excitement, and nervousness among the passengers.

So that’s the way it is with a lot of tasks. A lot of the time, you have to muster enough willpower to start, and from the initial grind, you gather enough mental momentum to power through to the finish.

Still, it doesn’t change the fundamental problem: how can you muster the willpower needed to get through the first hurdle when even that’s really challenging? How do you keep yourself motivated to climb when even base camp seems like an impossible summit?

Simple: don’t even think about base camp.

Think about what comes beforehand, and aim for that. Then aim for the next step. Then the next. And before you know it, you’ll have gotten over the hump.

Speaking in angry, impassioned ebonics, Eric Thomas puts it really well:

You got to go in the future and see it, baby, and then you got to come back in the present… you got to take that big goal, that big dream, that big reality-that’s what I said-you got to take that big reality, and we got to take small steps to make it manageable to make your dreams become a reality.

Think big, dream big, but start small. That’s right, start small. Remember what I told you; start where you are, with what you have, because what you have is plenty.

In the book The Power of Habit, we read about the concept of small wins. Basically, it says that there’s power in acknowledging even little victories:

“Small wins are a steady application of one small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. ” Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny achievements into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

If you’re an amateur, be fair to yourself. Don’t measure yourself against the records of Olympians. Just do what you can today, then do a little more, and a little more after that. Keep telling yourself: “just one more push.” Then make the push, then say “just one more push” again. Gamblers tell themselves that they can quit any time they want; give yourself permission to tell your mind the exact same lie, but channel it towards a productive endeavor.

Technically, every milestone is separated by inches.

Once you realize that, you can get started.

Thoughts on Happiness and Cheerdance

Full disclosure: I graduated from UP. You may believe I’m a little biased. That’s possible. But just watch the videos of the routines for yourself, and make up your own mind.

Also, I watched only the top three winners on YouTube. If you think there was a performance that didn’t place but should’ve, feel free to let me know.

****

“Ang puso… ialay… sa laban… kapalit ay tagumpay!” (“The heart… should be sacrificed… to the fight… you’ll get victory in return!”)

So goes the SpongeCola song that was part of the UP Pep Squad’s music tracklist.

I watched their routine after seeing the reactions on my Facebook feed: a barrage of posts, seemingly unanimous in their disappointment and outrage. One says in jest, Guys, kain na tayo, tutal nagluto na rin lang.” (“Guys, let’s just eat, after all there’s cooking going on already.”)

I had slept through the cheerdance competition. Well, not really; around 2 PM, we were watching the AlDub kalyeserye with our mother. With the badly cross-dressed men, shoddy lip-syncing, some missed cues and forced ad-libs… not saying I could put a better show on myself, but if we’re being honest, it’s not the best production by any means. However, there are some bits that work for me through sheer irreverent absurdity. And I see how the segment manages to promote values such as “waiting for the right time”, even if it does so through the crackling megaphone of satire. Plus it makes a lot of people happy: who am I to decide how shallow or deep people’s happiness should be?

Like the cheerdance competition. If you really think about it, it’s pure spectacle too: loud music, tight outfits on tight bodies, dance routines, drums and shouting. It would be too easy to quote the Bard here (“full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”), though I think he wrote that about life in general, so that would be unfair.

And in total fairness, a lot of the stunts people witness there are quite spectacular, obviously the product of hours upon hours of practice and personal risk. I remember reading once that in the US, cheerleading is actually the most dangerous high school sport, even more so than football with its reliance on padding, mouthguards, and helmets to dull the impact from any collisions that occur. Seeing how high off the ground the UP cheerleaders went during their routine, I have zero trouble believing that.

“Ang puso… ialay… sa laban… kapalit ay tagumpay!”

UP did it again. Invoking national pride through their typical use of OPM, they pull off stunts and lifts that push the limits, swinging and flying and catching one another, grace and courage in full display. The floor dances were high-energy but not messy, engineered to get any audience member fired up. The mashup of Awit ng Kabataan (Anthem of the Youth) and Liwanag sa Dilim (Light in the Darkness) hit me right in the puso (heart); endorphins triggered an eruption of gooseflesh all over my body. A second eruption during the rock anthem version of UP Naming Mahal (Our Beloved UP). There were some mistakes, I admit, that made me wince for them, but overall, the performance was excellent.

****

I then watched the routine of the NU squad, the winner of first place for this competition three years running.

The theme: caveman times. The performance was plagued with gaffes and miscues. It was obvious when the movements didn’t sync. A lot of lifts didn’t work; pyramids didn’t hold. To be fair, there was a gutsy partner stunt around three minutes and twenty seconds in that impressed me, the one where female cheerleaders stood and then flipped into a handstand supported by people underneath (though UP did a better handstand-to-standing-position partner stunt around four minutes and fifty seconds into their own routine). But overall, there were just too many mistakes to make it a stellar performance; some would even call it crude. Again, not saying I could do better, but that’s just how I see it.

After the competition, it was said that the difficulty of the stunts was taken into consideration in scoring. I’m no cheerleading expert, but it just felt like NU’s performance was a whole bunch of what-could-have-beens, and it didn’t deserve first place. It was a “pwede na” (“good enough”) effort, with obvious blunders that can be explained away by saying they “aimed too high”–a common self-handicapping tactic.

Why did they win? One can only speculate.

*****

Looking further into the results, I learned that UST’s Salinggawi dance troupe clinched second place. My older sister graduated from there (here’s her blog, btw), so I guess she’d be happy that they placed. On the other hand, she’s never been big on the whole school spirit thing, even as a student. Neither was I. I guess we’re just that kind of people.

I then watched their performance online.

While UP went up with their routine full of tosses and lifts, I saw UST’s performance to be a little more down-to-earth. They mostly stayed closer to the floor, carrying their routine through dance with quick steps and nimble rolls, rapid bursts of movement punctuated by deliberate shows of grace and strength. Not to say they stayed low; they also did their fair share of carrying and tossing and lifting, which they executed to great effect. It was a very polished and very well-choreographed performance, one you’d expect from a troupe that, even in my college days, were known for their predilection for and proficiency in modern dance.

Plus they showed a picture of a tiger, which was awesome.

I can see how they got second place. In truth, perhaps they should even have gotten first place. But being an alumnus of UP, my thoughts kept gravitating towards my alma mater’s effort, and my brain kept putting it and NU’s winning routine side by side.

*****

I saw two visions of the Philippines.

In one, we’re all united, working in sync, each person moving fast, faithful that his or her perspiration will contribute to something that will induce inspiration. Banners wave and music blares as Filipinos rise and fall, taking risks and ultimately landing safe in the hands of their brothers and sisters, a bold and death-defying work of art that culminates in the formation of one heart.

In the other, we’re in the Stone Age.

In my mind, the real one won.

But we shouldn’t lose heart. Wag mawalan ng puso. Just because reality won today, it doesn’t mean ideals can’t win tomorrow.

Moral Stamina

I believe all people are innately tuned towards sin because more often than not, it’s the easy way out of things. Check out the seven deadly sins: each one of them is caused by some form of selfishness, some variation of “I’m going for the thing that will satisfy my appetites easiest, other people be damned”. Saying “human beings tend to be sinful” is like saying they have mass, and therefore have weight; it’s only natural for them to fall, to gravitate towards the depths, to stoop low and sink.

However, I also believe that all people are capable of doing good. While people have mass, they also have muscles. They can choose to stand, to rise, and to move forward.

The thing about doing good, though, is that it usually takes a toll. Doing the good thing often takes some measure of sacrifice. One is considered virtuous if one acts against his or her own self-interest.

Make no mistake; defying gravity is not purely an experience of exhiliration. Birds don’t fly by virtue of some anti-gravitational force field. It takes a constant beating of the wings, an awareness of headwinds and tailwinds, an adjustment to gales and currents. In a similar manner, I believe doing good is a draining task, and one needs to develop the right kind of moral muscle to sustain that. One needs not just moral strength, but moral stamina.

So what gives you moral stamina? What is that one core belief you hold on to to keep yourself on the right track, no matter how inconvenient it may be for you? What is that one thing you have to keep telling yourself, that one gospel truth you have to latch onto to keep upright?

When you feel start to feel the burn after being your good self for so long, how do you keep yourself from crashing and burning?

Affirmations for the Young

To the young ones,

However brief your life so far has been, you have probably experienced enough to decide that the world is a frightening place. You’ve probably realized that day gives way to night, when it is cold and dark, yet you still screw your eyes shut to avoid even a glimpse of the creatures that seem to come alive. You’ve probably learned that there are many things that are much larger than you are, and can hurt you easily if you’re not careful. And you probably know by now that there’s so much you don’t know yet, so many things that you cannot understand.

I won’t tell you that your concerns are unfounded. Sometimes, monsters do lurk in the shadows; there are things larger than you that can harm you; and there’s so much for you to learn.

But I will also remind you of the opportunities that lay before you in your youth. If only you could hear what many “grownups” are thinking: how suffocated they feel, how little time and space they have to themselves! The world is open, ready and waiting for you to stretch yourselves out into it. Today is here for you to spend in pursuit of your dreams, and Tomorrow will come for you to spend in pursuit of any new ones that may occur to you.

There are times when the world, in fits of thoughtlessness, will remind you that you are weak. Don’t worry about that, because most of the world’s burdens should not be yours to bear yet.

There are those who, in their meanness, would openly dismiss the things you say, and would point out how wrong and naive you are. Don’t let yourselves be bullied by those who would measure children by standards to which the not-so-young should be held. As you grow taller, you will see and know more of the world.

You, the young, are given so many freedoms. Enjoy them while you can. Make the most of them. Get lost occasionally (but not too lost), and know that you will be found. Get hurt once in a while (but never on purpose), and know that you will heal.

And when you have grown, and you find that you have less freedom than before, look at the new generation of children (some of whom will hopefully be your own). Then you can remind yourself that the time and space you’ve lost are only given up so that they can have their turn at being free.