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For those of you who have seen the movie 500 Days of Summer, you’ll remember that there’s a scene where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character walks into a party (hosted by the girl he’s head-over-heels for) with high expectations for a wonderful and romantic evening.
I love this scene because, for the entire time he’s at the party, there’s a split screen showing his expectations for how the evening would go on one side vs. the reality of what really happens on the other side.
Needless to say, the reality was downright disappointing compared to his expectations, and he leaves the party feeling dejected.
Most of us play out a version of this scene in our own lives on an almost daily basis.
One of the struggles I hear most often from clients is that, at the beginning of a work day or work week, they have great intentions to spend their evenings and weekends working out, getting together with friends, making art, cooking healthy meals, job searching, spending time in nature … things that will bring them joy and create momentum in their lives.
But because they’re so exhausted after work (especially if they’re unhappy in their job or in a draining workplace), the reality looks more like eating takeout on the couch, zoning out to Netflix, and scrolling on their phone until they drag themselves to bed.
A client emailed me last week to say he was so tired of the constant guilt he felt about not “doing more” with his time outside of work.
He described his internal dialogue as going something like:
“Why didn’t you go outside in the sun today? Why not take your camera and take photos? Why are you on Instagram? Why are you so boring? What do you like to do? What do you want to feel? Why don’t you do things that help you feel the way you want to feel?
I’m tired after work each day, so that means that a week can go by, and I sort of just sleep, eat, work, eat, sleep, etc. But that just keeps me on repeat! How do I break the cycle??”
THIS CYCLE IS TOTALLY NORMAL … BUT NOT NECESSARY
It makes perfect sense why so many of us fall into this cycle, especially if you’re bored at your current job or you work someplace where it feels like your soul is being slowly drained from you every day (been there!).
If you spend 8+ hours a day feeling stressed, anxious, bored, or exhausted, you can’t expect to snap your fingers and go from drained to energized the moment you come home.
We like to think that we live our lives in clean little boxes — work, relationships, health, hobbies, etc. — but being human is messy, and no matter how much you try to separate the areas of your life, they can’t help but get intermingled. Which means that the energy of the day is bound to follow you into your off-hours.
That is, unless you consciously do something to recoup some of your energy and shift into a different brain space.
A TRANSITION RITUAL
Personally, I think that the art of the ritual has gotten lost in our modern era.
A ritual is something that grounds us in our current experience. Rituals create intention and presence and comfort, and they help us put our lives into context.
Rituals are emotionally, spiritually, and symbolically powerful. Think of the vow-recitation ritual at a wedding — it only takes a matter of moments, but that ritual bridges the gap between two separate people and one unified couple.
Plus, if done consistently, rituals can actually rewire your brain. It’s been proven that people who have a ritual of practicing gratitude on a daily basis are happier overall. They can actually map the results on brain scans.
So if you feel like the negativity and exhaustion of your workday is following you around into the rest of your life, it might be worth inserting a ritual at the end of your work day to transition from “working you” to “REAL you.”
WHAT MAKES A GOOD TRANSITION RITUAL?
Anything that forces you to take a pause, regain some of your energy, clear your mind, and get to a better headspace counts as a good transition ritual. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all transition ritual, but here are a few things to keep in mind as you’re thinking about what might work for you:
- Do something that refuels you. At the end of the workday, you might resemble your phone when it’s flashing “10% battery life.” So you can think of your transition ritual like plugging in your phone to get a quick recharge. For some people, physical movement (a run, a few yoga poses, or dancing around the house to your favorite song) recharges them. For other people, stillness (meditation, journaling, or reading an inspiring book) is a surefire way to get a boost of energy and clarity. You know yourself best, so pick an activity that you know will recharge your battery.
- Do it first thing when your workday ends. Remember that a transition ritual is a bridge between the end of one experience and the start of another. So doing this right after work ends will train your brain that now it’s time shifts gears and recharge so you can enjoy the rest of your non-working time.
- Keep it short. If your ritual for shifting gears from work to real life takes you longer than 30 minutes, it’s probably not sustainable. Sure, you might do it for a few days, but pretty soon you’ll start skipping over it because you don’t feel like you have the time or energy. So make sure it’s short enough that you’ll actually stick to it.
- Treat it like an experiment. You might not be fully bought into this idea of a transition ritual yet. That’s totally OK! Just try it out on a trial basis, even if you’re skeptical that it will do any good, and then check in after a few weeks. Plus, you’re more likely to actually commit if you’re just testing the waters for a short time to start with. Try it out for 30 days, and see how you feel at the end.
I’M NOT SAYING THIS IS A CUREALL
Look, I know that this won’t solve all of your problems. If you’re truly miserable at your job and it’s draining the life out of you, then a transition ritual isn’t a long-term solution. If you’re in a miserable situation, then it’s going to take some bigger changes to get you to a place of fulfillment and joy.
But I also know that it’s really difficult to make changes — or even consider making changes — when you’re burnt out and exhausted. So a transition ritual can be a helpful tool for making your situation a bit more tolerable in the short-term so you actually have the energy to make those necessary changes.
Cycles have a way of continuing on an endless loop unless something comes in to break the cycle. So if you’re tired of the work-eat-Netflix-sleep-repeat cycle that you’re in, a transition ritual might be exactly what you need to shake things up.
So, are you willing to try adding a transition ritual into your daily routine as a 30-day experiment? What would make for a recharging ritual for you? Share with me, in the comments!
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Kristen (& Rachel)