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Work/Life Balance Series: Part 1- Performance Defense

My next series of posts pertain to an epidemic I see afflicting our culture but going unnoticed- workaholism.

"Um... how do you define workaholism?" Good question.

1) Ever feel like you live to work instead of work to live?

2) Are you obsessed with productivity?

3) Always feel like you are running behind?

4) Do you fixate on outcomes?

5) Does work drain you, not uplift you?

6) Do your work habits hinder your relationships?

7) Are you uncomfortable if you aren't keeping busy?

If you said yes to any of these, you may be a workaholic. Fear not! You are not alone! You CAN succeed at work AND balance your life at the same time. Here I describe one of the leading causes of work/life imbalance and some activities to restore balance.

Fact: We all want to feel secure. We all strive to survive the rigors of life at whatever cost. Early in life we develop a variety of ways (aka "defenses") to help us feel safe, survive, and get our needs met. One of the most common of these survival strategies is the “Performance Defense.”

The logic of the Performance Defense is, “If I perform well, achieve success, and meet standards established by others, THEN I will feel good, loved, supported, and wanted.” Conversely, we may learn that to NOT succeed means we won’t receive love or support.

This defense is created in 3 contexts: home, school, and workplace.

1) Your parents may have withheld attention unless you excelled at something. Or, in the process of them teaching you pro-social behavior and discipline, you determined that their love comes only if you behave well.

2) Your school may have utilized rewards and punishments to ramp up competition and ambition, and you learned that the best students get more praise.

3) When you entered the workforce, you saw how performance dictated whether you advance or become homeless.

What is the typical outcome for those who favor the Performance Defense to feel safe and wanted? (Hint: it's not love or safety!) You guessed it- BURNOUT! “If I get just a little more done, if I do things perfectly, if I make just one more person happy, THEN I will be able to really relax and enjoy myself." But that moment either never comes or it is short lived. Before you know it, you’re back on track to “git'er done.”

The trick with defenses is that they serve us very well at first. If you have a performance defense, you may have been rewarded with praise, promotions, and more. However, over time, you probably have begun to recognize that your go-go-go, give-give-give, get-get-get drive has backfired!

Imagine living as if you only inhaled, never exhaled. You wouldn’t get far. That’s what running on a Performance Defense is like.

Counter Attack:

1. How does your overprioritization of productivity harm you? List those ways. Be specific.

2. A common barrier to relaxing the Performance Defense is the belief that doing so will result in less money, success, love, or other need or want. Fact: that's not true.

“Successful” people are big on self-care. Oprah meditates 2x/day. Presidents recharge on golf courses. Richard Branson wind surfs. Warren Buffet plays ukelele. My heroes fish! Who are your heroes? Look up your heroes and see what they do to balance their work with fun and relaxation.

3. If the intentions of the Performance Defense are love and safety, how else might you meet those needs in a less costly way? Maybe quality time connecting with your partner, children, friends, or family can feed the need. Try self-compassion meditation. Perhaps it's time to deepen your spiritual practice or communion with nature. Begin a gratitude practice, naming every morning and night one thing for which you are grateful.

In the end, as with all habit changes, shifting out of Performance Defense requires experimentation and practice. As you gain evidence that financial and emotional security can be had even when you aren't continually overexerting yourself, you will rest more and more in the fact that much of what is best in life is free. And, you don't need to do anything special to BE special, receive love, and feel safe.

*Sound like you? You might be interested in joining my Work/Life Balance group, starting January 8th. Click here for details!

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