An A type’s guide to switching off: 6 things you need to know

Compared to the couple years preceding it, 2017 started with a flurry of activity (and I am not only talking about the inauguration of infamous presidents or the speeches of others). Nope: this excitement was purely selfish and involved me designing a new way of living/working/being in the world.

However, probably unlike the aforementioned presidents, I decided to pause after the first month to reflect on what I’d learnt in these early days and course-correct. Other than learning to instal my own software (which is harder than it sounds for someone who does not like to follow instructions and is technically challenged), life had thrown me another challenge.

But before I can share, some backstory will be necessary.

In 2017 I planned to design a portfolio life (if you read my blog you can understand more about what this involves). In a nutshell its about moving away from a one-career mentality and embracing work in different ways ways: creative endeavours, consulting, starting a business, doing volunteer work, taking time to exercise, write and get into nature more.

In true A-type style I started February with a long to-do list and got busy. I invested in a beautiful weekly planner, and scheduled time in my day to fit it all in. I made lots of progress and have never felt fitter. But something felt “off”.

A key reason for me wanting to try something new, was to take it slower, more mindfully and not jump blindly into another rabbit hole of activity. Just because a daily routine doesn’t involve going into an office, it doesn’t mean its any less all-consuming. I was busy!

So I made a decision to switch off completely and see what would happen. I took time to only do the necessities each day, and left lots of time for relaxation and whimsy.

And I wont lie: it felt weird. As a person who previously always identified as ambitious and results driven (and I’m not only referring to work here), it felt strange to wake up on a weekday and not be busy. I felt guilty even. It feels even more strange when I run into someone and they ask me what I am busy with. Why is it that we are all so focussed on, and reward, busyness?

In this suspended space, I realised something important: the reason I had been feeling uneasy was because it was all happening too fast. I have learnt so much more about what I want by not doing anything at all. I know this time will pass, but for now I feel that it’s the best gift I can give myself.

My new answer if I run into a friend: “I’m not busy.” And guess what (in case you were wondering): “I’m not bored!”

Here’s what I’ve learnt about A-type urges:

  1. For those of us (most of us) with A-type tendencies, we feel most valued and happy when we see our output reflected in some way.
  2. This means that we take on activities and challenges — be it exercise, work, hobbies, home life — that allow us to feed this inner need to achieve.
  3. But this inner need, our inner ambition-gremlin, is very hungry. No matter how much you give it, it always wants more.
  4. It also makes us competitive. I think this is because we believe there is only so much reward to go around, and no matter what you need to make sure it’s yours. This scarcity mentality is probably hardcoded into our genes from our cavemen days but most of us will never experience scarcity in any way. (Side note: Scientists have discovered an actual “gorge” gene that makes us eat the entire slab of chocolate instead of just a piece or two…just saying!)
  5. I’m not saying achievement and competition are bad, we need fire to create, but we also need to learn how and when to use this inner fire and not be a slave to it.
  6. Taking time to slow things down, and evaluate my actions mindfully, has really helped with this.

Ambition is a tool we can use, not who we are.

Before embarking on any new adventure I would recommend a pause-break (even if its for 5 minutes sitting in a parked car). It is amazing what we can learn in wide-open space.

Nicola

Adapted from my work life blog: lifeintruecolour.com