Train Tracks - Ella, Sri Lanka - August 2016
Business, Psychology

Put Down the Red Pen!

Let me start by apologising for my recent absenteeism. I’ve been navigating through some [more] major life changes, but rest assured my personal journal (the one I don’t broadcast on the Internet) is bursting at the seams.

At any rate, I’m here now and, as usual, I’ve got something to say.

For years, I’ve been fascinated by positive psychology. Those who know me might think this a bit odd, and for good reason: up until recently, I proudly sported a Pessimist badge on my sleeve. What business does someone who sees the glass as half empty have poking her nose around something so gosh darn positive?!

At its core, positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing. Many psychologists devote themselves to learning more about those who fall below the average: those men and women who so bravely go into battle against depression, anxiety, and a myriad other neuroses. Many more psychologists aspire to define said average–that is, to uncover what it means to be “normal.” And now, a gorgeous and growing group have applied themselves to the study of those who slingshot far past the top of the bell curve.

(For you nerds out there hungry for more information, click here or here.)

My new job (!!!) has me spending about a half an hour (or a “halfa” in Aussie speak) on the train twice a day. I’ve really enjoyed the commute, both for the people watching and for those precious sixty minutes when I click my iPhone over to Airplane Mode and dig into a book.

Yesterday I polished off Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage. Shawn distills decades of positive psychology research into seven user-friendly principles, each of which applies directly to life at the office and life after hours.

Somewhere around the third principle, Shawn introduces the concept of the Negative Tetris Effect. This takes place when constant exposure to something (not necessarily Tetris) produces unfavourable behavioural patterns that suffocate happiness and, in turn, success.

One snippet in particular really stuck with me:

Like the fault-finding accountants, [lawyers] brains get stuck in a pattern. And so it goes, in any profession or line of work. No one is immune. Athletes can’t stop competing with their friends or families. Social workers who deal with domestic abuse can’t stop distrusting men. Financial traders can’t stop assessing the risk inherent in everything they do. Managers can’t stop micromanaging their children’s lives.

Admittedly, being stuck in these patterns might well make someone very successful in a particular aspect of his or her work. Tax auditors should look for errors. Athletes should be competitive. Traders should apply rigorous risk analysis. The problem comes when individuals cannot “compartmentalize” their abilities. And when that happens, not only do they miss out on the Happiness Advantage, but their pessimistic, fault-finding mindset makes them far more susceptible to depression, stress, poor physical health, and even substance abuse.

Before reading this book, I hadn’t given much thought to how (read: if) I transition between my work as a Little Writer and how I carry myself as a Human Being. So when I did, I made a surprising discovery: I need to learn to put down my red pen.

As a writer–and, by proxy, an editor–my work involves either producing words on behalf of someone who feels he or she isn’t up to the task, or taking something that has already been written and, using my trusted red pen, making it “better.” In a word, my job is to improve.

It was not until I, quite literally, found myself on a train that this train of thought began to move: I often take that same red pen and that same “make it better” mentality into arenas of my personal life where it ought not be: friendships, relationships, professional opportunities… the list goes on.

When I’m on the clock, you can bet that pen is and always will be at the ready. But in learning to put down the red pen when the day is done, I’ve become a much more thoughtful and present friend, partner, daughter, and so on.

Tell me: how does your job find ways to sneak into your personal life? Or, what life hacks help you maintain healthy distance between Personal You and Professional You?


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1 Comment

  • Reply Miranda November 16, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    This is so spot on! Thanks for the book recommendation and for your take on the positivity movement. Now I’m order this at my library.

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