I slip from workaholic to bum real easy.
-Matthew Broderick

From "Positive Energy," by Judith Orloff, M.D.:

Twenty-first century America presents us with two unique maladies that obscure the Now: workaholism and technodespair, the burnout from being enslaved to e-mails, beepers, faxes, and phones. What's scarily malignant about both energy leeches is that they can readily become habitual. If you're frazzled, these enemies of the Now might be the cause.

Workaholism is the Puritan ethic gone haywire, an addiction to doing more, going nonstop until you drop. If you don't work at least eight hours a day, you're likely to feel ashamed. An American sickness, workaholism perpetuates negativity by exhausting subtle energy; it drowns out the Now in an adrenaline rush. The result: a plague of burnout. We workaholics are everywhere-in demanding jobs, racing between family and career, sacrificing every last ounce of energy to our children. Our "to-do" list, like some mutating life form, just keeps on growing.

Below I've listed some common causes of workaholism. Tune into each one and see if it resonates. As you did before, see if you get an intuitive "yes" or "no." The causes are:

+ A need to control

+ Loneliness

+ Self-worth tied to your accomplishments

+ Ambition

+ Masochism

+ Financial pressures

+ Greed

+ An "inner slavedriver"

+ Family conditioning

+ An escape from emotions: loneliness, anxiety, depression

+ An unsatisfying marriage

+ No role models for showing self-compassion

Compassion, a subtle energy that comes from the heart, will help you stop pushing yourself. As a psychiatrist, I'm well aware that it's much easier to be compassionate with others than with ourselves. This is how to learn:

First: Even if your strenuous schedule doesn't seen to give you a moment to breather, you must carve out quality personal time. Commit to at least one self-compassionate action a week. For example, indulge in a short afternoon nap. Hire a babysitter to free up an evening. Decline listening to a friend's problems and go to the movies. Treat yourself to some mini restorations, five minutes here or there of Mozart, jellybeans, whatever appeals. Planning regular downtime nurtures positive energy.

Second: Self-compassion means realizing not everything has to be done today, prioritizing essentials, then stopping there. From this perspective, much of our to-do list seems more obviously self-inflicted. Understand: If that dreaded list becomes an excuse to beat youreself up and inflict suffering, it's symptomatic of compulsion. Self-compassion can release its grip.

Third: Self-compassion means being able to keep saying "no" to the crazed slavedriver within who'll push all your buttons to hook you. Realizing the certifiable insanity of the slave driver's prodding will make it easier to resist.

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