Photo: Wendy Cope via Flickr
Yes, you can love your job too much. When we pour ourselves into our work, we may be rewarded for this effort by our employers, but our bodies and minds will pay the toll. Cognitive behavioral research has found that there is such a thing as becoming too attached to our jobs — to the point where they take over our identities.
Charged emotions like too much happiness or negativity can also compromise our ability to think clearly. A 2014 study found that people who were in neutral moods significantly outperformed people who were in positive and negative moods in problem-solving tasks.
The researchers of this study suggested that this neutral mindset helps people work smarter because it helps them focus. “Emotion has a detrimental effect on performance because resources are otherwise allocated and not available to solve the task at hand,” the study stated.
To do our best work, in other words, we need to learn to let go of our charged emotions around our performance and productivity. Once we change how we feel about work, we can change how we think at work. Here’s how to do it right:
1) Recognize that you are more than your job
Who are we outside of our 9-to-5? This is a question we need to answer to understand how to build healthier relationships to our work, according to cognitive behavioral therapy principles.
The dangers of attaching yourself to work are most clearly seen when you lose a job that you were too attached to having. When you lose a job, you may find that you don’t know how to describe yourself outside of what you do. That’s the wake up call Ladders readers advised employees to recognize after a layoff: “Know that work doesn’t define you.”
When we tie our identities to our jobs, we are tying our self-worth to external validation from situations outside of our control. Bosses quit, employees get laid off, companies get shuttered. When your job becomes your entire identity, rejections about your work projects feel like a rejection of your entire being. To handle the inevitable setbacks in our careers, you need to take a step back and prioritize your personal relationships as much as your professional ones. You need to redefine what success can mean for you outside of shiny accomplishments and titles. That way, everyday work annoyances and big career upheavals won’t upset you.
We cannot necessarily predict how our work will be received, but we can change how we will receive it.
2) Set boundaries with your energy
Energy vampires lurk in every office. Stopping them starts with identifying what tasks and people drain you, so you can avoid these people and set aside time to refuel and recharge.
Not enough of us set these boundaries. Harvard Business Review argues that too many employers and employees are in a contract of mutually assured destruction to extract as much energy from each other as quickly as possible.
Introducing breaks to get up from your desk, talk with colleagues, or do other energizing activities can break these destructive patterns. “While breaks are countercultural in most organizations and counterintuitive for many high achievers, their value is multifaceted,” the article argues. “To recharge themselves, individuals need to recognize the costs of energy-depleting behaviors and then take responsibility for changing them.”
To stop the risk of burnout, employees need to put as much energy toward keeping their spirits up as they do toward completing that report.
3) Protect your time off
Not letting work consume you also starts with monitoring and managing the time it takes you to do work. Are you staying late at work because you really need to or to keep up appearances? Do you never give yourself a night off?
Some of the most hardworking people I know also are deliberate at blocking off personal time for themselves. They even make calendar alerts for that time, so that the personal time off is seen as important as the professional meetings on that calendar. Career experts agree that explicitly scheduling time off helps us keep promises to ourselves.
“Schedule your time out,” career coach Roy Cohen advises. “We are less likely to break a date with ourselves if it’s a standing date.”
These tips are all to help us leave work at work, and stop a job from becoming an unhealthy obsession. Learning to disconnect and detach from work allows us to come in each day in the best mindset possible to do it.