In this series, we read books so you don’t have to AND we throw in a business twist. With key takeaways and practical actions, you reap the benefits without entering page purgatory. The first edition of our series features a book review for How To Do The Work By Dr. Nicole LePera. Quite a few of our SNP customers have recommended it over the years.
DISCLAIMER: This book was read and reviewed from the perspective of Jaselin Drown – Strategic Account Manager and Content Marketing Manager at SNP.
Here are the highlights…
- Pros: Practical, Useful concepts, Pushes the comfort zone
- Cons: Not for everyone, Activities were a bit dense, Not a lot of content around the workplace
- Would I recommend this? Maybe, if you’re in the mood for some childhood introspection.
Book review for How To Do the Work: It’s not for everyone
First things first, it’s important to note that ‘how to do the work’ in this case does not mean work-work (the one you spend many hours in meetings for), it means the work of taking care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. Because of that, there may be activities or topics that don’t resonate for some: meditation, future self-journaling, inner child work, etc.
I personally felt myself opening up to the concepts as I progressed further and further into the book and started to see some of my own experiences from a different lens. It was helpful, but what works for some won’t always work for others.
There are still excellent pieces of information we can take and apply to how we show up in the workplace and balance our lives––because work is a part of life. Plus, it’s January. If you have New Year’s resolutions you just put down on paper, this book might help you uncover personal roadblocks and then provide tools to help you navigate them.
Here are my three key takeaways:
- Becoming self-aware starts with getting off autopilot and noticing your thoughts and physical sensations.
- To build resilience you have to break your negative cycles and manage your stress.
- Progress can only happen when we understand our core beliefs and tell ourselves new stories.
1. Becoming self-aware starts with getting off autopilot and noticing your thoughts and physical sensations.
In the first chapter, LePera makes the case that we’re all operating on autopilot. We’re reacting instead of acting intentionally; think commuting home and suddenly realizing you’re in your driveway without remembering how you got there.
She argues we aren’t making active choices and the reason we’re doing this is that we have a “homeostatic impulse that regulates our physiological functions from breathing to body temperature to heartbeat…The goal of the homeostatic impulse is to create balance. When there’s dysregulation the imbalances can be problematic and even self-betraying,” (pg. 29).
We like routine and habit because it helps us conserve energy and soothe that homeostatic impulse. But, if we fall into negative habits or routines that solve short-term problems like immediate stress (think procrastination), we harm ourselves more than we help ourselves. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again––eating lunch at your desk is not a break even though it may ease the anxiety of missing a message!
Develop Your Attention Muscle in 3 Steps
To start to do this you need to develop your attention muscle. LePera has a few exercises at the end of chapter 2 that help with this (pg. 36). We’re going to adapt them here for work.
Step 1: Before you start your work day take 1 – 2 minutes to check in with yourself.
Maybe do this after you’ve gone through your tasks and schedule for the day. Start with your body. Scan from head to toe—what muscles are tight? Does your body feel heavy or light? Do you feel low energy?
Step 2: Turn inward.
What feelings are coming up for you as you think about your work day? What’s causing them?
For example, your chest might tighten when you think about a certain meeting. After time, you recognize this as anxiety. As you think about it more you realize that you’re feeling uncertain of how your team will receive the data in your presentation because it’s not what they want to hear. You’re worried it’ll devolve into chaos.
Step 3: Set an intention you can go back to.
Think about how you’re going to handle that emotion that came up for you and turn it into a one-word sentence you can go back to when you feel that emotion come up again.
With our previous example, you might think, “This data is important and I’ll approach sharing it with a mindful, firm, and solution-oriented manner,” every time you feel your chest tighten thinking about the meeting.
You might recognize that you also didn’t do enough work to warn folks beforehand and set a behavior change goal for yourself: “Next time, I will go to the team with this kind of information beforehand so there’s more transparency and we can use our meeting time to come up with solutions instead of dealing with shock.”
Start with cultivating that awareness and then you can go into managing stress and negativity.
2. To build resilience you have to manage stress and break your negative cycles.
If you’ve been privileged to work in the past few years, then you’re no stranger to stress (pandemic, war, and now a looming recession). You may have tools to manage it and at times it may get overwhelming. It’s important to watch for chronic stress. Chronic stress is “stress that is constant and persistent which wears down and harms every system in our body” (pg. 69).
Stress changes our body physically (chronic inflammation, stomach problems, sleep troubles, etc.) and mentally (being primed to recognize certain things as a threat––think pet peeves that get you especially upset). When we adapt to stress mentally and begin seeing external threats where they aren’t, we create a negative feedback loop that leads to a heightened emotional state. We eventually get addicted to that heightened state and begin to create it for ourselves.
LePera captures the start of this workday as an example of what a negative cycle might look like:
You wake up in the morning, and dread washes over you. The alarm is buzzing, and it’s time to get up and get ready for work. Immediately you have the same thoughts you have every morning. I need coffee. My commute is forty-five freaking minutes. I have to shower. I wish it was Friday. Your mind is doing what it always does, providing you with the endless narratives fo the many things you need to do (though you desperately wish you didn’t have to) before you have done them. Your body responds to your stressful thoughts: your heart rate increases, your breath shortens, your nervous system upregulates, your stress hormones are released––all before you’ve left your bed. On the way to work there is traffic. You expect the traffic because it happens almost every day, but your mind still races with critiques about how you should have left earlier and how much you hate your commute. You experience a buildup of frustration and anger, which you discharge onto your coworkers once you get into the office. You complain to them, and it feels good to be heard, but when you open your email, your heart starts racing again and your stomach tightens. You spend some more time venting, which again feels good, and the cycle of emotional activation continues…” (pg. 79)
How to shift your perspective to break negativity and build resilience
To break these cycles of negative thinking and chronic stress, LePera first says to identify your symptoms. Read more about stress symptoms here or on pg. 83 in the book. Then, LePera suggests you can implement meditation, grounding techniques, watching your information consumption, and getting out into nature to help bring back some balance.
I would add to that and say, do something good and learn something new. SNP Co-Founder and CEO, Maureen Taylor says the best way to shift your perspective and get out of a negative cycle is to do something good (for you, like upping your exercise from 30 minutes to an hour; for others, like spending some time on the weekend volunteering) and learn something new (something you’ve been wanting to try forever like doing stand-up comedy at an open mic night or taking a language class).
These suggestions are less work focused because a mindset isn’t momentary. You have to shift your perspective as a whole and that means doing something a bit more personal. And, the more you introduce things that push your comfort zone in an intentional way, the more you can expand your capacity to endure discomfort and build resilience in the face of stress.
“When we activate, challenge, and tone our vagus nerve [refers to the polyvagal theory and the vagus nerve as a mind-body connecter] in a safe and controlled environment we build tolerance and learn how to live with discomfort, which is key to building resilience––the ability to recover quickly from hardship.” – Dr. Nicole LePera
Write down one action each for…
- Doing something good
- Learning something new
3. Progress can only happen when we understand our core beliefs and tell ourselves new stories
As we get closer to the end of How To Do the Work, LePera brings up the idea of core beliefs.
She defines a belief as “a practiced thought grounded in lived experience. Beliefs are built up over years of thought patterns and require both interior and exterior validation to thrive” (pg. 109).
She then gave this example of what core beliefs at work look like:
“If you believe you’re unworthy you’ll see a job promotion as something that happened by mistake knowing it’s only a matter of time before you’re discovered to be the impostor you really are. When you make a mistake at work, either by happenstance or self-sabotage, it will be filtered through the lens of inevitability: Of course, I slipped up. I’m not worthy. We universally lean into something.”
We get these core beliefs from our surrounding environments and then look for evidence that proves that belief.
When it comes to work, I believe our first few job experiences are incredibly formative. We look to our higher-ups and peers for guidance on how we approach the workplace because we don’t have a frame of reference yet. These then become the stories we tell ourselves about how we work and what kind of worker we are.
To make progress on your goals for the year, you have to take inventory of what your core beliefs are and adjust the ones that may hold you back.
Take inventory of your core beliefs.
Reflect on how you think about work.
Step 1: While witnessing your thoughts, what themes do you notice?
- About yourself
- About others or your relationships
For example, you might notice…
- About yourself: I get upset when I feel like I have to be on camera all the time
- About others: I get angry if others don’t respond to me quickly.
Step 2: Turn your themes into sentences.
Core belief: I feel like I always have to be on to be a good worker (on camera, responding quickly, etc.)
Step 3: Identify the impact.
- Believing that I always have to be on leads me to feel burnt out.
Step 4: Change the belief and repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
- New belief: I am a better worker when I take care of myself.
There are no quick fixes.
LePera makes a great statement in the introduction to her book – “There are no quick fixes.” And it’s true. Whatever brought you to this blog, whether you’re looking to solve a problem or overall feel better at work, will take time and energy to improve. Progress isn’t linear. You’ll go two steps forward and one step back, but it’s the commitment to the process that gets you there––whatever that process may look like for you.
Want to figure out how to realize your professional goals this year? Click here for 3 ways to achieve your professional goals in 2023.