18 September 2007

Mental Health Is...

Mental health is a commitment to reality at any cost. -M. Scott Peck

Frame that. Always focus on what you know to be true. Do not kid yourself. Do not rationalize.

I don't suppose that is a good clinical definition of mental health, but it is useful. That quote has been an anchor for me in my recent life. I went for a long time, ignoring reality because it was less painful (in the short term) than accepting what I "knew" to be true. In the end, it is an immature, cowardly, foolish approach to life that will only hurt you and everyone around you.

Another quote on reality found on the Overcoming Bias (now Less Wrong) blog follows:

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.
-- Eugene Gendlin


Rationalizing is a form of not facing reality. It consists of making up a reason or excuse to make the facts fit some preconception of what one thinks should be. An example from Wikipedia is, "...consider a person who bought one of the first home computers in 1980 primarily motivated by the excitement of playing with a computer. If he felt that his friends would not accept "having fun" as a sufficient reason for the purchase, he might have searched for other justifications and ended up telling them how much time it was going to save him in doing his taxes."

That for me is an example of rationalization that is fairly harmless, especially if he doesn't believe it himself. It's more a form of lying to protect oneself from ridicule. It's not good, but in my opinion, begins to be damaging when one starts to actually believe or accept obvious rationalizations.

When you receive a rationalization, you may experience cognitive dissonance. You know that feeling. It's where what you believe is not quite the same as what is happening or what you are being told. It's that "feeling in my bones," the "I knew something wasn't right" thing. Listen to those clues. Follow up on them. Try to understand whether your mental model is faulty or the external inputs are.

Why We Ignore Reality

Adlerian psychology believes that most psycholgical problems are attempts to overcome feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. Now just to keep things straight and objective, remember that feelings are facts (i.e. reality). So if you feel somehow inferior or inadequate, it does not mean that you are inferior or inadequate, only that you feel that way. The reality is the feeling, not necessarily the underlying opinion.

04 September 2007


Before I begin, I want to say that any addiction can be destructive to the addict and those around him or her. I'm not sure exactly where the line is betwen obsession and addiction lands, but if your obsession, whether with work, sex, or alcohol is having a negative impact on your life and relationships, Get Help!

The link in this post is not strictly about workaholism, but the last paragraph of a blog post really resonated with me.

It says, "Yeah, I know smart execs have delegated for centuries. But I can envision a world where sweating over your beepy electronic device starts looking about as “executive” and “pro-active” as sucking on a crack pipe in the break room."

The NPR interview with Stanley Bing referred to in the blog post talks about Crackberries and how they add to stress.

So here's my take on workaholics. I believe there are two basic flavors and all the combinations in between. So first, let's take a look at workaholic behavior. It is when a person is focused on his job for more hours than is required. In these cases, leisure and other outside enjoyable activities, get put on hold or take a back seat to work.

So I think that workaholism can either be a good thing or a bad thing for a person, depending on his motivation.

If your obsession is driven by factors on the top of Maslow's hierarchy, if it is love of the work, love of the stimulation, creativity, respect of others, achievement, etc., it can be a good thing. It could just be the way you are self-actualizing. However, as with any obsession, there still needs to be balance with your family and loved ones.

When the motivation is the items lower on the hierarchy, such as financial security, food on the table, etc. Work can be extremely stressful in a negative way.

Couple motivation with the strength of the obsession and you end up with a 2 x 2 grid. The upper left is a healthy place to be. You love your work, but it is not such an obsession that you lose balance in your life. But even if your work is your main source of self-actualization, too much (moving to the right) can be unhealthy for a person.

On the other hand, if you work only to put a paycheck on the table, and dislike your work, the environment, and the people, it is also unhealthy, even if you are putting in minimal effort.

This post started with a quote from another blog. "...a world where sweating over your beepy electronic device starts looking about as “executive” and “pro-active” as sucking on a crack pipe in the break room." So what is an executive or executive wannabe going to do?

First, recognize that it is seldom purely about the hours you put in. People who sweat over their beepy electronic devices are likely focusing on urgent matters vs. important matters. There was a funny saying that used to go around the workplace. It said, "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." Besides urgency and importance, it also stresses the importance of boundaries in a work or any relationship really. If you are continually finding yourself as the last man in a crack the whip scenario, you should do something to change that.

In the final analysis, perspective is important. It's a cliche that nobody lies on their deathbed and wishes that they had spent more time at work and less with their family. So if you question the amount of time you devote to work, or if your loved ones are complaining, take it as a sign.

Look into yourself. Is your work life controlled and manageable or are you unable to keep up--and not just temporarily. If it's the latter, it could be a type of addiction. If that's the case, you should consider a support group, e.g. Workaholics Anonymous, to help get your life into balance.

For balance, read Marty Nemko's excellent piece, "In Praise of Workaholics."

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