Beginning the year

You may have noticed that beginning a new year conjures up a slight feeling of trepidation.  Perhaps this is because we have had a break and therefore it is harder to get started again.  I have a slightly different take on this.  I believe it is to do with our time horizon.

I imagine that during November and December last year, you were busily getting things done before the holiday break. Deadlines were brought forward to achieve goals before the year ended. This meant you were working on a short-scale time horizon.

Now that January is here, the time horizon is suddenly much longer. We have the whole year to deliver the development goals we want to achieve and tackle the activities stretching out ahead of us.  Keeping the time horizon deliberately short will help you to stay engaged and focused.

When we are motivated by an activity, we may start to think – ‘can I keep this up?’  A better question is ‘how short can I make this period of activity?’  On the 4th February, the Winter Olympics start, I am trying to have everything I am working on completed by then.

Sleep prep in the morning

I have really enjoyed listening to the Huberman lab podcast over the past year. Andrew Huberman is a professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine.  Beyond his scientific know-how, he is an excellent communicator too.  One idea that has particularly resonated with me involves improving sleep.  This topic has received a lot of attention, for example Matthew Walker’s excellent book Why We Sleep emphasises the value of sleep – for creativity, emotional stability and physical recovery.

Huberman suggests that our sleep ‘hygiene’ in the evening before we sleep (warm shower, minimal screen exposure, bedtime routine etc…) is less important than our behaviours in the morning.  He believes that getting natural light in our eyes within 30 – 60 minutes of waking leads to a good night’s sleep later on.   

Huberman suggests that natural light sets our internal circadian clock within the hypothalamus. Getting light early in the day allows hormones, especially melatonin, to set at an optimum level. The brain then expects that we will be returning to sleep in about 12 – 14 hours.  Regularly seeing early morning light helps us to feel tired at the right time of day.

Life doesn’t get easier, we get stronger

I have found the debate about the merits of WFH, office working, hybrid, flex-working and autonomy to be fascinating.  Corporate real estate owners and vested office proponents have campaigned for the ‘vital’ benefits of returning to collective spaces.  However, many people feel that the increased flexibility, and the energy saved (by not commuting), have been beneficial.  Rather than just naming and describing the problem, I found a new perspective from Robert Keegan’s book on the problems and processes of human development – The Evolving Self.

Keegan suggests that one of the most common problems of childhood (5 – 7yrs) is school phobia.  This is described as a fear of going to school, an unwillingness to leave the home during school hours.  The child cannot explain why they don’t want to go to school, it’s not the teachers, or playground friends, and it is invariably accompanied by real somatic symptoms, such as sore throat, headache, abdominal pains and even vomiting at breakfast.

Our own children have already navigated the three central themes of infancy – the tension of being seen and not seen (peekaboo perfectly encapsulates this), balance and feeling unbalanced (learning to walk) and losing and finding objects of desire (wanting).  They have reached an evolutionary truce, all in the safety of home.

Now they must experience stepping forth into the world.  This activates a yearning for distinctness, personal initiative, and autonomy.  However, this desire is buffered by the need for holding on, support, and avoiding bewilderment.  Keegan explains this perfectly:

“School phobia is a work disturbance par excellence.  The child cannot go to work.  The problem is not with work as a content, with a particular kind of work; the problem lies with work as a structure.  When the child is marched off to work but is psychologically unready to work, the mismatch between social task and personal evolution is bound to be painful – to the child and anyone who cares for him or her…”

Perhaps, the problem with hybrid working lies in the structure, not the content, of work.  Perhaps we have all regressed psychologically, and the prospect of leaving the home to go into work (that activity we undertook, without thought or fear in 2019) now seems to be a bit too much.  Many would disagree, and certainly economies depend on people living and spending outside of the home.  However, understanding the psychological mechanism underpinning school phobia helps me to think differently about the challenge of adjusting to new working patterns and integrating unfamiliar rhythms.  It may be more challenging than just “three days in the office, two days working from home”. Something to think about maybe, if only within a short time horizon.

Take charge of 2022 – with a personal development plan. For tips and advice on where to start, take a look here.  

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