Staring at Your Inbox is Turning You Into the Walking Dead

walking dead

What really amazes me about “The Walking Dead” isn’t that people survive in a postapocalyptic world, but that they want to. The laundry alone looks exhausting.

And yet while you’re not (currently) surrounded by a hungry herd of reanimated corpses, you might very well be living like Rick and Maggie: starting and ending each day in fear.

That’s because you have your own “zombies” to contend with — slow-moving, persistent, loathsome problems that keep surfacing. They may come in the form of money or health issues, work tension or your mother. Look away from your screen for a minute and dozens of emails lift their hungry heads. Your social media, text messages, to-do list, all of it can feel like one groaning mass, sucking the life out of you.

My point is this: When you feel like you’re doing nothing but getting by, then you are the Walking Dead.

The difference between surviving and thriving is the quality and duration of your focus. If you’re on edge and worried about getting through the next day, you’re in survival mode. When you can see further and experience the moment more deeply, you begin to thrive. Any stress expert will tell you that to do this, you must engage your relaxation “muscle” — and that requires training and practice.

Here are three of my favorite, and maybe surprising, ways to go from surviving to thriving (and shift out of zombie mode).

Wall Off the Exterior
Sitting and waiting for your email to dictate your day is no different from sitting and waiting for Walkers to come out of the woods. While obviously you need to head up to the lookout tower once in a while, the most work you’ll get done won’t happen while staring at your inbox. I know the urge — I better check — but succumbing to it is the fastest way to erode your productivity and stress you out. No matter what you think, you can not do multiple things at once, and attempting to may cost you (check out this Stanford study that showed how multitasking does permanent brain damage).

So you need to create a wall. That might be a one-hour wall that lets you get absorbed in the task at hand. Or it may be a weekend wall wherein you check out Friday afternoon and don’t check in until Monday (or Sunday evening, if you must). That means that the time you do spend working is quality, focused time that gives you the chance to really flex your mental muscles. You can’t make strides in any direction if you’re always looking over your shoulder.

Get Absorbed in Something Fun
While I love a five-minute YouTube break as much as the next lady, the real benefits of play emerge when you fully let yourself go. What non-work activity can you get absorbed in? What game or class will keep you so engaged that you forget everything else and achieve the “flow” state that Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi made famous? If you work in an office, leave the building. If, like me, you work from home, then put on pants and leave your apartment.

While I never played a team sport in school and am embarrassingly sports-ignorant, I joined a coed touch football league with a group of friends and I can’t believe how much fun it is. Do I know what I’m doing? Kinda, not really. But I know enough to catch the ball or keep someone else from catching it, and that’s really all you need. For one hour a week, it gets me outside, on my feet and 100 percent engaged in the people around me. I run, sweat, laugh and (perhaps most importantly) feel connected to a group.

Watch TV (Yes, Really!)
I’m not talking about lying around and passively consuming whatever’s on — that will turn you into a zombie. I mean choosing to engage in specific shows. We are living in a new golden age of television. I not only make it a point to watch TV, I wish I could watch more. And if you don’t watch any TV at all, you’re essentially taking yourself out of the cultural conversation. Sure there’s unwatchable junk on, but there’s also some of the most riveting storytelling out there. An hour spent with Walter White (“Breaking Bad”) or Claire Underwood (“House of Cards”) is never wasted.

These characters fascinate and intrigue us, make us wonder what we would do if we were dealt a powerful hand or sharply betrayed. (Yes, you can also read a book. You should do that, too.)

What and where you rest your most precious commodity, your attention, will determine the quality of your life — in work and play. I’m not saying to forget books, yoga, or other people, and resign yourself to your DVR. But a thriving life, to my mind, is one that’s created and enjoyed intentionally, populated with a range of stimulation and activity.

When you exert control and make purposeful decisions, you take yourself out of reaction mode and into thriving mode, where you can nurture your energies, ideas and imagination.

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