By MH Staff - Posted on 6th January 2014
Mondayitis might be nothing more than frustration at another weekend that failed to live up to your expectations. Here’s how to slay the buzz kill.
Your weekend problems start when you’re willing the weekend to arrive and seeing it as compensation for what you’re enduring at work. “In my practice, basically every client I see dislikes his job, dislikes his boss, dislikes his life – you’re not going to have a good weekend arise from that kind of wreckage,” says clinical analyst Shane Warren. Even if you don’t loathe your job, you still have a problem if it dissatisfies you to the point where you start fantasising about the weekend from several days out, argues Dr Tim Sharpe, founder of Australia’s Happiness Institute. For one thing, it stops you living in the moment (more to come on that). For another, the relief of clocking off leads many guys to hit the booze hard on the Friday night, effectively writing themselves off for any Saturday activities. Not every guy’s going to love his work. Not everyone gets to riff off his passion to earn some dough. If you can’t change your job, says Warren, the next best thing is to change how you see it. “Pull back and say, ‘I’m in a space right now that I don’t love, but it pays for a lifestyle that I’m attached to, so I’ll put up with my work, try to put the angst aside and take each moment as it comes.” Do that, and you’ll stop treating your weekend like nothing-to-lose jailbreaks and get those weekend-wrecking demons off your tail.
“We’re bound to be disappointed if we think of weekends as a time when we can corral ourselves off from all aspects of our normal life,” says psychologist and social researcher Hugh Mackay, the author of What Makes Us Tick (R260, kalahari.com). Plainly, weekends aren’t free play. If your job’s demanding, they can be your only chance to fill the pantry, trim your eyebrows and de-scum your bathroom. As one half of numerous relationships that need your attention, you have obligations in that area, too. And that’s but a fraction of the stuff on your to-do list that probably doesn’t fall under the category of pure pleasure-seeking. You can ignore what you should be doing and take off for an unscheduled 18 holes followed by two hours in the clubhouse, but that’ll catch up with you, warns Mackay – in the form of an overburdened partner, guilt or both. Even if you’re footloose, high expectations can sabotage your time off, says Dr Anthony Grant, founder of the Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of Sydney and co-author of Eight Steps to Happiness – The Science of Getting Happy and How It Can Work For You. “The young dude figures he’ll hang around with mates, latch onto a girl and enjoy himself physically, sexually and emotionally in a hedonistic binge,” says Grant. “But there’s high potential for failure and frustration when you set the bar that high.” The way forward: think of weekends as a time that will throw up opportunities for episodes of fun and games, not a solid block of it.
If you want to get better at weekends, look to history for help. Your weekend sprang from the Old Testament notion of the Sabbath, a Sunday devoted to worship and rest. In the Forties, trade unions cracked it for Saturdays off, too – so Christians could prepare better for the Sabbath and Jewish folk could observe their equivalent, Shabbat. The point is, while these were days off work, they were conceived with a purpose. Your God-fearing ancestor didn’t wake up on Sunday wondering what he’d do with his day. He knew the drill: off to church in the morning, home for a roast with his family, followed by an evening’s introspection. Or something like that. This guy lacked the freedom you have on your weekends, but it’s unlikely he felt any less fulfilled for that. Indeed, it’s a fair bet this guy was happier for the constraints. “It’s much easier to have freedom within limitations,” says Grant. “Too much choice overwhelms us.” How about building your weekends around activities pre-inked into every Saturday and Sunday? They needn’t be religious, or even spiritual. Meeting up with a few mates at the pub every Saturday to down a couple of beers and shoot some pool would qualify.
You may feel you need a break from tight schedules. But here’s the tip: approaching weekends in a wholly ad hoc way rarely works. It tends to steer you into idleness, like hours spent slumped in front of Seinfeld reruns. Or it can drop you into a state of paralysis – where the clock’s ticking, but you don’t know where to begin doing all the stuff that’s clogging your head. “You need to find the balance between not being hyper-driven on the weekend but putting enough structure in place so that you’re able to meet your own needs and fulfil the multiple roles you play… son, husband, dad,” says psychologist Dr Travis Kemp, head of leadership and coaching at Lee Hecht Harrison, a company devoted to self-improvement. “If you think all this is going to happen spontaneously, you’re going to be disappointed.” In at least one sense, approach the weekend as you would a working day, adds Grant – with a plan you’ve discussed cordially with other members of your “team” (family, partner).
What’s inside your weekend thought bubble? You sleeping in? You rifling home the winning goal? You buying a 52-inch LCD for your bedroom? Note the recurring word – “you”. It’s the wrong track. If you figure your weekends would be better if only you could have more time to yourself, then you’re operating by a line of thinking that contradicts the wisdom of many of history’s greatest minds, dating back to the ancient Greek philosophers. “In research over the years,” says Mackay, “the people I’ve heard enthusing most about their weekends are those who either totally commit themselves to being in the family – being a full-time dad, say, for those two days – or those who do volunteer work… who go off and work or serve food at a homeless shelter.” Most of the dissatisfaction people feel, says Grant, comes from obsessing about what they think they need and what’s blocking them from getting it. “You need to break that cycle of self-focus and rumination.” Grant went as far as writing to what he dubs a “gratitude letter” to his dad. Then he went over to his old man’s place and read it to him. “It’s a very scary thing to do. But I’ll tell you what: my father absolutely loved it.” Your takeout: give others joy, then bask in it.
A weekend lasts two days, not 100. “We have to acknowledge we can’t be everything, we can’t be Superman,” says Sharp. “Ask yourself what’s at the heart of your self-image. Is it being the supportive partner, the hands-on dad, the sportsman, the handyman, the man about town? “Once you have clarity on who you really want to be, you’ll be better and deciding what you need to squeeze into the weekend and what you don’t,” says Sharp. Mackay argues this exercise would usher most guys towards being more attentive to their key relationships. “One of the oddest things about most of us – I’d almost say all of us – is that we fill our time with things that distract us from paying attention to that crucial part of our lives,” he says. “We say to our partner: ‘You’re the most important thing in my life’, then rush off and do all sorts of things that cause us to neglect that very person.”
Time spent alone has its place. But connecting with other people is probably the surest method of making your weekends work, says Sharp. The soft option is to spend Saturday night at home; the more promising one is to socialise, even with people you don’t know or haven’t clicked with in the past. If you’re single, treat parties as a chance to seize the day. Don’t just eye that beautiful girl; go talk to her. In your circle of friends, there’ll be some people you’d be better off seeing more of. “Think about those people you feel most positive with,” says Sharp. “When you’re with them, they’re completely absorbed in you. They’re not looking over your shoulder.” Not getting that kind of attention from anyone except your dog? The best way to get it, advises Sharp, is to give it. Prosper from a recent finding in neuroscience: when you smile at someone, so-called mirror neutrons cause your companion’s brain to light up in the same areas as yours. Your positive action causes a corresponding reaction. And these are the building blocks of interaction in which both parties walk away feeling great.
The biggest obstacle to weekend satisfaction is failure to live in the moment, argues Petrea King, founding director of the Quest for Life Foundation. We know there’s stuff we should do on weekends, but whichever one you’re doing you may think you’d prefer to be – or should be – doing one of the others. “If we’re always postponing our sense of happiness to some future scenario, then we squander all possibility of joy in the present moment,” says King. Weekends free you to think, but where does that thinking take you? A mind that veers between future fears and past resentments leads you nowhere you want to go, argues King. “Bringing [consciousness] to rest in the present moment is a relief from the agonies of an unmanaged mind.” And how’s that done? Ha! As skills go, mindfulness is as elusive and fickle as confidence. King suggests calming the mind by connecting it with the senses: “Being aware moment by moment of our physical sensations – weight and posture, the touch of your clothing against your skin, all the sounds that surround you, any scent in the air.” Remember, says Kemp, it is those tasks some might think of as dull that present the ideal opportunities for mindfulness. “Dull” is your judgment only. Think about nothing besides painting that fence, he says. Maybe the thought creeps in that this is going to take forever and you’d rather be stretched out on the couch. “Become aware of the act of thinking, rather than the content,” he advises. The reward is greater absorption in what you’re doing. And you don’t need to be laughing to be happy. You just need to be absorbed. Kemp says advanced mindfulness has helped him in many areas of his life, including his fathering.
If you work in an office, it’s almost certain you spend more time in a chair than your spine and muscles would like. “Come the weekend, use your body in different ways to how you use it during the week,” urges David Hall, a physiotherapist and work-life balance consultant. Run, dance, play beach volleyball – anything that fires muscles dormant during the week. For that matter, when you do relax, better to lie than sit. And be outdoors as much as possible, adds Mackay, ideally around trees, water and creatures besides humans. If you don’t connect with the natural world, he says, you’re likely to feel a permanent sense of restlessness that can morph into anxiety. “A lot of men can’t stop running and seeking, and they don’t really know why.”
A stronger connection with nature won’t happen while you’re hooked up to technology. Mackay sees over-stimulation as one of the biggest problems facing the modern male: marketing forces are conditioning us to think we’re missing out on something if we’re not constantly tweeting or checking Facebook. “For our sanity, it would be better if we thought of the weekend as a time when we could disconnect from all that IT stimulation,” says Mackay, who in its place recommends retreating into nature – go for a walk in the park, take your dogs to the beach or hike that forest trail. By getting out of cyberspace, you’re freeing up your headspace. And the path to better weekends will appear before you.