Understanding your "Downers" and "Lifters"

While my apartment is in San Francisco, my office is located in Mountain View, which is 65km (40 miles) further south. This means that every morning I wake up at 6AM to take the 6.30AM shuttle to work (no, I’m not skipping the shower, I just live really close to the shuttle stop). Why so early you might wonder? My principal motivation is to avoid traffic. My second motivation is that my territory, Latin America, is up to 6 hours ahead of me. That’s why I try to start the day early. All in all, my daily commute takes 2.5 hours on average (returning to SF in the afternoon almost always involves traffic).

The other day I had an evening flight to Sydney and therefore decided to work from home so I could head to the airport directly. One might now think that working from home would be the "BEST. THING. EVER!!!" since it allows me to skip the commute and walk around naked in my apartment (hypothetically speaking), but that day I made the decision to never work from home again (at least to avoid it as much as I can). What happened? A few hours into the day, things started to feel weird. I didn’t feel motivated (it was a Friday after all, the happiest day in the week given the weekend anticipation), my mind felt blocked, my thoughts were full of doubts, I was not excited about Sydney, and I also started to feel quite lonely. 

In that moment, I realized that the act of working from home is a "Downer" for me. Being home alone by myself doesn’t make me happy. What I needed in that moment was to be around people. To see other faces. To feel the energy of collaborative working. None of that was there. It was just me in my (slightly messy) room. For some people this might be a completely insignificant circumstance ... but I realized that for me it wasn't.

I think that too often, we humans walk through life without really understanding ourselves. We try to understand others, all sorts of situations, things at work, world events, what have you…. but how often do we actually try to understand ourselves? I’m specifically referring to our understanding of what makes us happy and what doesn’t. I call them the "Downers" and "Lifters" of our lives. The things that take us down and the things that lift us up. 

In my initial example of the day that I worked from home, at some point my energy went down SO much that I just simply wanted to break free from this vicious cycle. I put on my running shoes and went for a full hour run. It was hard to motivate myself to do it, but I knew that working out was one of my "Lifters" and thus my only option to revert how I was feeling. 

I would like to encourage you to become more aware of when you are feeling down and when you are feeling happy. To really pinpoint what it is that makes you feel either way and to become super aware of it. It’s ok to have a bad day, but it’s important to understand why you have a bad day (as opposed to just acknowledging it without questioning it). And in the next step, know what you can do to lift yourself up again. Allow me to give you some more examples from my own life to explain what I mean.

I have learned that in order to keep my mind fresh and positive, I need to work out regularly. If I don’t work out for 2-3 days in a row, I can feel how my thinking turns negative and how I lose motivation in the things I do. I simply NEED sports to keep up my levels of energy, productivity and happiness. A second example is food. I used to weigh more than 100KG (220 lbs) and then lost 30KG in a short amount of time when I was 17. Overeating or eating unhealthy food really messes up my self-confidence (I therefore disciplined myself to eat less and moderately). The last example would be socializing with friends … there are some people in my life whose presence always makes me happy. People who make me forget my worries… I learned to appreciate those people and to purposefully spend time with them. 

In addition to learning what makes you happy and proactively seeking or creating those situations, you should also improve your awareness of when you are unhappy and what triggers those feelings. Lately I have experienced difficulties to get out of bed (despite my 8 hours of beauty sleep). I skip my 6.30AM shuttle, snooze around and try to avoid the day. Clearly, this is a sign that something is wrong. A simple question I commonly ask myself in these situations: from all the things in my life right now, what would I have to remove or resolve to make me feel better. “Would I feel better if you didn’t have to deal with X?” or “What if I had clarity about situation Y – would I feel more motivated?”. I go through the things that are on my mind to pinpoint the inference factor. Sometimes it’s a specific work problem, other times it’s a person in my life who gives me negative energy.

Your "Lifters" don't have to be big things. Often times they can be small things. It could be a song, listening to music in general, shopping, a creme brulée, a certain person, watching a movie, what have you. Same thing for the "Downers". It could be small things like a messy room, dirty dishes in your sink, being in the cold without gloves (or "handshoes" as I tend to literally translate them from German)

In summary, I'd like to encourage you to be more emotionally aware of your state of mind. If you catch yourself having a hard time leaving your bed or entering a work meeting with a negative mindset (f.ex. "I really don't want to be in this meeting right now"), then there is some kind of "Downer" at work in your life. Pinpoint them and combat them with one of the "Lifters" that work for you!