My most successful habit change, by far, has been to go from working 80-100 hours a week to working ‘normal’, human hours. Sometimes I take Fridays off and don’t even work 40 hours a week. Sometimes I work a little more. But the main change is that now I make a choice about how much I’m going to work; before, I essentially always worked because that was what I did. Now I’m conscious of my choices about work.
This change was inspired by a fear for my life, literally. By age 30, I was a hard-driving, financial trader. By 35 I’d been commuting from Chicago to New York (where I lived during the week) for two years. I was exhausted, and I was ill. I didn’t even know my family, nor did they know me. I knew then that if I didn’t change my work habits, I was going to crash and burn. Not only was I burned out and stressed, but my physical, mental, and emotional health were taking incremental hits. In addition, I had lost sight of the definitions of ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfillment.’ I needed a drastic and immediate change.
I made this change work, first of all, by completely getting out of my employment contract and leaving my career behind. I realize this is not practical for everyone, but, for me, I thought that if I stayed in the same position, in the same office, company, and city, and just tried to stop working so much, it was going to be impossible to change my way of thinking and my way of living.
I not only quit my job, I moved from Chicago to southeast Wisconsin, which is much slower (good slow) and far-removed from my previous life as a trader. I became a work-at-home father, and that led me to my personal coaching practice.
What it took for me to do this was to realize that I was literally throwing my life away. I had to feel the pain, the emptiness, and the loneliness of the life I had created for myself.
I hadn’t yet begun to live my life because I was always waiting for something else to fill my life. I had to make the changes in my job and lifestyle that would allow me to work less once I decided I wanted to – that I possessed the necessary conviction and determination to change my routine. My changes were very radical, but not everyone has to change so abruptly. The main thing is just realizing you want to change, and then making the decision and taking the actions: First change your mind. Then change your actions by turning your goals into habits.
For me, it did require a complete change of habitat to change my habits. I also had to remind myself, on a daily basis, that I cared more about my life than about work, and to refuse to get back on the treadmill of 80 hour weeks.
It also took time. I’d like to tell you that having made the changes I never looked back, but I can’t. Sometimes I slipped. Sometimes I took on too much, because I got excited about a new project, and had to remind myself to slow down.
When I started working less, which was a major success in my life, I realized I had a fairly big mess to clean up in my personal life. I had been an absentee father and husband for so long that I had to work hard to get to know my family again. Fortunately my kids were small and we had time to work out our relationship. I got to watch them grow up. I had missed a lot of the early times, and I still regret that, but I got to eat breakfast with my family, be at home when the kids got home from school, and eat family dinners together.
I had to learn to do those things because I was not in that habit. This meant reminding myself of the same things I had to remember when I entered my recovery from workaholism. Or should I say I needed to remember the basics. With the work, it was “I don’t want to crash and burn or check out of society.” With my family, it was “I want to live today and enjoy every moment with those who are most important to me.” Similar concepts, but strikingly different. I had to remind myself of the breakfasts and school concerts I had missed, and sometimes I had to remind myself how important they were, but very quickly I began to savor this new life I’d built.
My Insatiable Appetite
When I look back at my old life, working sometimes 100 hours a week, spending most of my life in a separate city from my family, commuting home instead of to work, I can’t believe I ever lived like that and that I truly thrived on it.
But that part of me hasn’t been so easy to suppress. I still crave accomplishment. I still tend to think: “What’s Next? What’s the subsequent thing I should be doing, learning, and getting done?” I was planning my next great adventure before I fully engaged in and enjoyed the journey I was on.
My name is David Bohl, and I’m an achievement junkie.
The old cliché says: ‘Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward correcting that problem.’ Well, I had to admit that I continued to hunger for more – More excitement, more business, more everything. After all, if a little is good, a lot must be great!
I became so engrossed in setting goals and working to achieve them that I fell back into that waiting mode, the one that tells me everything will be great when _____ happens. Or if only I can reach that goal, everything will be grand. That mind-set that I had learned so many years before prevented me from living my life and enjoying and celebrating what I had.
Admittedly, I find it hard to resist those urges for more. But I’m working very hard to turn those old paradigms on their heads.
How am I accomplishing this? A little bit at a time. Change often happens slowly and incrementally, and I’m experiencing this phenomenon in my life. I have to continue to change my habits. I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy what I have and where I’m at today. I need to keep in mind that it’s necessary to jump off that achievement junkie treadmill and allow myself – give myself permission – to celebrate where I’m at today. These are habits that I’m currently and constantly working on.
Husband, Father, Friend
I no longer aspire to feel like I’m in constant physical motion – that I’m ‘upwardly mobile.’ I’m now hoping, trying, and working to learn, to expand, and to be – to be a part of life and a part of my loved one’s lives. I now aspire to be consciously growing instead of upwardly mobile.
In business, I describe myself as a Professional Life Coach. Lifestyle Mentor, Educator, and Author. But that’s not who I am – those are things that I do. What I am is a husband, father, brother, son, friend, and member of the community. If I place those things in the forefront of my life, great things happen from there.
Although I am now happy and fulfilled, it’s not because I’m a completely different person. It’s because I’m more awake, alive, aware, and in awe than I’ve ever been, and I’m using that part of me that held those misguided beliefs, attitudes, and values to constantly remind myself what I want to do and what I want to be (or rather, what I don’t want to do and be).
Onward and Upward?
So what is my life like now? I’m more calm and relaxed, I don’t get upset easily, I don’t often become exhausted, and I spend most of my time where I want to spend time and on what I want to spend time.
There are very few “have-to’s” in my life anymore. The ones that I try to maintain directly reflect my values and beliefs. I have to live well. I have to be part of my family. I have to love my life. I have to be a husband, father, and friend first and foremost. If I’m not, I have to make more changes by changing my habits.
Where do I go from here? Onward and outward, I think. I want to continue making even more of these positive changes, but I know that I do not know what changes I may have the opportunity to make. I want to get even closer to my wife as our children grow up and leave home. I want to continue to grow my relationships with my son and daughter, and continue to be part of their lives as a mentor, friend and (of course) parent. I want to grow as a personal coach and feel that I can share with my clients more because I am growing, and I want to know that as an author, mentor, and educator – and personally – that I am making a difference in the world; that I’m empowering others.
Please understand from my narrative that I’m not bragging about overcoming my workaholism. I’m still fighting that achievement junkie that hides in my mind. I’m simply, deeply, and eternally grateful for the opportunity to change – to change my attitudes and to change my habits. I view this as one last chance to live the life I want, and I am determined not to waste it.
Photo by Roger Braunstein