An Improbable Lesson In Computer Technology

As submitted for publication in Recorder Community Newspapers, November 9, 2006

I’ve recently been reminded that life’s lessons often come from the most unexpected sources. I’m frequently on my computer– trying to keep up with e-mails, getting the news, and checking out various websites. My computer awaits me day and night, ready for any request I have. But then, at some (usually very inconvenient) time, my computer slows down. Quirky things begin to happen. Finally, it gets stuck, paralyzed. I hit the keys, increasingly faster and harder. Nothing happens. The only thing that fixes it is turning it off and then restarting it.
As humans, we experience a not-too-dissimilar process. As our expectations for ourselves increase and we try to accomplish ever more, we eventually begin to shut down despite our best efforts to keep going. We begin making mistakes, forgetting things, and actually accomplishing less and less. At those times, we are very much like the computer that demands to be turned off.

Some other signs of needing to shut down are: chronic exhaustion, feeling scattered, and having difficulty following through with any one thing. You might also struggle with depressed or anxious feelings.

If you are aware of these experiences building, consider what you need to do to turn off for a while. You are undoubtedly already thinking that this is not possible; after all, there is so much that needs to be done. But before you head too far down this path, stop. Look at how you are already struggling. Doing more of the same will only result in increased distress and decreased efficiency. So, your choice is probably not whether or not to stop. Rather, it is whether you will stop sooner or later. And, even if you can keep going, at what price are you doing so?

The kind of break you need depends upon how much difficulty you are having and what your particular needs are. If you are experiencing many of the above signs, you will likely need to do not much more than rest and sleep. Doing fun activities will require more energy and focus than you have to give. So let yourself sleep. Go for a stroll. Take a long, hot bath. Whatever you choose, make sure it is something that you find restful.

You will know that you have rested enough when you begin to feel bored or restless. Hopefully, you will be compelled into action by an itch to do something. The itch might be a very specific need, such as jumping back into straightening the house or beginning a new project. In this case, just let yourself go to it. If, instead, your itch to do something is more of a vague listlessness, you will need to push yourself.

What’s important at this point is that you do something that you enjoy (the operative word being do). Exercise. Go shopping. Explore a new town or one that you know you like. If you have the time and resources, indulge in a sightseeing vacation. The idea is to get yourself moving and feeling positive about life.

Before jumping back into your regular routine, take some time to re-evaluate whether it is how you want to live. Now I’m not talking about idly musing on the way to the grocery store. I mean set time aside and sit down to think about it. Writing out your thoughts might be very helpful. Have you been living according to your values and priorities? (What are your values and priorities?) Do you have reasonable expectations of yourself? Are there things you need to change or even just re-organize to make your life more manageable? You get the idea. These are important questions that can help ensure that you’re living in a healthy way along a path of your choosing.

As you get back into the flow of your life, remember to pay attention to how you are feeling and functioning. Giving yourself periodic breaks before you start falling apart will help you to maintain your energy, remain productive, and feel happier. As soon as you notice signs of being overloaded, respond quickly. At the very least, slow down and put a little fun in your life. If it’s too late for that, stop and rest until you are ready to do more.

If all else fails, let your computer be your guide. When it demands to be turned off, take that as a cue to put your feet up and take a break.

The Recorder Newspapers has over 250,000 readers and publishes weekly editions in 19 newspapers, which cover Morris, Somerset, Essex and Hunterdon counties of New Jersey.

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Basking Ridge, NJ