“Have you tried switching it on and off again?”

We could learn a thing or two from our computers. Sometimes, even we need to switch ourselves on and off again.

Ah, yes. We have all made that call to tech support. Something devastating has happened to your computer, making it completely unworkable, and after hours of amateur technical work and a couple of hundred more watching how-to videos on YouTube, you have decided to make the dreaded call to tech-support.

Having been reassured that “Your call is important to us” while simultaneously being urged to use the self-help channels, you make your way to the top of the queue. Finally the venting begins and what should have been a call for tech-support turns into a combination of a deep cry for help, some cognitive behaviour therapy counselling and some verbal abuse both ways. And it all boils down to that simple question: “Have you tried switching your device on and off again?”.

Begrudgingly you do so. Waiting the 15 minutes or so as your device completes its routine system updates, trying not to think of the awkward silence while the consultant waits patiently, until finally it reboots and… Problem solved (well, most of the time anyway). Relieved and somewhat embarrassed by your low EQ, reluctance to find out how the consultant’s life is going and inability to find the workable solution, you thank the kind consultant and head your own ways, never to cross paths again (thankfully).

I had my own troubles this morning. An Excel sheet, as hard as I would urge it to, simply refused to respond and I decided to close it down for the third time, while the problem was automatically reported to Microsoft and the computer tried (but failed) to save my data. I decided to pull the plug, giving my computer a well-deserved rest after months of leaving it in sleep mode. It gratefully rebooted and things seemed to immediately speed up (although the Excel sheet was still having problems, mostly because it was pulling formulae from other sheets, and it was struggling to keep up – for the purposes of this story, let’s not focus on this part).

In doing so, I was struck by the simple yet profound lesson our computers and the other devices in our lives are trying to teach us.

Much like our devices, we also tend to go through months and months of continuous hard work and stress without allowing ourselves to simply switch off and reboot. We tend to keep opening up tabs within our working lives, opening up new applications in our social lives but forgetting to close them, to free up some space on our hard drives and simply reset.

And, much like what happens to our devices, we slow down, become less efficient, less productive, less motivated until we eventually confront ourselves with questions like “What is my purpose?” or “Does my life have any meaning?”. We become slower, less likely (or even unwilling to respond). We tend to avoid eating right, exercising and sleeping. We become obsessed by the little things, as our mind goes into “What is even the point?” mode.

The turbulent thoughts in our minds become our new, distorted reality. Turning ourselves off becomes counterintuitively harder to achieve, as we believe the only way to forge through the demotivation is to act against it, swimming upstream as the current does its best to halt our progress, reinforcing the debilitating thoughts our minds are only too happy to conjure up.

But we don’t have an on-and-off switch, so how do we switch ourselves off?

In these moments, it seems like an uphill battle initiating the rebooting process. We unfortunately don’t have access to a nifty button that can do it for us and so we are left having to think through a way of “acting”. Perhaps inaction is the best form of action in these moments.

Take a moment to pause and reflect. To switch off from the world around you and emerge yourself within your world. Battle against the ongoing thoughts in your mind (mindfulness meditation can be a major help with this). And ask yourself the simple question “What do I need?”. Cast your mind back to a period in your life during which you felt more motivated and content than you ever have. Unpack that time with the following questions:

  • What was I doing?
  • What was my diet like?
  • What was my exercise schedule like?
  • How many hours each night was I sleeping?
  • Who was I surrounding myself with most often?
  • What was I doing that I really enjoyed?

This short, but powerful switching off exercise can help. It’s a gap assessment between when you were at your happiest and where you are now. Most importanly, it can provide the reasons for the gap.

Once you have determined some of the things that you are missing, take deliberate, gentle action to reintroduce those things into your life. Some examples:

  • Eating too many refined carbs – switch to more salads, or cut out the sugary drinks
  • Not sleeping for those eight hours any more – put it in your diary
  • Missing that enthusiastic, passionate friend you haven’t chatted to in a while – make a plan to meet up
  • Not running those 21km half marathons any more – go for a jog

Seems simple? It is. But alas, we’re not.

We aren’t made up of the combination of ones and zeros like our devices. We don’t go through a carefully detailed, carefully mapped reboot process. All we can do is try. And while you do, go easy on yourself.

Be that empathetic, compassionate friend you haven’t spoke to in a while. Just this time, be that for yourself.

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