Fill Up the Tank. Empty the Tank: The Self-Compassionate Way to Stop Punishing and Start Rewarding Yourself at Work.


Working hard is important, and can be very rewarding.  When working hard is not rewarding, working harder is punishing like an inflated punching bag that pops back up at you after you hit it.  Ouch!  If you want to continue to work hard, you can’t kill the reward.

I want you to imagine that when you show up to work, you have a tank.  When this tank is full, you can expend all of its resources, and like a great workout you will leave your place of work glowing and full of hope and happiness.  If you show up to work with a half tank or an empty tank, and work as hard as you would with a full tank, you will find yourself overdrawn, stressed, and simply dreading the next day. 

The basic idea is that you want to guage how much you are going to work based on how much is in your tank to have a fulfilling and not overwhelming day.  For those of you out there who dare to dream big, we are going to work on maximizing how many days you can come into work with a full tank.

Guaging Your Tank

 Ideally, you want to be operating with a full tank, but we do not live in the ideal world.  We live in the real world.  Real world realities can be harsh sometimes.  You may have a day where the paperwork goblins get you or you discover that the one person not cast for that movie Horrible Bosses actually works above you.  There may be a family emergency or ongoing family difficulties.  You might have recently had a fight with your partner or a close friend, or you may just have one of those tough days where nothing seems to go right and everything seems to go wrong.  Of course, these things happen.  Some suffering is inevitable, and we are, after all, human.  However, we begin to run into problems when we do not account for these difficulties, and try to work as hard as we could with a full tank.

Tell me if this sounds like you.  You feel tired at work most days.  You find yourself putting off bedtime, and go to bed much later than is helpful for you.  You find yourself eating things you would rather avoid more often during the day.  You feel too sluggish to engage in physical activity, but feel guilty about not going.  After several days of this, you either wish you could skip or simply dread work.

If this sounds like you, you are probably trying to do a full tank’s work with half a tank or less. This takes so much out of you that you are overdrawn.  The body eats to try to feel better and get more energy.  It feels lethargic because it is overtired.  You put off bedtime because working harder than what you have in the tank is punishment, and wanting to avoid punishment and extend reward (the good stuff you are doing before bed) you stay up.  You know that your body needs physical activity, but you are actually running on fumes’ fumes. 

The good news is that the mindset guiding these responses is healthy.  You desire reward, and want to avoid punishment.  They are only problematic because they don’t solve the problem of how you can have the energy to do meaningful work and exercise, eat things that make you feel great, and have optimism about the next day’s work.

We remedy this problem by assessing your current energy level and finding ways to do less at work and at home until your tank begins to fill up.  I’d tell you that you have a choice, but I would be lying.  If you continue in your old ways, you will probably get sick and eventually become depressed.  So, you find ways to do a little less when you can, and to spend more time recovering.  

When you get to work, you assess how much energy you have, and try to work within its scope to reward yourself.  The more success you find with this strategy, the more you will look forward to work, the more energy you will have to engage in the activities and choices you most desire, and the easier it will be around bedtime to make good decisions about sleep.

Fill Up the Tank

Okay you overachievers, I am sure that you could not wait for this section.  I am excited too!  The best way to have the kind of energy that allows us to have eventful, meaningful workdays is to fill up the tank.  When you notice the tank is low, you make an immediate decision to focus all of your energy on filling the tank.

So, what helps us fill the tank? 

Sleep is one thing.  Build yourself an incredibly comfortable sleep environment, and spoil yourself with an amazing sleep routine filled with all of your favorites.  Watch your favorite movie or television show.   Make a warm bath or take that soothing shower.  Put on your most comfortable clothes, and before all this goodness, prepare everything that needs to be done the next morning so you can just focus on you.  Don’t try to sleep when it is time.  Just get into bed and enjoy all the good things you have just done for yourself.  Sleep will come when the body is ready.

Exercise.  Doing exercises that make you feel the happiest like dancing, bike riding, running, or the gym are great ways to engage in activities that are all about treating your body and mind well.  Don’t do too much.  Do just enough to feel really good.

Food.  Make plans to go to a restaurant with food that is good for you or prepare a meal that is good for you that is also hearty and delicious.  Savor every bite, and remind yourself that you are purely taking some time to eat and appreciate its nourishing effects to be good to yourself.

Friends or Family.  Plan something fun to do or spend time with family and friends if this is something that revitalizes you.  Enjoy their company.  Stay in the present and do what feels natural.  Laugh a lot.

Self-Compassion Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, or Mindful walking.  Make some time to process all that gunk that is in your head, and make room for pure well being.  These activities merely require your presence.  They offer a time, place, and world in which whatever energy you have is more than enough.  Do a guided meditation if it feels even better to turn over all responsibility of the ride to someone else.

Most Importantly!  The most important thing is that you prioritize filling up the tank.  You cannot fill up the tank and prioritize work or anything that feels like work.  Don’t worry! The work will be there when you get back.  In this state you have but one mindset: You are an ever powerful beam of light solely focused on doing things that bring goodness and well being back to your experience.  You understand how important these things are if you want to do meaningful work and have a good life.

Whether you are gauging or filling up the tank, may you take really good care of yourself.  The people who care about you want that for you, and with great self-care comes the energy to do all things well and with joy.  The self-compassionate way requires us to live in the present but take care of ourselves as if we expected to live forever.  Be patient, when you feel like you are able to do less, but want to do more.  If you truly are a big dreamer, go out there and fill up that tank.  Show up to work the next day and empty it.  Then brace yourself for pure glowing goodness.

365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 44. In the Books.