Hile Rutledge
Trainer, author

Hile Rutledge

CEO and owner of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), a training and consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development.

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It's all about balance

Q: The South Korean government has a problem: Employees are working too much. The average government worker takes only six of 23 vacation days a year. How important is time off? Does productivity suffer or rise when workers forego time off? Should those who opt not to take it be forced to? And does this problem exist in the States?

While of course related also to economic concerns, the ego's drive to achieve and advance, and professional insecurities and pressures, the question of taking vacation time versus working speaks on one important level to balance and the degree to which any of us can balance the many and often opposing needs in our lives.

One of the most useful and powerful psychological models I have ever encountered is Michael Apter's Reversal Theory, which focuses on our motivations and emotions and provides one of the best templates for balance (personal, psychological, motivational and emotional) that I've ever seen or worked with.

Reversal Theory is composed of four pairs of opposing motivational states and the assertion that we are engaged in one or the other of each of these pairs at any given time, and balance is achieved when we are able to acknowledge our motivational state and either satisfy it or reverse (thus, Reversal Theory) to the opposing state. The state pair that most concerns this issue of vacation time versus working is Serious and Playful.

When motivated by the Serious state, we are engaged in our life's activities (eating breakfast, driving our car, talking to someone, whatever we are doing at that moment) for some future benefit or payoff. I'm eating breakfast to not feel hunger anymore; I'm driving my car to get to work, and I'm talking to this person to get or give some information. The Serious state is about moving toward goals and the future.

We could also be at any given time -- but not the same time -- in the Playful state, in which we do what we are doing for the sake and joy of doing it. In the Playful state, I eat breakfast to enjoy the meal; I drive my car and am present in the experience of driving --the feel of the seat, the music on the radio, the wind in my hair. I'm talking to this person to experience the conversation and the joy of the exchange. The Playful state is about being engaged in the moment for the sake and joy of that moment.

Motivational balance is achieved when you can reverse from one state to its opposite when it best serves you. I sit down to breakfast to eliminate my hunger (Serious) and then get hooked by how good my pancakes taste and enjoy the meal (Playful). This enjoyment is overridden when I notice the time and realize I have to get to work, so I quickly eat the last few bites and hustle to the car (Serious). Balance is being able to do this kind of reversal from one state to its opposite to get the most of what each state offers without getting stuck in one psychological (or motivational) place.

For many, the tendency to postpone vacations and work too much or too long reflects their over-engagement with the Serious state. Overdoing this state results in anxiety, exhaustion, and stress to varying degrees of severity. The press of goals and future demands (and the fear of not achieving them) makes you run faster on life's treadmill, which only means that you need to keep running and run faster to stay on the treadmill.

This kind of cycle can get you stuck in the Serious state. I coach people who work twice as hard as they usually do to prepare for their vacations -- clearing the deck of projects and "to dos", and then while on vacation, sit on the beach thinking of all the commitments and challenges that face them upon their return. They've left their places of work, but they have not the Serious state. They have not plugged into the moment to enjoy the sun, the drink they're holding, the kids playing beside them. In many ways they have not left work at all.

The balanced life is the life that will bring the most success and happiness, and balance comes from many different factors. Among these are the drives of the Serious and Playful states.

As you consider your own vacation prospects for this year, give some thought to your own motivational balance. Plan not just to go and to have your projects cleared back at the office, but plan to plug into the process and people around you and enjoy yourself. Real motivational balance would even enable you to enjoy the planning.

By Hile Rutledge  |  April 15, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  work and play Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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