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Want a More Relaxed Evening? Do This Before You Leave Work

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By Jan Bruce

As you wrap up another workday, the last thing you may be inclined to do is sit there and think about what happened. But if you want a more relaxing, stress-free evening, reflecting on the good stuff will go a long way.

Findings from a study published in the Academy of Management Journal suggest that taking just a few minutes to reflect positively on the events of the day led to decreased stress -- and a healthier, more relaxed evening. Melissa Korn notes in the Wall Street Journal:

It's no surprise that positive thinking can ease tension. But it might prove more practical than employers' current approaches for fighting workplace stress, such as offering flexible work arrangements or creating a new org chart that doesn't actually change daily life at the office, says Theresa Glomb, a work and organizations professor at University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management and co-author of the report.

The experts at meQuilibrium teach that attempting to minimize or shrink stress isn't enough. You get stronger by flexing your attention muscle -- and controlling where it goes. And while the idea isn't to repress or ignore the bad stuff, it's well worth taking the time to acknowledge the good.

Here's three ways to put this into practice before you head home.

1. Don't let one bad event rule the day. Every day has them: an awkward or uncomfortable moment with a coworker, a dressing down by the boss, a slip-up. It happens. But if you let that one moment define the day, you're doing what we call "magnifying" -- or exaggerating aspects of a situation and underestimating others. Recognize the discomfort -- and identify what good may come out of it. For every one less-than-stellar moment, think of two other good things that happened. And they don't have to be career changing. Having a great lunch with a friend counts. (Read more about how thinking traps trip you up.)

2. Ask yourself why. Glomb told Korn that while listing good things is key, "the real impact comes from writing down why those things led to good feelings. That act highlights the resources and support a person has in their work life -- such as skills, a good sense of humor, an encouraging family or a compassionate boss." If you felt positive about a meeting you had with a colleague, why? Was it because the exchange felt energized and promising, or was just a lot less painful than you expected? Maybe you felt productive, appreciated. Identify the why and you extend the benefits of the reflection.

3. Make it a habit. Okay, you did it! Now the key is to do this tomorrow. And the next day. Decide what you can do to make this ritual simple, quick, and meaningful. What tools appeal to you? Perhaps you love jotting things down in your Moleskine notebook (I do love the feel of a roller pen across those smooth pages).

If you're digitally inclined, there are loads of productivity apps out there. But one I have personally used for years is iDoneThis -- it's the inverse of a to-do list. Your to-DONE list is where you put in what you got done today. The web interface is refreshingly simple and plain. It shoots you an email at whatever time of day you like, and asks you to take five minutes to jot down what you got done. Reply to the email and it populates the cloud-based calendar on your computer or handheld app. Or you can input in the app directly. (You can also use this tool to track team accomplishments.) Don't forget to add the "why" or a line or two about why this matters, to get the full benefit of the day's reflection.

Building balanced awareness of your day also matters. And that's why another thing worth doing is noting where your emotions and mood take you off the rails (which undoubtedly results in the less-than-stellar moments). Check out meQ's own app, which is designed to let you track your moods and emotions throughout the day. When you're aware of where things go awry, you'll be more capable of addressing them -- and feeling better about it.

Want to dramatically reduce your stress? Take our 28-day challenge.

Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, www.mequilibrium.com, the new digital coaching system for stress, which helps both individuals and corporations achieve measurable results in stress management and wellness.

For more by meQuilibrium, click here.

For more on stress, click here.

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