Schrödinger's in-box

Schrödinger's in-box
Photo by 84 Video / Unsplash

WorkLifePsych News 007

Hi there!

When considering what to include in this newsletter, I often reflect on what's actually going on in my own life. Last month, I experienced the perfect example of psychology-in-action that I feel I have to share it with you.

It all starts with a lovely trip to Japan...

Taking a break

Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

Last month I enjoyed a two week break in my favourite holiday destination: Japan. I spent my time visiting old haunts and enjoying cherry blossoms in Tokyo, exploring the city of Sendai for the first time, and relaxing while soaking in the hot springs of Hakone. All in all, it was an excellent holiday and a perfect opportunity to rest and recharge.


I know I'm not alone in finding my thoughts returning to work as soon as the end of my holidays is in sight. I traveled back to London via Kuala Lumpur and had a six-hour layover between flights. And that's when my premature post-holiday blues started to kick in.

When it comes to work-life balance and the management of my down boundaries, I have quite a flexible approach. I regularly feel inspired to write something or mull over an idea while I'm not 'at work', and have no problems dealing with personal tasks while at work. My boundaries are therefore pretty porous.

But the one thing I dread is work-related email impinging on my time off. I have all email notifications switched off and rarely if ever check work email outside of business hours. But after a couple of weeks away from the office, email can easily pile up and represent a bit of a headache.

So the two forces within me began to vie for my attention: on the one hand, I wanted to keep away from my inbox and just deal with it when I formally returned to work. On the other hand, I wanted to avoid arriving back to a mountain of unread emails. And these two forces began to take up more of my mental space than I was happy about.

And what was in the in-box? 😱

On the one hand, it could be full of business opportunities that I'd like to see. On the other hand, it could be full of chores and stressors I'd very much like to avoid for as long as possible. But I wouldn't know unless I opened it to check.

Hence 'Schrödinger's in-box'.

Turning the tables

I very quickly realised this was the perfect opportunity to turn the tables and ask myself what I'd say to client who presented a similar challenge in a coaching session.

It soon became apparent that I could bring my psychological flexibility skills to life - and not just talk about it!

Psychological flexibility is a skill set that allows us to do more of what matters to us, to be less preoccupied with thoughts and emotions, and to be present in the moment so we can take helpful action in line with our values.

Psychological flexibility is the ability to feel and think with openness, to attend voluntarily to your experience of the present moment, and to move your life in directions that are important to you, building habits that allow you to live life in accordance with your values and aspirations. It’s about learning not to turn away from what is painful, instead turning toward your suffering in order to live a life full of meaning and purpose.
Steven C Hayes - A Liberated Mind

By getting caught up in worries about my email, I wasn't really demonstrating this helpful flexibility. It was taking me away from enjoying my surroundings in the lovely Malaysia Airlines executive lounge in KL. It felt like my holiday was already ending and I felt like I was being forced to choose between a set of unpleasant options. Psychological rigidity in action!

So I paused and walked my way through the psychological flexibility skills one by one.

Psych Flex in action!

There are six skills in this framework, and while there's no perfect of prescribed place to start, this is how I did it:

📍 Step one: Noticing. I started to bring my attention to the moment I was actually in, not the future once I was back in the office. I began to notice the thoughts bubbling up about workload and the feelings of resentment when I thought about my email.

💭 Step two: Defusion. I began to look at these thoughts and see them for what they were: just thoughts. I visualised them moving past me and practiced reframing how I was experiencing them. So, instead of "My emails are stressing me out!" It sounded like "I notice my mind is giving me thoughts about my email". A simple adjustment, but one that fundamentally changed how I experienced the thoughts.

🧭 Step three: Values. I asked myself how I wanted to be in that moment. Ideal me would be professional but also sensitive to my need for a break. After a little reflection, I realised that 'me at my best' would be proactive and just take the bull by the horns and deal with it.

🤷‍♂️ Step four: Self-concept. I took a moment to reflect on what I was telling myself about myself. I was focused on some quite inflexible views of 'me, on holiday', rather than 'me, a professional who needs to balance quite a few demands'. I had erected some inflexible mental walls between work and play, which didn't really reflect how I live my life.

⚡️ Step five: Acceptance. This is all about the explicit acceptance of the discomfort that can come from doing meaningful things. In my case, it was the discomfort of checking email while still 'off the clock', but for all the right reasons. Helping future me have a much nicer first day back at work.

⏩ Step six: Committed action. I moved to a quiet table in the lounge, opened my laptop and methodically worked through my in-box. There were no emergencies (I'm not a cardiac surgeon!) but also no life-changing good news either. It was the usual mix of updates about ongoing projects and a whole heap of newsletters and automated updates.

Taking a step back to think about my own thinking in this instance helped me take action more in line with the kind of person I wanted to be. Not someone who would sit and stew in the resentment of feeling like my holiday was being curtailed. But someone who just sorts things out as they become obvious, and doesn't hang about when action is needed.

All in all, it took me less than half an hour and ensured I could really enjoy my flight back to London without worrying about what was in my in-box.

Learning more about psychological flexibility

If this has piqued your interest and you'd like to learn more about psychological flexibility, your timing is perfect.

Later this month, I launch a new podcast series with my new partner in crime, Ross McIntosh - host of the excellent 'People Soup' podcast.

Across eight episodes of 'My Pocket Psych', we'll be picking apart the skills that make up the psychological flexibility concept, exploring how we apply them, and give some tips on how you can bring them to live yourself.

It starts with Episode 156, which will be available in a couple of weeks, either via or wherever you get your podcasts.

And there's more!

From April onwards, our online community meet-ups will serve as a Q&A session for listeners. You can join us live to delve even deeper into the skills and ideas and get answers to your pressing questions. Existing members of our community will be able to see these on the events menu - and if you're not already a member, you can sign up for free today at

Until next time, thanks for reading.

PS: A bonus if you made it all the way through this month's missive. Here's Malaysia Airline's very fun on-board safety announcement video, which I got to see several times on my journey home! ✈️