How to work with pleasure in times of corona

The global pandemic of COVID-19 has dramatically transformed our everyday realities. Such significant changes inevitably affected our approaches in academic work. With (even greater) uncertainty  about the future and merging of office/home environments, finding focus can be rather challenging. We have reached out to our Confidential Counsellor and a qualified Meditation Teacher, Dr Bernadette Kester for some advice and useful tools in battling distractions. Below you will find Bernadette’s message. The PhD Club of ERMeCC is very grateful for your time and expertise, Bernadette!

First of all, thank you for inviting me to contribute to your blog with a piece on ‘how to work with pleasure (in times of corona)?’. Indeed, I altered the title… but to me it sounds better than ‘how to prevent stress?’. How you formulate what your circumstances are, how you feel, what you would like to accomplish, what your ideal work situation would be, etc. matters a lot. Language matters, language constructs our reality, at least it influences how we experience our reality. It seems our brain doesn’t respond well to negatively formulated demands or wishes. So instead of saying ‘I don’t want to eat chocolate so much’, it usually works better and more stimulating to say ‘I want to eat more healthy food’. In our case, it’s most of all not about the wish ‘not wanting to feel stressed or frightened or worried’ but about the question ‘How could I learn to work with pleasure (under the circumstances)?’. It boils down to your main question ‘How to stay focused?’. Indeed, having a focus, and being focused in your (life and) work, generates enormous pleasure.

  • Formulate your wishes and your aspirations positively
  • Contemplate on the question of what it means to work with pleasure. How does that look for you? What would your ideal conditions be? Which of these conditions are realisable (given the circumstances)?

In order to feel balanced and well we need to know (and we usually do know) how to recharge ourselves, we (usually) also know what our goals are (short and long term), and we have learned how to keep strong ties with the people around us. Under the given circumstances the first and the last condition have become more complicated. Not being able to go to the pub for relaxing and seeing your friends can bring about feelings of loneliness and isolation. Try to zoom out and consider this situation as temporary. Such an approach has been widely propagated these days, but it is actually true and it offers some opportunities! It opens the road to the most important thing in life: to become friends with yourself or to feel at home with yourself! Sounds perhaps a bit woolly for some of you, but I discovered myself how important this actually is. How often are we unsatisfied with ourselves, criticizing ourselves, being very strict to ourselves, et cetera? And a lot of this happens unconsciously. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your dearest friend. Talk to yourself, keep a diary, learn to know yourself (better). Be more encouraging and lenient to yourself. This intimate relationship lasts a lifelong, so you better start to value it. If the basis is okay, the rest is a ‘piece of cake’. But if the basis doesn’t feel okay yet, start with the cake (see below)!

  • Take on a different perspective on your social reality: zoom out every now and then
  • Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your dearest friend

Let’s return to our main question: How to work with pleasure?

Below you will find six practical steps developed by Paul Loomans* on how to improve your workflow, to structure it better and to feel more satisfied.

One thing at a time

  • Choose one task, do not keep all other files open
  • Do not multitask / do one thing at a time
  • And finish it ...

Give your brain a clear message of what you intend to do the next 40/50 minutes. Be aware of the differences in being focussed and being distracted (multitasking). Don’t set the bar too high.

Consider for a moment what you are going to do next

  • Before you start something new, think about what you intend to do
  • This way you make your choice conscious, you picture it in your mind
  • Do not hurry                                                                                                     
  • Do it with full attention
  • Decide also to like the stupid jobs…

Create space between your activities

  • Always take a short break after 40-50 minutes, even if you are not done with something
  • Do something in that time frame that you do not have to put your mind into
  • Take a thought break
  • What do you feel when you need a break? Read your body language

Pay full attention to the ‘knockers’

  • If something happens in-between give it full attention (therefore it does not become a 'disturbing factor')
  • Indicate that you will return to it
  • Even if something comes to mind:
    • Think about how you will implement that later
    • Or write it down

From gnawing rats to sheep

Everything you postpone becomes a gnawing rat. Ask yourself: At what moments do you usually get stuck or tend to procrastinate? The following questions could help:

  • What do you already know?
  • How could you start (again)?
  • What do you not know (yet), what is missing?
  • Do you first need to acquire knowledge or seek help?
  • What has become an obstacle in your mind?
  • Make an inventory of your gnawing rats
  • Create a bond with it!
  • Transform the gnawing rat into a sheep

Observe background programmes

  • Background programmes always draw your attention away and make you restless
  • Worries, conflicts, setbacks, insufficient appreciation
  • Take some time to reflect on these
  • Pay attention to it, 'look the monster in the eye'
  • Do not think but feel
  • Notice and let go = processing
  • Take a walk!

    Wrap up

    1. Focus
    2. Set a goal (however short term)
    3. Take short breaks
    4. Handle distractions with care
    5. First deal with the thing you dislike the most
    6. Do something with your worries and conflicts
    7. Dare to be spontaneous in your work rhythm

    Good luck!

    Monday Morning Meditation

    What also works (at least for me and many other people) is to practice daily meditation, two times a day 10-20 minutes. I’ll explain how it can be practiced in the MMM – the Monday Morning Meditation – session. Every week at 8:30am (till approx..9:00am) via the URL:

    *Paul Loomans (2017) Time surfing. The zen approach to keeping time on your side (Ebook 6,99 euro)

    P.S. The PhD Club would also like to remind its readers from the EUR community about the OpenUp programme offering help in case of mental complaints.

    Portrait of Bernadette Kester
    Roy Borghouts


    Bernadette Kester is a senior Assistant Professor in the Department of Media & Communication at Erasmus University. Her teaching and research activities lie in the fields of journalism studies and media and representation. Currently she works on publications about the coping strategies of war journalists; and the well-being of foreign correspondents and journalists in general.