The Third Space

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The Third Space

Using Life’s Little Transitions to Achieve Balance and Happiness

For the longest time, stress management and work life balance have been the hottest topics especially in the past few decades. The term ‘work-life balance’ was first used in the UK in late 1970s. Since then, there have been a lot of researches done on the effect of work stress and importance of work-life balance. In today’s society, it is common that as one progresses into his or her career, this balancing act seems more and more like a dream. For instance, according to a survey by, 9 out of 10 Singapore employees work beyond their official hours. It is no surprise that work-life balance becomes the top of every working person list when come to what they are looking for in a job.

Most of the complaints are that people do not get enough time to spend with their family. Yet, all that is on their mind when they get home is WORK! Due to the rising levels of stress and pressure, fewer people are truly engaged and present with their family members at the end of the day. The result of this inability to switch into the new role, task and environment, leads to personal tension, disengagement and a serious decline in personal relationships.  Why are we performing better at work than we are at home? One of the reasons why people are finding it hard to switch off at the end of the day is that they are not tapping into the mindset of the home environment. Every external environment has a specific mindset and when people successfully adopt that mindset they become less stressed, more present and more successful in that environment.

Dr Adam Fraser, a researcher in Australia, conducted studies with Deakin University by interviewing hundreds of people with demanding jobs, ranging from leaders, sales people, call centers operators, nurses, to elite athletes. In their research, they found that those who are able to manage their stress well has something in common. They are able  to overcome setbacks and assume a specific mindset to get the most out of what is coming next. The researchers called it the “Third Space”, or commonly known as Transition. Further research showed that those who are able to assume such a mindset showed an improvement of 41%  in work life balance.

Different people have different variations of the Third Space, while some use the train trip home, others use the gym or other relax activity to find the Third Space. To help one find his or her Third Space, Dr Fraser recommends the triple R methods:

Reflect: Reflect and analyse the day, focusing on what had been achieved and what had gone well. This activity increased level of positive emotion and put one in a growth mindset.

Rest: Take time to relax and unwind, being calm and present allows psychological recovery from the stressful day. This phase also allows the brain to support more constructive behaviours.

Reset: This is where intention for the new role, task and environment becomes clear, and on how one wanted to ‘show up’ when walked through the door.

This technique not only applies to the transition between work and home, it applies to all the little transitions we make between different roles, tasks and environments throughout the day . As multi-tasking has become the default work style, Dr Fraser’s research showed that what was done in the Third Space had significant impact on the performance.  As he quoted: “it’s not what you do – it’s what you do in between what you do – that really matters”.  To maintain competitiveness in today’s business world, one needs to have the ability to quickly adapt and shift into a mindset that aligns with the next role, task and environment. To quote Darwin’s theory: “It is not the strongest of the species that will survive. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”. The ability to adapt facilitates the chance of being present in that environment and enable one to focus on what is happening at that moment.

So what will be your Third Space?



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