Her hectic lifestyle left her emotionally drained and unhappy, so Nikki Muller decided it was time for change. By Davelle Lee
Nikki Muller hit the reset button after realising she was overwhelmed and exhausted from work commitments. Photo: Veronica Tay
Television host Nikki Muller simply lights up the room. It is impossible to dislike someone bursting with as much positive energy and warmth as her.
At our photo call, she greets the crew with big hugs and strikes up lively conversations with them as they do her hair and makeup. When she’s all dolled up, she exclaims in wide-eyed wonder: “Thank you guys so much, I feel like a princess!”
But Nikki is no happy-go-lucky, freewheeling TV celebrity. She’s the typical modern woman, with heavy commitments to work, family and friends, and trying to juggle it all while staying sane. But sometimes, even the best multi-taskers falter.
As a presenter on Fox Sports Asia, she’d sometimes work for up to 16 days at a stretch without taking a rest day. Last year, on top of her work for Fox Sports Asia, Nikki also co-hosted the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, and SEA Games on TV, as well as hosted food science series The Food Files on Nat Geo People.
“I was never really rested. I would work myself to the ground so that by the time I got home, I’d just sleep,” she says. The strain and stress was so bad that she found herself crying on public buses or at lunch, in between her many appointments and shoots.
It was only on her 31st birthday earlier this year that Nikki asked herself, “What’s the point of working so hard? I thought I’d be married by now. I thought I’d have my own show full-time.”
While she had made a checklist of short-term goals – among which included quitting her job at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in 2008 to move to Singapore to work in television, and to do more live shows and theatre work – she didn’t have any big-picture, long-term goals.
Overwhelmed and exhausted, Nikki hit the reset button. She saw a counsellor, who helped her make sense of her emotions and learn how to deal with them, as well as figure out what would truly make her happy.
“It’s like sitting in an interrogation room,” she says of being in therapy. Her trained therapist helped her identify her pattern of committing to unproductive relationships and setting overly high expectations for herself.
Finally, Nikki emerged with a new outlook – to be happy, she needed to pursue the things she truly valued rather than blindly subscribing to society’s definition of what was important. And that’s when the real change started.
Career success is not happiness
Nikki realised she’d pushed herself to the limit where work was concerned but that didn’t make her any happier. “So many people define themselves by their work even when it doesn’t make them happy,” Nikki observes. “In reality, many of us value other aspects of our lives – our family, hobbies and passions – just as much as work, if not more.” To minimise her stress, she decided to give equal attention to both her personal and professional life.
Busyness is not happiness either
It’s easy to believe that being busy all the time is a sign that you’re leading a fulfilling life. “This mentality is so ingrained in us,” says Nikki. “The idea of multi-tasking is celebrated when really, all it means is that we are not fully present in any one moment or action.”
In fact, having a scattered mind can reduce the quality of your work. She says the better approach is to work towards producing something you can be proud of. “If it feels good in your soul, it was fruitful,” Nikki says. Now, she pushes herself to produce work she feels proud of and that takes her out of her comfort zone.
Reflect on your values
“To figure out how to be happy, you have to know what makes you happy in the first place,” she says, adding that she took a good hard look at what she valued and why.
She says it’s also good to look at what you actually spend your time on. This can help you identify time you might not be spending meaningfully, and show you the changes you need to make.
Even 15 minutes a day to talk to your parents on the phone or to read a good book can make a difference to your wellbeing, says Nikki. As her mum is based in the United Kingdom while her dad lives in the Philippines, she now takes time to travel with them one-on-one.
Listen to your intuition
Nikki lets herself yell and cry when she needs to, to help her process her emotions and thoughts better. She recalls crying on an airplane before take-off, without any idea why. It was only 10 minutes later that she realised it was the first time she would be back in Zurich since her grandmother who had lived there, passed away.
Likewise, Nikki says your body and mind will give you signals when you are unable to cope with your work, such as the feeling of wanting to cry, or your muscles tensing up. “When you’re constantly irritable, when you find you haven’t eaten or aren’t eating healthily – these are all signs too,” she adds.
Many people tend to ignore these red flags, especially when they appear at an inconvenient time – when deadlines are looming or when work is piling up. In the end, they become overwhelmed. “When we are so focused on ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’, we stop paying attention to our internal needs,” Nikki explains.
Slow down and tune in to your inner self, she says. In addition to helping you be more productive, it also helps you better care for those who depend on you.
Nikki sets aside alone time every day to enjoy her own company. Her favourite pastime is to spend half an hour in the pool and she believes in exercise as the perfect outlet for anxiety. “It’s the one place where nobody can bother me,” she says. “And no one has ever regretted a good workout.”
During her me-time, she goes through a self quiz of sorts. “Ask yourself how you are doing and what you are feeling. If you find there are certain negative thoughts that bubble up, sit down and write them out. This helps you to transcribe your thoughts as they come, so that you keep track of the worries and the tough questions before they get buried in your mind.”
Once Nikki is able to acknowledge her emotions, she says it becomes much easier to deal with them.
Be kinder to yourself
Give yourself more credit for what you’ve achieved in life so far, says Nikki. “We need to be kinder to ourselves,” she reflects. “I have a sign next to my bed that reads, ‘Consider how far you’ve come’. I have actually come a long way from quitting my job in 2011 and coming to Singapore with nothing but two suitcases in hand. So I think, ‘Stop beating yourself up. Look at what you’ve done, it’s pretty darn cool.’”
This story first appeared in www.herworldplus.com.