Give Yourself a Rest–and Come Back Stronger, Happier and More Productive
Wayne Muller, Bread for the Journey
The Bottom Line
Our society places such a high value now on action and productivity that most people feel guilty whenever they take time off.
When we do have free time, we spend it in ways that aren’t replenishing–running errands or shopping or collapsing in front of the TV.
But if we don’t take time regularly to pause and renew ourselves, both our work and personal lives suffer.
TAKING A BREATHER: Spending all our time in pursuit of goals interferes with good judgment. In our frenzy to get a project finished, it’s easier to justify fudging the truth or taking advantage of someone else.
Even when we try to be helpful, we may be so emotionally brittle that we end up doing good badly.
Example: A doctor friend of mine remembers working around the clock in medical school. The less rest he got, the more tests he would have to order before arriving at an accurate diagnosis for his patients.
But when he made a point of spending time with his family, taking walks, catching up on sleep, he returned to work with his listening and intuition heightened. With these healing skills renewed, he could diagnose his patients more easily and accurately.
All of us have had the experience of wrestling with a problem without success … only to find the answer comes to us after we’ve left the issue alone for a few days. The rhythm between work and rest is so essential to a fulfilling life that most of the world’s major religions have some version of a rest day. But you don’t have to be religious to benefit from taking a Sabbath.
A conscious day or hour off refreshes your body and mind, restores creativity and helps cultivate qualities–such as wisdom, courage and love–that grow only with time.
THE HALF-HOUR REST: You may not feel you can spare a whole day away from your responsibilities. But rest time can be as brief as an afternoon… or just a half-hour at the right time.
A good way to get reacquainted with the idea of conscious rest is to take a restful walk. This is a slow, silent stroll with no destination or goal.
Whenever something attracts your curiosity–a stone, a leaf, a chink in the wall–stop to look at it. Then, just as a small child would do, amble off and become absorbed in the next thing that captures your imagination.
Many people are transformed by this experience. It may be the first time in years they have allowed themselves to take pleasure in healthful idleness.
Other things you can do in a half-hour include meditating, reading poetry or inspirational literature, taking a bath by candlelight, sitting in a garden or just lying under a tree.
THE BEST KIND OF REST: To get the most from special rest time, make sure that your time off is…
Regular and frequent. An annual vacation is good, but all it does is give you enough energy to crawl back onto the work treadmill. Commit to at least a few hours of mental rest once a week.
Set apart. We live in a time when almost anything we do is interrupted. Set boundaries to remind yourself and others that this time is precious.
Make symbolic gestures to limit access from the outside world and your everyday concerns. Turn off the TV and the computer. Put away your car keys. Unplug the phone.
Nonnegotiable. Choose a reasonable amount of time to set aside–and commit to it. Without a commitment, you will keep finding reasons to delay your needed rest.
Delightful. This shouldn’t feel like punishment. Think about the activities that nourish you most deeply.
Examples: Listening to music… dancing… hiking in a nearby park… reading… playing with your children… or even just sampling fresh fruit at a farmer’s market.
Choose a few simple activities you love. If you are overscheduled–even with things you enjoy–you’ll find yourself back on the achievement treadmill.
Connected. In addition to connecting with yourself, take time to make contact with the people you care about.
Grateful. So much of our daily life is focused on complaining about what’s wrong or trying to fix it. Be sure to spend some time remembering what is right with your life and being thankful for those things.