We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.
Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m writing this from the terrace of my beach side hotel in Gran Canaria. Hard life, you say! Yes, there are certainly worse places, and worse conditions to be in. Last week, I was ill, in rainy London. On Thursday, I started feeling the signs. On Friday, I had to leave work early. On Saturday and Sunday, my energy levels kept depleting within two hours of waking up / getting up (even if all I was doing was eating), then I would have to lie down. I basically spent the whole weekend eating and resting. (It may sound idyllic, but when you have my personality, it’s quite probably one of the most irritating ways to spend a weekend – also I live alone, so that means I have to sort out my own food, not great, when you are ill.)
So this article is a timely reminder today, from one workaholic to another: I understand you!
Let’s recap. Over the last couple of weeks, I was consistently tired. I knew that. But I kept pushing myself, because I knew I’d this vacation coming up, and so I thought, well, I will just rest then. That one more session in the gym. One more project. That social plan. It doesn’t matter that I don’t drink alcohol or go partying…those are not the only things that take their toll. Even the “good” things, when done to excess, are not good for you. Of course my brain knows that. And yet, I usually want to do that one more thing.
My body, sensibly, decided enough was enough. So from last Thursday, when the body started sending signals, I had to listen. Fortunately, I do listen when it gets to that point, mostly because then I don’t want to be bed-ridden for any longer than necessary. But it’s a good reminder of one’s physical limits. Yes, you can push past your limits. Yes, you can train yourself to be stronger, more resilient. But there is a limit. Nothing is without cost.
It is important to give yourself time to relax, recharge, and regroup – whether physically or mentally. As it turned out I spent the weekend recovering like I was on a mission, which I kind of was, because I did not want to be ill on this vacation, which I had planned since January (anticipating I would need to relax). Of course, a seaside vacation isn’t always going to be at our disposal whenever we need to relax, so here are a few thoughts to keep in mind, and of course your journal can aid you in that:
You have been feeling the signs. Mental or physical fatigue, irritability, stress, little warning signs where your mind and body are telling you that you need to slow down, or even perhaps stop. Perhaps you are as much of an idiot as I am, and try ignoring those signs. Or perhaps you are more sensible, and you stop. Whatever the case, there comes a point when you have to accept (or face dire consequences) that you need some down time. You absolutely need to relax.
If you are in a position to actually get away, then do. Being in beautiful natural surroundings is ideal, particularly by a body of water. There is definitely something relaxing about that. Of course your geographical location may have a lot to do with your relaxation needs, but for those of us in rainy, cloudy UK, sunshine does work miracles.
If you can’t get away to a different location, then plan a local day/weekend/week to relax, depending on the levels of exhaustion you have pushed yourself into. In your journal, make a list of 10 things you find relaxing. This could be things like, taking a walk, reading, just scribbling in your journal, watching movies, watching reruns of your favourite shows, cooking, knitting….whatever floats your boat.
If you are an obsessive scheduler like I am, also try living by the moment. As in, give yourself permission to do what you feel like. That’s what I am trying to do this week here in Gran Canaria. Exactly what I feel like. So if I feel like doing some work, I do it. But then when I want to read, I read. If I want to workout, I do that, and if I want to walk on the beach, I do that. I am letting my mind and body dictate my schedule. It doesn’t mean that you must sleep half the day, or just sit on the beach (that for me would be far from relaxing, and utterly boring), but rather that you do the activities that you enjoy, only for as long as you enjoy them, and don’t push yourself to do more because you feel that you need to or that you should.
While you are having your relaxing day/weekend/week – as much as humanly and practically possible, let go of the phrase, “I should do that…” and just accept, “I feel like doing …”
That is the quick, and more enjoyable way to relax, if relaxing isn’t really your thing. (I’m aware that I’m looking for efficiency in relaxing….these are the downsides of being productivity obsessed)
image credit (my holiday reads)
Once you’ve allowed the tiredness and stress to seep away from your mind and body, then you are ready for the next step, which is to recharge your batteries.
For this, feed your mind and body with nutritious and enjoyable diet. (It’s not that kind of diet. You can eat chocolates and ice-creams!)
For your mind, read things that inspire you. It could be old favourites, or new things you are discovering. You could perhaps read biographies of the leaders in your field, or you could read about people you admire, who have accomplished amazing things. I personally find writer’s diaries inspirational, or something like the Alchemist which is a perennial favourite. Of course, you are not limited to books. You can also read blogs, magazines, listen to podcasts. Just try and stick to positive, motivational sources. When trying to recharge your batteries, look for sources that fill you with a renewed sense of purpose and determination. Remember to keep using your journal to improve your learning agility.
Don’t neglect your body. Slowly, build up the strength. Mind and body work in tandem. When one is unhealthy, the other tends to suffer too. You don’t need to have athletic level of fitness, but try to maintain a healthy body as much as possible. Go for gentle walks, or sprints, go to the gym or head to the park. It all depends on your preferences, your physical state, as well as the opportunities available to you. But just move a little.
For this recharging, I think it is important to spend some time in solitude. Just quietly replenishing your energy levels. Journal about it. Clear your mind. And then if and when you feel up to it, talk to positive, motivated people. Avoid negative, energy-sucking people as much as possible.
You are relaxed, and you are re-charged, rearing to go! Fantabulous. Now it’s time to regroup. Get that journal out, and start jotting. Just do a freewrite for 10 minutes or so. Let thoughts and ideas pour. How do you feel? Mention positive effects you may be feeling from previous two stages. This will help you remember it for the next time you push yourself too much (hopefully). Then start writing about the things you want to do, projects you have in mind, that never-ending to-do list. This freewrite, kind of a brainstorm, will allow you to refocus. Get everything out of your mind, then decide on priorities.
What are the things you are doing to focus on? Try to have as narrow focus as possible. Remember, just because you are rearing to go, doesn’t mean you can or should go back into your exhausting schedule all at once. It may actually be helpful to pick a project or two, and finish it, so that it will feel like more of an accomplishment, and therefore fill you with further positivity.
There they are, the three Rs. Though this article was particularly written with my fellow workaholics, it is actually useful for most people who either by choice or necessity, end up running themselves in the ground. Even if you don’t remember to do it all the time, perhaps try to focus on the three Rs periodically, at least once a quarter.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:
Each of the steps below are things you can journal about to gain further awareness, and solutions for where you stand with Relaxing, Recharging and Regrouping. Keep a list of things that you find relaxing, so that when you need to do that, you can just go do that. Equally, keep a list of things that inspire you, that feel you with a renewed sense of purpose, that motivate you when you are feeling demotivated. These will be the things you can use to recharge your batteries. And finally, keep that journal going with your thoughts to gain clarity on your goals and plans, so that you can regroup and restart as quickly as possible.