This is the Key to a Well-Balanced Life
The significance of downtime, rest, and mental breaks
In a day and age where we embrace, and even encourage “the hustle”, it’s almost considered shameful for one to delight in the pleasures of doing nothing. Fueled by mantras such as “Sleep is for the weak” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”, we’re pressured to go, go, go without taking a single break or stopping.
We’re so overwhelmed by long work weeks, responsibilities at home, and the attempt to keep our social lives afloat, that we can’t even fathom the idea of resting.
Of course, working hard, pushing yourself, and hustling is how you get stuff done, right? That’s how you become great at something. That’s how you become successful. And that’s how you become the best. As we all know the saying, “Practice makes perfect”, discipline and perseverance is absolutely essential in reaching your goals.
But at the same time, we are only human and sadly, I must break it to you that we do have our limits.
Even world class athletes know that rest is crucial to training. Going into a marathon, elite runners don’t push themselves the night before a race — They know better than that. They allow their bodies to rest and ensure that they preserve their energy needed to produce a high quality performance. World class athletes also don’t push themselves through injuries that could potentially do more damage to their bodies — or even worse, end their careers . When injury occurs, they rest.
They heal until they regain their full strength and compete when they know they are ready.
The 122nd Boston Marathon, one of the most prestigious marathons in the world, took place last Monday, April 18th, 2018. Elite runners from all across the globe competed in this event. The night before the marathon, breaking news came that one of the top favored female contenders, Jordan Hasay, was withdrawing from the race.
In an article published by Competitor Running magazine, they quoted an official statement from John Hancock (the official race sponsor) and the Boston Marathon saying,
“John Hancock and the Boston Marathon announced her withdrawal by saying ‘Unfortunately, Jordan Hasay has a stress reaction in the heel and will not be able to run…“The results showed a stress reaction in the heel and her doctor and team have made the decision that Jordan needs to take time to recover fully so there is no long term injury. We support that decision and have invited Jordan to return to Boston next year,” stated John Hancock and the Boston Marathon.’”
Clearly pain and injury show no mercy amongst even the fiercest of competitors. And for those of us who aren’t world class athletes, rest is important for us too.
I recently went to dinner with a good friend whom I haven’t seen in months. Before dinner, I went to her apartment so that we could head to the restaurant together. It was past 5pm on a Friday and she was working from home that day. When I got there, we started catching up a bit, but there were some moments of interruption when she’d check her phone, then her laptop, and eventually I realized that she was actually still working.
I sat there politely, allowing her to finish her work. She apologized for her distraction. I browsed through social media, checked my e-mail, and sent some text messages while she finished. She continued to work up until the moment that we physically left her apartment to go to dinner. Being that I hadn’t seen her in so long, I was a little shocked that she wasn’t more attentive.
I gave her the benefit of the doubt because I know she is a hard worker and that she takes her job very seriously. The irony in all of this is that just the day before, she was telling me how badly she needed a break from work, which brings me to my next point — that the working class has essentially lost sight of, or simply doesn’t know, how to relax.
In Italian, there’s a phrase which embodies and literally translates as “the beauty of doing nothing”. I discovered this phrase when I first saw the movie (and eventually read the original book) Eat Pray Love written by Best-Selling Author, Elizabeth Gilbert. In her book, she highlights this phrase in a scene where the main character is conversing with a barber on the differences between the Italian way of life versus American way. Gilbert writes,
“Il bel far niente means ‘the beauty of doing nothing’… [it] has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. You don’t necessarily need to be rich in order to experience this, either.”
I highly envy this lifestyle because it is not of the norm when it comes to the American lifestyle and our work ethic. We’re constantly on-the-go. Always moving. Always working. Always doing.
The thing that we often don’t realize is that mental fatigue is essentially just as damaging as physical fatigue. Similar to athletes on preserving the strength of their bodies, the mind is also just as as important.
Scientific American published an article specifically dedicated to the importance of mental breaks titled, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. In the article, the author Ferris Jabr cites psychologist K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University,
“Ericsson has concluded that most people can engage in deliberate practice — which means pushing oneself beyond current limits — for only an hour without rest; that extremely talented people in many different disciplines — music, sports, writing…
Unless the daily levels of practice are restricted, such that subsequent rest and nighttime sleep allow the individuals to restore their equilibrium,” Ericsson wrote, “individuals often encounter overtraining injuries and, eventually, incapacitating ‘burnout.’”
He goes on to provide substantial research and evidence on the effectiveness of mental breaks, vacations, and naps.
But, what’s the point of even having vacation days if we feel guilty taking them?
As a matter of fact, vacations are extremely significant, if not necessary, to our overall well-being. On the subject of taking vacations, Jabr writes,
“Psychologists have established that vacations have real benefits. Vacations likely revitalize the body and mind by distancing people from job-related stress; by immersing people in new places, cuisines and social circles, which in turn may lead to original ideas and insights; and by giving people the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep and to let their minds drift from one experience to the next, rather than forcing their brains to concentrate on a single task for hours at a time.”
To moral of the story in Jabr’s article is that rest does not “set you back” as some may think, but instead, it provides remarkable benefits towards productivity, creativity, learning, and memory.
Of course, we must aspire to become the best or at least the best version of ourselves possible, right?
Well, in order to do so, it is of the utmost importance that we make sure our bodies and minds are functioning at its highest capacity — And the key to doing that is by taking the time that you need for yourself to rest, relax, and re-energize.
We do not possess an unlimited source of energy. Like a car that needs fuel, we also need to monitor how much we have in the tank. We can only go so far before our next rest stop. So, remember to take a break when you are running low. It will take you further in the long run.