“If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.”
– Soojung-Kim Pang
As some of you may have noticed, I have been missing from this space for the last few months.
One thing I noticed during this time is that I didn’t have much to say in terms of getting unstuck, implementing wellness, and cultivating creativity. I am 18 months into a PhD examining wonderful ideas like fatherhood, imprisonment, liminality, and space and I felt like my brain was full of ideas – just not the kind that I am used to sharing here.
I have been reading so many good books lately and two had a significant impact on my way of life during this time.
- The first, written by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang was transformational. It is called ‘Rest: why you get more done when you work less’ and is an in-depth examination of the power and importance of rest in our lives.
- The second, ‘The organized mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload’ by Daniel Levitin, looks closely at how to reduce information overload and organise the mind and your environment to reduce brain fog and help improve productivity and efficiency.
After reading these books, and due to all the recent world events, I didn’t want to write just for the sake of writing as I felt that was simply contributing to the noise – of politics, of clutter, of mass information- and so I have refrained from writing in this space. In the back of my mind I knew I would eventually have something to say and now that time has come.
Recognising burn out
Over the last few years I have worked really hard to make a profitable and sustainable business. I have put so much time and energy into creating systems, finding wonderful clients, and running workshops. As a part time solopreneur and part time academic I have also worked hard to get several papers published, to meet milestones, to network and speak at conferences. Ultimately, I have worked so that I could live comfortably, travel and generally experience ‘success’ as I define it.
But several months ago I was flat as a pancake.
The more I worked, the less enjoyment I got out of working. I hit a wall so hard that my mind, body and spirit seemed to be lifeless. There was no energy. I cried at the drop of a hat. I was exhausted, unexcited about all the things that came my way, and yet I had everything to be grateful for.
So why no excitement?
Why no joy?
Why no excitement when I signed another client?
Why no joy when I published an article?
Why no satisfaction at simply being me?
Because those moments of silence, that space in between, was empty. Within this space was a void I was trying to fill with work and achievement. And to no avail. All that transpired was burnout and exhaustion.
In April this year I went away on holiday and was forced to ‘do nothing’ because of an intense cold. I crashed and for the second time in my life wondered:
“Is this it?”
“Is this all there is?”
If there was some bigger force out there in the world then pretty please could it show me what to do because I sure as hell didn’t seem to be capable of doing it.
This was a pattern I created of working incredibly hard until I fell flat on my face and couldn’t get up. I was a workaholic, working any chance I got, priding myself on being an over-achiever with a frame of mind that was go, go, go, go, go – crash.
Go go go go go go go CRASH.
And I’d had enough.
What is that space in-between?
It was at this point that a number of questions started floating through my mind during meditation:
Who are we if we are not defined by our work (or our role as a mother, or our job)?
If someone came tomorrow and told us we had no more clients, no more study, or no more achievements – what would we be left with?
Is it possible to feel content with absolutely nothing?
What are your thoughts? I would love you to hit reply and let me know. What comes up for you if you were to take away all that you identify with on an external level?
If you’re anything like me, you might be completely freaking out right now, because it was at this point that I came to the realisation that all of my self-worth was being placed on work and achievement. There was always a yearning for more. When I took these away, this space was clouded with restlessness and discontent.
There was a yearning to ‘do’, rather than ‘be’.
Deep down though I knew, just as you secretly do too, that this wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to live my life only focusing on work and only getting enjoyment out of achievements. Surely there was more to life than this?
How to move from burn out to intentional rest
“Routinization of work, the researchers concluded, does not have to diminish creativity; if it’s accompanied by freedom, routine can enhance creativity.” Soojung-Kim Pang
The main point here is that if you are feeling completely burnt out and only finding satisfaction with ‘doing’ or working, start noticing the things that make you feel content, that relax you, and that allow you to feel rested.
Our worth needs to come from within, from being and ‘doing’ no-thing.
What this involves is learning how to rest and to fully incorporate rest into all aspects of our lives, as rest is as important, if not more important, than ticking off all those items on our to-do list.
Here are nine steps you can to move away from burn out and into a more restful (and creative) life:
These will help anyone struggling to slow down and take time out.
- Given yourself permission to rest
I often get my clients to repeat the phrase “I am allowed” as it involves giving ourselves permission to be imperfect, to be vulnerable, and now, to rest.
If we’re prone to overwork and over-achieving, rest can bring with it feelings of guilt and judgements that we ‘should’ be doing other things.
2. Make an intention to rest
Make your intention to simplify life and to focus on rest. To enjoy rest and to give yourself permission to do so.
But rest is crucial in order to cultivate creativity and productivity. The more we rest, the more we’ll be able to focus when we’re working.
3. Sleep in longer
I was waking at 6.30 for no apparent reason. If you have the ability to sleep longer then take it, for me going to sleep earlier just doesn’t work, so sleeping in that half hour longer makes a remarkable difference.
4. Read ‘Rest’ and implement just one thing
If you have worked with me before, you will know that my way is to focus on just one thing. Not 50, and not 10. Sometimes, just implementing one thing can be the thing that will kick start a whole new habit. Then you can move onto the next thing.
5. Work in 90 minute stunts 3-4 times a day and that is enough. Then it’s time to rest and recuperate.
I have written before about working smarter, not harder in this post. It is something I firmly believe and there is research to back it up.
As Soojung-Kim Pang notes in his book, research based on the working lives of a group of scientists from the 50s has shown that productivity peaked between 10-20 hours a week those working 60 hours were the least productive of all. Other research has shown that people who work less hours in a day are more productive. What this means is that you really, really, don’t have to work overtime. In fact, it is utterly pointless and anyone telling you different is stark raving mad. You’re better off going for a bike ride, switching your mind off, and coming back to it tomorrow.
6. Take a walk
Read ‘Rest’ to see all the effects of walking, experts, scientists, writers and artists take to the pavements each day to walk it out. Try it, see if it works for you.
7. Do something you love: Read a book, cook delicious food, paint or go out dancing
This comes back to embracing your feminine energy (more on that in my next post) in order to rest, energise, be intimate, creative, and balanced. If you are not sure what your hobbies are, try different things and see if any of them light you up. Notice what brings you a sense of calm and contentment and allows you to be completely in the zone.
8. Reframe rest and work and your mindset so that rest becomes just as important as work. Rest is pivotal to productive work. Fact.
Instead of seeing rest as a waste of time, we can reframe how we look at it and see it as a pivotal ingredient to our creative process. Data shows that the more we rest the creative and inspired we become. This means beginning to acknowledge ourselves for who we are when we are being – for being essentially no-thing.
It’s a daily practice and may involve creating some mantras and reflecting on rest. Some mantras may include:
I am worthy of this rest.
I am allowed to rest.
9. Plan a holiday or trip
Soojung-Kim Pang talks about the benefit of holidays and sabbaticals. Earlier this year I took myself off on a working holiday to Mornington and spent the week writing and walking. It was delightful and I was extremely productive, working a maximum of 4 hours a day.
If you are still unsure about how to bring more rest into your life, sit back make yourself a tea and watch this interview between the author of ‘Rest’ Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and Arianna Huffington.
Based on these reflections, I intend to visit you in the next six months whenever I get the inspiration. See it as somewhat sporadic if you will, but know that from today and hereafter I aim to contribute simply, in small, and intentional ways.
For now, take time to rest.
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