When you finally stop moving or take a break, your mind tends to press on and fill the work void with busy thoughts. Far too often, my vacations ripen with creative or intellectual juices. More momentum from busy days than anything else, I spend all of my free time theorizing, planning or creating the next big thing. Unfortunately, a busy mind is hardly restful. If you want a true break, you need to let go and stop thinking for a while. Zone out to some chill music. Go for a jog. Float down a river. Whatever helps your mind find a small measure of peace. With a completely rested mind, you will be surprised how many of your anxieties from before will disappear.
In college, sleep deprivation and stress pushed my heart to the edge and sent me to the doctor one too many times. I’ve made very long strides to take better care of myself since then. Lately, I’ve been sleeping an average 7.8 hours per night if you’d believe it. I’ve always tried to be a badass and keep things cool in spite of the pain. Looking back, the number of times I boasted to peers about all-nighters makes me sick. Anymore, I keep it as cool as possible for my health: playing things down and taking situations less seriously has the magical effect of helping you actually take situations less seriously.
Over the years, I’ve learned one thing about personal investment in your job, projects or activities overall: you can give it all of your time or give it all of your stress, but not both. The cumulative tax on your body and mental health is not sustainable. If you find yourself stressing out about your work, give it time away. If you find yourself completely entrenched in working hours, find whatever way possible to breathe and relax as often as possible.
If you can’t find a way to be at peace with the way you’re spending your time, start considering serious damage control. Life is too short to sell your time, health, happiness and your soul.
The public cares little about how long Olympians train or how many practices football teams suffer before playing a game; the public cares about gold medals and victories. Big wins define success. Many successful companies grew by the hand of all-nighters and sweat, others by beer and four-day work weeks. What matters at the end of the day is attitude, strategy and inspiration. With a team on the same page and in good mental health, the engine can plow forward full steam ahead. Through calculated innovation and disruption, an organization can leapfrog the competition overnight. If everyone believes in what they are doing and work hard to make a difference, anything is possible. Long work days are symptomatic of success and passion – hardly ever the source. Man hours do not scale an organization – that’s industrial era nonsense. Asking your people to work longer days will not shovel fresh coal into the fire. The message should be: care more. If your team does not inherently care a lot, then find different ways to get them charged. Set the vision. Plaster a mission statement to the wall. Whatever it takes to remind everyone why they wake up everyday and come together.
You know what’s terrifying? Abandoning work, teammates, income, bills, children, friends, pets, chores and other obligations for a week or more. Even more so terrifying to do all that and go to a place you’ve never been. Leaving town is easier for people with low-stakes employment, structured vacation time and a shorter list of things to abandon. It’s much more difficult for people entangled in their work or community. An executive responsible for hundreds of employees who depend on him or her may never feel comfortable leaving all that behind. It’s a scary thing. To take a vacation takes courage.
To take a true vacation takes even more courage. By ‘true vacation,’ I mean a designated period of time where you can completely let go. For people in control day-to-day, this can be as terrifying or more so than leaving everything behind. My father planned everything his entire life (he plans cities and suburban spaces for a living). Vacations were no different. When things didn’t go to plan, he’d stress out. Stress breaks the true vacation. As my parents upgraded to an empty nest, things got a little easier. The allure of short spontaneous trips popped up all the time. These days, I’d swear that my mom does more vacation planning than my dad. They are becoming notorious for randomly skipping town. Vegas here, New York there. More power to them.
Like defying your fear of heights by climbing a wall, it gets easier time after time. Overcome the first few trips and you start to overcome your hesitations. Before you know it, you’ll be a vacation master. Like anything else, mental health takes conditioning and practice. Vacations are big wins for your mental health.
To fuel consistent hard work and quality, it is absolutely necessary to take real breaks. No human being can sustain a high level of effort and thoughtful decision-making without rebooting regularly.
You need to keep the pencil sharp if you want to write a full book.
I’m taking my own advice for the next five days. Please forgive me if posts are more succinct than normal!
Where can you go to clear your mind? Where can you go to let your thoughts flow freely? A forest? On a jog? In the game room? Where can you go to free your mind?
With all the noise day to day, it’s difficult to pause and reflect on your own life. It’s difficult to set your emotions and stress aside. Without a moment to rest, you can lose sight of your values, stumble away from your path, or threaten your health. I understand that rest is difficult to find, but I encourage you to make something work.
The best way to do this, I’ve found, is to assign a space (or time of day, if you can commit) exclusively for resting your mind. The shower is my meditation space – it is disconnected from the rest of the world, physically relaxing, and built into my day. Find a place that works for you. Treat this space as holy. Do NOT defile it with stress or let any other part of your life in. Keep it sacred. Visit it any time you feel unhealthy, lost, or overrun.