In our go-go-go, always plugged-in society, rest does not garner the value and importance it deserves. I, like many others, learned the hard way about the value of rest and the role it plays in everything we do.
Here is just a short list of everything impacted by rest:
- Appetite, eating habits and choices
- Athletic performance
- Cognitive ability
- Auto-immune function
- Emotional state
- Injury recovery
- Likelihood of becoming injured
- Work performance
It wasn’t until well into my fourth decade, during the journey to fulfill my life-long dream of competing in The Ironman World Championships, that I discovered the enormous value of rest. You see, like many of you, I am an achiever; a Type A personality if you will. This means I take great pride in getting things done and lots of them. I am not in any way, shape or form, a procrastinator. In fact, I am exactly the opposite. I make long to-do lists, am happy when I check off every task and when a spare moment shows up, I am quick to fill it. I see our current society doing the same thing.
However, during this journey, which expanded me in every possible way, I was doing 2-3 workouts per day, 6 days per week, leading a failing real estate office (tasked with turning it around quickly), working on a troubled marriage that ultimately ended in a contentious divorce, and competing in a new world called triathlon, where I was frequently the slowest competitor. My learning curve was high! I explain all of this to relate to what you have going on. We all have this kind of activity in our lives. My point is, it wasn’t until I stretched myself beyond what I previously thought capable, that I found the value of rest. I bet you are the same.
Here is what I mean: As I was pursuing and getting close to accomplishing my dream, my body began to break down. It, along with my mind, would no longer perform at the high level I had been keeping for years. Finally, my coach asked, “how much rest are you getting?” I gave my honest answer which was, maybe 5 hours per night and no rest during the day. He pointed to many studies on the value of rest. This refers to not only the sleep we get at night, which is when all of our cells rejuvenate themselves throughout our body, but also short periods of rest during the day. Additionally, all of the other items on the list above are restored during periods of rest. You see, rest is a requirement for our bodies and minds to function properly. Another revelation to me is that when we tax our system, we need even more rest.
I couldn’t drink enough coffee and energy drinks to keep my system going because I was forcing it to operate in a deprived mode. This should have been a sign to me that my body was telling me it needed more rest. Being the achiever I am, I ignored it. Also, my athletic performance had fallen off and it took more and more effort to do the things I was used to doing. Everything seemed more difficult, along with thinking and my work performance. Suddenly, I felt like there wasn’t enough time in the day to finish half of my to-do list, much less the whole thing. It seemed as though I had fallen into a time warp where I slowed down and everything else was at the same speed as before, and I was falling further and further behind. It was exhausting and frustrating.
Finally, my coach demanded that I make some changes to get more sleep at night and to build in short rest periods during the day. Prior to taking on the Ironman, I enjoyed 7-8 hours of sleep and would go outside my office for lunch or to walk or run a short errand. I had stopped doing all of these things and filled the time with training, more work, etc, to make everything work.
I realized I had to say no to some things in order to get the sleep and rest my entire body needed. I said no to watching tv, no to long meetings, no to some meetings that weren’t necessary. I actually started asking if meetings were necessary, which brought clarity to me and everyone on my team! In fact, I started questioning everything I was spending my precious time on and cut out whatever was unneeded. I realized these were just past patterns that were no longer serving me well.
I built in short rest periods during the day where I would turn off all devices and just be still, closing my eyes, allowing my brain to rest. Perhaps I would go outside or go sit in my car and lean the seat back. I looked for opportunities to break up my activity and bring a true rest period. These were not long periods of rest; they were mainly 10-15 minutes 2-3 times per day. In fact, I even made these appointments on my schedule, so the person scheduling appointments for me booked around them and therefore, I honored them too.
In no time, I got back on track and ultimately achieved my dream and crossed the finish line at the Ironman two short years after I pursued it. I share this so you can examine what you spend your time on and how much rest you actually get at night and during the day. And if one or several things on the list above are off or not as you would like, look at rest. It’s usually the last thing we consider, but the first thing that keeps us performing, healthy and happy.
Karen Brown is a subject-matter expert in the field of leadership and professional performance. She is the CEO of Velocity Leadership Consulting, supporting senior executive leaders to elevate performance by making behavioral changes using scientifically proven methodologies and techniques. She has appeared on 37 leadership podcasts and featured in many publications, including two books, the latest being endorsed with a 5-star rating by legendary Brian Tracy. Her favorite quote is by Carl Jung, “what you resist, persists until you deal with it.” She enjoys helping execs deal with the things they are resisting, is a continuous learner, an international ultra-endurance athlete, and resides in Colorado.