Have you ever found yourself staring at a problem for so long you get stuck and can’t figure out the next step? You’re sure if you just keep working on it or concentrate harder the answer will come, but rarely does.
Eventually, you can’t do it anymore. You step away and maybe take a walk or cook dinner and just when you’re not thinking about it, the solution comes to you.
In fact, the answer is so obvious; you almost feel guilty for not seeing it before.
It’s in those moments when our brains let go of the problem, it can do the work of making connections, and we finally see the solution.
It happens to me all the time. So why do we keep pushing so hard?
Give me a break.
High-performance athletes understand the value of a recovery day. In fact, even their training days typically focus on different areas of their body so as not to overwork each one.
Leading up to a marathon, runners will taper their training. You gain nothing by pushing harder on your body in the days leading up to a race.
In fact, you gain more from tapering.
It is in the deliberate and well-timed periods of rest and recovery that allow the body to grow after all of the work we put in. Training your body to perform at a high level sometimes requires not doing anything.
Our version of taking a break doesn’t always look very deliberate. When our brains crave a break, we tend to fill it with mindless jumps from one site to the next. We click to see the pictures of child celebrities who you, “won’t believe what they look like now.”
But we need to take better care of our brains. We need to rest intentionally.
In “The Art of Learning”, Josh Waitzkin talks about the vacations he took with his family. He credits the time away for his ability to progress quickly on his journey to becoming a national chess champion.
While other young chess prodigies filled every minute with constant study, Josh’s family took fishing trips. And there was no chessboard in sight.
Between matches, while coaches and parents pressed his competitors to break down moves from their last game. Josh would step outside and have a catch with his Dad.
What his parents knew instinctively and what he has come to understand more deeply, is that rest is fuel for growth.
It’s a little odd to say we have to work at resting and recovering, but when you’re not very good at something, it does take some practice.
It takes time to get better.
Here are some ideas to build consistency for deliberate rest.
Part of resting means limiting the flow of random information. Any time you find yourself distracted enough to mindlessly open a new browser window or pull out your phone, pause and take a few deep breaths. Or stand up, get a drink of water and then come back to your work.
Leave the distractions behind
I don’t go anywhere without my phone. I kind of hate that. Try spending 10 minutes a few times a day just looking out a window or standing outside watching ducks on the river.
Talk or Write
Extended conversations with other people allow our brains to process information. When we listen to others. When we share thoughts and ideas, even if we’re not talking about the specific problem, it changes our perspective. It gets us out of our heads. Likewise, a practice like Morning Pages can also help us recover. Stream of consciousness writing clears away the clutter in our mind.
Every productivity expert in the past 100 years has advocated a scheduled time for rest and reflection. From taking naps to hours spent walking after long work or study sessions, they understood the value of taking a break.
I use timers, alarms, or reminders to help me be more consistent with resting and recovery.
Aside from coming back to a problem with a refreshed perspective, rest helps me maintain my focus when I am working.
How about you? Do you struggle to slow down and rest? Do you have tips or methods for taking time away to recover?