Finding Rest

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. -Mark 1:35

Jesus needed to rest. What makes you think you don’t?

Many of my clients complain of workload, pressure, stress and burnout. The picture that comes to mind is that of a hamster running on his wheel.

“So what are you going to do to reduce the stress, to create some margin for yourself?” I’ll ask. Long silence… and then some excuses or the statement: “You just don’t understand…”

No, I probably don’t understand your specific situation, why you have so much stress and never find rest. But one thing that we do have in common:  24 hours in a day, not more, not less. And if you don’t start setting some boundaries around your time you will suffer physically, mentally and spiritually. Your relationships will also suffer.

I’ve been wrestling with rest for a long time, trying to figure out how to find more of it. Let me share with you some of the things that I’ve learned that help me. If you can take away even one idea that might help you, I’ll be happy.

Just say no:  My disposition is that I like to help people and I find it difficult to turn someone down. So, I over-commit and get mad at myself for not saying no. I want to be liked by everyone and not disappoint anyone. Needless to say, that doesn’t work. I’m guarding my 24 hours by saying “yes” less often to things I really don’t want to take on.

Self-discipline: If you haven’t heard Admiral William H. McRaven’s (U.S. Navy Retired) 2014 commencement speech for the graduating class at the University of Texas at Austin, I highly recommend it. He has written a book based on the speech called Make Your Bed. Introducing discipline into your life will dramatically reduce stress, lead to more margin and provide you time for needed rest. I don’t suggest that you go overboard and become a slave to discipline, rather start with one or two things that you can commit to. Here are two suggestions for you:

  1. Set your alarm clock to wake you 15 minutes earlier than you normally would. Make your coffee or tea and sit for 10-15 minutes in a comfortable chair, relax, think about three things you are thankful for and what would make today a fantastic day. Do this for one week and see what happens.
  2. Leave for your meetings or appointments 15 minutes earlier than necessary. Arrive earlier and use the minutes you have before others arrive to look over your notes or write down some questions that you might want to ask during the meeting. Do this for a week and see what happens.

Manage your electronics:   This is going to be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but it will lead to the most rest and relaxation that you’ve ever experienced. Start small: turn your phone off during lunch and dinner. Don’t just put it on vibrate but actually turn it off, maybe put it in a different room. Now you can focus on the people sharing the meal with you away from any distractions. If you’ve got kids, ask them to follow your lead (some of you might need to threaten a consequence to get them to comply). Good luck!  This will be a game changer.

Once you’ve had some practice around the dinner table try unplugging an entire Saturday or Sunday. Don’t make excuses. Forty years ago, everyone got by without cell phones and e-mails on the weekend.

Sleep:  We don’t sleep enough. Two hundred years ago, before electricity, people slept around 9.5 hours each night. Most people struggle to get 7 hours today. We function better, are more focused and happier if we go to work after a restful night of sleep. This might take some discipline (see above) to turn off the television or Facebook by 9 or 10 pm and get ready for bed. This would make it easier for you to get up in the morning and have some of that earlier morning quiet time that I talked about earlier.

Exercise: I believe that exercise is a form of rest. It doesn’t have to be super strenuous exercise. How about going for a walk or bike ride? Maybe a swim at the local YMCA?  My dog, Max, forces me to go for a daily walk with him. If my wife joins us, it is a time of good conversation. If it’s just Max and I, it’s a time for reflection and enjoying nature.

Delegate:  If you are a manager or executive and have a team you are leading, empower that team. This means giving up some of your control and trusting them with responsibility AND authority.  Will they make mistakes? Sure. How do you deal with that? With kindness, grace and humility. Realizing that you can’t do everything yourself and including your team will free up your time and allow you to increase your margin, and rest.

Diet:  We Americans eat out a lot.  I think this is because we are very busy individuals and/or many of us don’t know how to cook. Personally, I find relaxation in preparing dinner and we sit down to a home cooked meal 90% of the time. This way we use fresh products and eat healthy. I believe you’ll find enjoyment from cooking more of your own meals and it will also reduce your overall food spending.

I don’t know if any of these points will resonate with you, but I hope that it will get you to think about ways to reduce your stress and create an environment that will give you more rest. Life is a marathon and not a sprint. And when you’re running a marathon it’s permitted to stop, get a drink and walk for a few minutes while you catch your breath.