For Christians, Easter Sunday is all about the renewal of energy. What was exhausted, depleted, and dead, comes back to life after a 3-day respite in the tomb. Whether or not that story works for you, it speaks to both the possibility of new life and to the importance of downtime when it comes to energy renewal. Other religions share that message, and I hope you will receive this Provision as an invitation to regenerate yourself through rest and renewal. Downtime is not wasted time; it is productive time.
Many of you have perhaps been waiting for this Provision since I began my series on life-giving needs. That’s because rest, for all its intrinsic value, is one of the more elusive facets of modern life. It seems a day does not go by without some new documentation as to the trouble people are having getting their rest. One of the consequences of the economic downturn is that people are worrying more and relaxing less. Although understandable, that’s not without its cost since an absence of rest and ease takes a tremendous toll on the body, mind, and spirit.
In an effort to balance out the work-rest equation, people are turning to sleeping pills in record numbers. According a new poll by the National Sleep Foundation, 27% of Americans say that anxieties about personal finances, the economy, or a job loss kept them awake in the previous month. At the same time, prescriptions in the USA for sleeping medications topped 56 million in 2008 • an all-time record, up 54 percent from 2004.
Unfortunately, sleeping pills treat the symptom rather than the cause of sleeplessness. They may knock you out for a few hours, with or without side effects and complications, but they do not resolve the underlying issues, both internal and external. If you don’t have a job before you go to sleep with a sleeping pill, chances are you won’t have one after you wake up. If you don’t feel good before you go to sleep with a sleeping pill, chances are you won’t feel good after you wake up. And if you don’t take any time to relax and recover from your daily stresses before you go to sleep with a sleeping pill, chances are you won’t take such time after you wake up.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take the pill, it’s rather to say that you shouldn’t expect the pill to meet your needs for rest. A sleeping pill gives you a temporary respite, at best, it does not give you the wherewithal to successfully recover from the challenges of life and work. And it does risk chemical dependency as well as bizarre behaviors, especially for those who get started with sleeping pills in their late teens and early twenties (a growing trend). As with all medications, it’s far better to meet our needs through lifestyle management whenever possible.
So what changes do people recommend when it comes to meeting our needs for rest? They aren’t far off from the recommendations I put forward in my 2006-2007 Provision series on Optimal Wellness. For those who missed it, here’s a quick review of the most relevant points:
- Drink Well. Minimize or eliminate caffeine. Avoid drinks with calories, including sodas, sports drinks, juices, and alcohol. Stay with clean, filtered water and drink plenty of it. The older we get the more water we need; as a rule, the more water we drink the better we feel.
- Eat Well. This one surprises many people as an antidote to stress, but it is exactly that. What and how we eat impacts our ability to rest, both at night and throughout the day. Sometimes, that is very apparent — as in the case of heartburn. Most of the time, however, our eating patterns are taking their toll below the threshold of awareness. They may be contributing to overweight and obesity, leading to problems like sleep apnea, but otherwise we do not connect the dots between eating well and sleeping well. Research suggests otherwise. Those who slowly eat modest quantities of healthy foods at regular times throughout the day, starting with breakfast, sleep and rest better than those who rapidly eat large quantities of unhealthy foods at irregular times throughout the day, skipping breakfast. If you want my take on healthy foods, visit www.CelebrateWellness.com.
- Exercise Well. Our sedentary lifestyles are chronic sources of the underlying problems that lead to sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, and irritability. The human body was not designed to sit around all day every day in front of a computer. If that’s our job, and you can put me into that category, then we have to find ways to break the pattern. The current recommendation is for people to get at least an hour of exercise and to engage in other forms of physical activity on a daily basis. Those 60 minutes of exercise can be taken in one block or in as many as six blocks. The key is to take them and to take them seriously. If you don’t know what you do for exercise on a regular basis, then it’s time to find a pattern and, perhaps, a partner.
- Condition Well. Although exercise is sometimes referred to as conditioning, there are many aspects of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness that go into the optimal wellness equation. The three best things you can do for yourself, when it comes to self-care, include washing your hands, cleaning your teeth, and not smoking. These are life-extending activities precisely because they meet our needs for rest and recovery from various environmental toxins.
- Relax Well. Once we take care of the first four, this last one becomes easier. What many people fail to recognize is that relaxation is not a lack of activity, just as darkness is not a lack of light. Relaxation can be arranged. When we’re drinking, eating, exercising, and conditioning well, we are more likely to do that. Most of us, unfortunately, cut corners when it comes to all five of these recovery strategies. We don’t have time, or so we think, to wash our hands, to floss, to exercise, and to eat and drink the way we should, so we don’t do them as well or as much as recommended. So, too, with relaxation. Who can afford to relax when the world is so unpredictable, dangerous, and demanding! Who can afford not to relax. Developing and maintaining relaxation rituals, in good times and bad, is an essential part of sleeping well and meeting our needs for rest.
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz have written clearly and persuasively about the need for and nature of these rituals in their book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. Here is how they start the book:
“We live in digital time. Our rhythms are rushed, rapid fire and relentless, our days carved up into bits and bytes. We celebrate breadth rather than depth, quick reaction more than considered reflection. We skim across the surface, alighting for brief moments at dozens of destinations but rarely remaining for long at any one. We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go. We’re wired up but we’re melting down.”
“Most of us are just trying to do the best that we can. When demand exceeds our capacity, we begin to make expedient choices that get us through our days and nights, but take a toll over time. We survive on too little sleep, wolf down fast foods on the run, fuel up with coffee and cool down with alcohol and sleeping pills. Faced with relentless demands at work, we become short-tempered and easily distracted. We return home from long days at work feeling exhausted and often experience our families not as a source of joy and renewal, but as one more demand in an already overburdened life.”
“We walk around with day planners and to-do lists, Palm Pilots and Blackberries, instant pagers and pop-up reminders on our computers • all designed to help us manage our time better. We take pride in our ability to multitask, and we wear our willingness to put in long hours as a badge of honor. The term 24/7 describes a world in which work never ends. We use words like obsessed, craze and overwhelmed not describe insanity, but instead to characterize our everyday lives.”
Sound familiar? The economic recession has not made life easier. In the effort to do more with less, both the employed and the unemployed are pushing even harder than ever before. No wonder demonstrations are breaking out around the globe! Either people are pushing themselves to the breaking point, and they are clamoring for relief, or they have given up altogether, and they are clamoring for support. As I have written before, it is difficult and challenging for human beings, a carbon-based life-form requiring frequent and extended periods of downtime, to interface with computers, a silicon-based life-form requiring infrequent and brief periods of downtime (usually to get a part replaced before returning to the 24/7 grid).
Loehr and Schwartz recognize this situation when they observe that most human dysfunction can be viewed, in athletic terms, as a function of either overtraining or undertraining. Either people are pushing themselves too hard or not hard enough. The secret, they write, is to balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. For carbon-based life forms, downtime is not wasted time; it is productive time. If we fail to rest and recover our energy on a daily basis, we end up either angry, fearful, anxious, defensive, and resentful or depressed, exhausted, burned out, hopeless, and defeated. Neither scenario is desirable or sustainable.
Both scenarios can be avoided by developing and maintaining relaxation rituals, in good times and bad. Although it may seem hard or self-indulgent to stay with such rituals when times are tough, that’s when they become even more important. When the going gets tough, the tough sleep their way to the top. Really! Ask anyone who’s been through combat and they will tell you the importance of learning how to sleep under any conditions. If we don’t do the things that restore and renew our energy, we will soon become no use to anyone.
So what rituals am I talking about? There’s literally no end to the things people do to rest and recover their energy. The key is to figure out what works for you and then to do them consistently. Here are 26 examples that I have practiced at different points in time: Gardening, Bird Watching, Massage, Journal Writing, Reading, Meditation, Poetry Writing, Rocking, Swinging, Balancing, Stretching, Sleeping, Napping, Making Love, Fishing, Breathwork, Biofeedback, Doodling, Snorkeling, Canoeing, Camping, Guitar Playing, Recorder Playing, Singing, Watching Shows, and Daydreaming. Why don’t you make your own list and then determine your pattern or rhythm as to when you actually do these things.
That is the key to meeting our needs for rest. Instead of viewing these needs as nuisances or inconveniences, we can recognize them for what they are: needs! We need to care for ourselves in these ways or we will suffer and die. Then, how productive will we be? Between now and when I die, I hope to optimize my energy by striking the balance that Loehr and Schwartz write about. I hope you will do the same.
Coaching Inquiries: What do you do to rest and recover your energy? How often do you do those things? What is your pattern or rhythm between energy expenditure and energy renewal? Do you strike a healthy balance or do you err on one side or the other? How could you get into a more positive groove? Who could help you to explore and develop your options?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
In your last Provision, you asked: “What games are you playing?” For me, it’s the “compete at the next level of the Toastmasters Table Topics speech contest” game. I will be speaking for 1 to 2 minutes, off the cuff, on a topic I can’t prepare for ahead of time. The object of the game: to grow as a speaker!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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