I’m writing this after a tough month. I’m wiped out. Sort of. I am really tired. I just got home from a boy scout camping weekend. I came home early because I have a charity event tonight. And before I could start working on this episode, before I leave for the event, I laid my head down and took a 10-minute-power nap. I’m tired. But not as depleted as I expected to be after this month was over.
That in itself is a glimmer of improvement. I knew talking about rest all month was somewhat ironic as it was a really draining month. But, it underscored the importance of the topic in my life and it helped me along the way as I had a busy schedule and a lot of stressful events.
We talked about sleep early on and my sleep has improved. I’ve darkened my room and I’ve noticed a difference. I’ve made a point to go to sleep earlier and it’s made a difference. I’ve paid attention to how sleep affects my decisions, my patience and my ability to think. I’ve noticed, for example, I make terrible decisions about food when I’m tired. Things I normally would be able to resist, I eat when I’m tired. And by “things” I generally mean cookies and chocolate and anything with sugar. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Here are a few more things I’m working on to get more and better sleep. I’m setting myself a bedtime of 10:30. I’m terribly inconsistent right now and that will help a lot. I’m getting my bedroom in order and redoing some of it. I moved out a TV that wasn’t even hooked up and I never use in the bedroom. I realized it had been driving some decisions about furniture. I’ll be replacing my mattress and bed soon as well and turning that room into something that feels more like a personal spa.
That’s the easy part. The attitude that sleep is expendable is a harder mental habit to break, but I’m going to try. I’m starting the 10:30 bedtime tonight, and it’s 10:15 right now, and I really wanted to have worked out all the details for this episode to happen before I go to bed tonight, but that’s not going to happen if I head for bed. I’d also chosen to shut down anything with a screen at 10 pm. I’m going to have to start that tomorrow because I already blew that tonight.
Sleep is pretty simple to deal with, at least in the planning stage. Execution is harder. But, rest itself, that’s another story. Sleep is only one side of the equation. Last week we talked about what rest is and how it affects us. Here’s how I’m going to approach applying that knowledge. I plan to make some changes to create a rhythm of rest in my life. Here’s how that breaks down.
This might be where you assume I’m going to list a major vacation, but I’m not going to do that. I’m not considering vacations to be part of my rest plan. Partly because their effects don’t last that long and partly because, I’m going to try to rely on shorter, quarterly breaks instead for rest. I may take a longer trip (at least I hope so anyway), but I won’t rely on that time as the only way I’m recovering. I’ll use it as a treat and a memory-maker, but not the most important rest activity in my life.
I’m going to plan a quarterly long weekend trip. I’ll be headed to Toronto in June and Philadelphia in July for conferences. I plan to add a few days to those trips for sightseeing and rest. I’ll be in Florida in November for an extended family vacation. And, I think I’ll add a few weekend camping trips on the calendar as well. Plus, I think I’ll let my son choose one long weekend getaway trip.
It's so easy for us to schedule so many activities that our lives become overfull. This is a discipline issue. There are a million good things out there to do. We’re not able to do them all. We have to live within our limits. Different seasons of life call for different levels of activity. So, what works for a newly married couple might not work after kids come along. It seems obvious but it’s easy for circumstances to change gradually (not the having a baby circumstances necessarily, but others) and not really connect the dots that our schedule to change as well.
We tend to think in the US that we can do everything. But we can’t. We can’t have it all. We can’t do it all. We can’t be it all. We need instead, to do, have, and be what’s best. Jim Collins’ “Good is the enemy of great” statement really applies here.
One of the things I try to do (I’ve gotten away from it) is to hold at least one weekend a month completely unscheduled. We might decide to do something at the last minute. Or not. We might decide to do a home project. But, we might not. We can use that weekend however we like at the time. It’s a monthly recovery weekend.
Right now, I’m working six days a week because of ministry and career work. The seventh day tends to be eaten up by volunteer hours, family activities, and errands. It’s just the “stuff-that-needs-to-get-done” day. But, that leaves no time for rest. I’ve been doing that for about a year now and it’s taking its toll. If you’re a Christian, it’s also disobedient. We’re supposed to rest. And for good reason. I have a writing commitment ending this week and have a meeting about how to make my position on a church team more sustainable. Creating a sustainable schedule will help a lot.
Weekly is where another factor comes into play. Remember last week, we talked about how hobbies or activities can function as active rest? That rest and recovery are more than just lying around? Activities or hobbies that require mastery, practice, and learning are a hugely important avenue for rest. They’re active, but they allow our mind and body to be used in ways that give us an emotional and mental break from our work and life. They also often develop complementary skill sets or mental attitudes. What could you learn or do weekly that’s absorbing and somewhat challenging? For me right now, that’s art time. I’ve been away from art for about nine months and I need to be spending consistent time in my studio, whether that’s collage work or quilting work…I need to be creating with my hands. Writing is creative, but it doesn’t offer the same kind of mental break, because it’s too similar to my normal work.
Sleep is an easy daily recovery rhythm to point to. But, there are a few others to think about as well. Exercise is a vital recovery tool. That sounds weird, I know because it can be hard work. It’s important for keeping your body healthy to handle your life, but it can also be used as a recovery tool. Two types of exercise especially are helpful…consistent active exercise like walking, running, swimming, soccer, etc. And contemplative exercise or movements like yoga or tai chi. Right now, I’m walking a lot in the mornings, about four miles a day. It’s become critical for my sanity. If I walk or run, it’s active, but it’s also a way to rest my body and mind from its normal activity. I miss yoga, though, I can tell both my body and mind need it.
I’ve mentioned this periodically before, but another daily rest habit is mindfulness. I find that when I’m focused on the sensory experience of what’s happening in the moment, my mind is freed from the need to worry, rehearse, talk negatively, plan, or be anxious. How does that work in real life? If I’m in the kitchen cleaning up from after dinner, I can be rehearsing a conversation with a client, thinking about what my son needs to accomplish that evening, pre-working on a writing project and worrying about an upcoming deadline. Pretty much all at once.
Or, I can be focusing on how pretty a stack of white dishes is in my cabinet when the light hits it. How lovely it is to have warm water I didn’t have to carry in and heat up. How happy I am to hear my son’s laughter in the next room and how the smooth, cool, clean silverware feels in my hands. If that task lasts between 15 and 30 minutes and I’m thinking about life in the present, sensory experiences in the moment, It’s like a rest from my daily thoughts. You can actually do that all day long. Choosing to focus on the present moment instead of worrying about the next can go a long way towards keeping your mind and emotions refreshed.
That’s a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly rhythm of rest. If you rely on a once a year vacation to handle the whole rhythm, it just won’t work. It won’t be enough and it won’t be when you need it. Consider ways that you can work the ideas we’ve been talking about all month into a personal rhythm for yourself.
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I’m not feeling rested. Even if I sit and do nothing…I’m still not feeling rested. That led me to this month’s focus on rest and a quest to figure out what really will make me feel refreshed. I’ll add an aside here to mention that nutrition makes a difference. I feel much better today than I felt before I kicked off my healthy eating challenge six weeks ago. It’s a good start. But, here’s what I’ve discovered about rest.
We have a culture in this country that believes that work is critical and rest is optional. But, that’s not how it’s always been and it’s not how it should be. Rest should be a teammate of work. It enhances, feeds, and enables work. Historically, many cultures have valued rest and recovery as the pinnacle of culture. We don’t, and as a result, we’re exhausted, burned out, and completely stressed. Counter to our culture’s beliefs, we’re actually less productive, do less great work, and are less creative without resting. If, as a society, we want to develop and grow, this is a real problem.
There’s even been a philosophical shift. Today we believe that knowledge is produced. We take action, we create knowledge. So, the more action, the more knowledge, the more production. But, previously, there was an understanding that there is a component of knowledge work that’s contemplative. Time was prioritized for deep thinking and focus.
In the past, top performers, brilliant minds who have contributed world-altering work, treated rest and work as partners. Most of history’s most brilliant minds worked about five hours a day. When they worked, they worked hard. They typically focused deeply for three or four 90 minute sessions a day. What else did they do? I’ll get to that in a bit.
Sure, we all rest naturally, but we all sing naturally too, and almost everyone can get better at both with intentional practice. The fact that it’s a skill that can be developed is good news. You can improve your rest and recovery! I, thankfully, can get better at it!
Not only does rest act as a teammate to work by renewing your energy and focus. But, it actually creates the environment for creativity to flourish. While I do better with deadlines and know that they can enhance creative work, there’s a portion of the creative process that desperately needs downtime. That can’t be hurried, can’t be controlled, and flourishes with rest. When I mention creativity, I don’t want you to understand that as artists and musicians only. Sure, they’re what our culture thinks of as creatives today. But, scientists, mathematicians, and many other fields we consider non-creative today actually require huge amounts of creative thinking.
Ideal rest isn’t sitting in a recliner for a few hours each night. Ideal rest isn’t the absence of activity. Our brains at rest are actually barely less active than when we’re not at rest. When we drop into a resting state, the brain switches on what’s called the DMN, or default mode network. The DMN automatically activates in a fraction of a second when we’re not engaged in a task. It’s a connected brain network that’s separate from other brain networks. The DMN was discovered in the 1990’s and is now believed to be involved in almost every single significant brain function, like intelligence, moral and emotional judgment, empathy and sanity even. This means that the resting brain is absolutely critical to our lives.
Now that we understand some things about the idea of rest, the last piece of today’s puzzle is what I’m most excited about sharing with you. Well, the idea of a five hour work day is pretty darn exciting, but this is going to mean the difference in creating real rest in my life.
When we think about rest as a teammate of work, there are a few plays in the playbook that you probably don’t value as much as you should. Here are a few of them.
We covered this last week in depth, so I won’t go into it here, other than to say, it’s a crucial component of rest. I don’t want you thinking because I didn’t mention it, that it doesn’t apply. It does.
Remember those 90-minute work cycles I mentioned earlier? The key is both the focus during the cycle and the break after the cycle. We need the recovery time from the work, but also the space that it gives to allow the ideas you’ve been at work on to marinate in the background.
What to do in the break? Here are my top three suggestions. nap, walk, or play.
Napping is productive time. Ray Bradbury, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lyndon Johnson and Winston Churchill are all well-known nappers. If Winston Churchill considered naps crucial with bombs falling outside, surely you can consider the benefits yourself. Naps decrease fatigue and increase alertness, but they also improve memory, increase your ability to deal with frustration, increase persistence and decrease impulsiveness. When you sleep and how long you sleep affects the benefits you receive from napping, but even a 5-minute nap shows statistical improvements in cognitive function which last even into the next day.
Walking has been a tool employed by thinkers throughout history. Walking meetings are currently gaining popularity in some corporate cultures, like Silicon Valley. Walking allows us to both relax and diverts the mind to a degree that we can be occupied with the motion and surroundings, but not so distracted that our minds aren’t free to work out ideas at the same time. Being outside in a natural environment is wonderful for our brains. Simply living on a street with 20 or more trees has the ability to increase your life expectancy to the same degree as a $20,000 increase in salary would. But, it’s not just nature, it’s the movement. No one understands exactly why, but the nature of repetitive exercises stimulates our thinking. It doesn’t have to be walking. It can be swimming, running or other exercises where the movement is repetitive but doesn’t require your full attention.
But what about recovery? What about the kind of rest that isn’t directly feeding work? There are some key things to know about this kind of rest as well.
German sociologist Sabine Sonnentag has been studying recovery for the last twenty years. She says there are four key components: relaxation, control, mastery experiences, and mental detachment from work.
Relaxation is easy for us to understand, it’s an activity that’s pleasant and undemanding. Something that doesn’t feel like work and doesn’t require a lot of effort.
Control is the ability to dictate your own time and workflow. People who have more control over their time need less recharging at the end of the day.
Mastery experiences are things that, while they may be challenging, they’re engaging and interesting things that you do well. They make life more meaningful, more rewarding.
And mental detachment from work is becoming mentally and emotionally unhooked from your work. So the ability to feel disconnected from your job is critical to being able to recover well.
These lead me to something I’ve mentioned a few times today but skipped over until now. Play. Play is one of the most important things we do development-wise, but once we pass the age of twelve, one of the most undervalued. Even when it’s physically challenging, it typically feels absorbing or effortless. It’s enjoyable, or thrilling or engaging, but not difficult the way work feels. Activities become what’s known as deep play if they have at least one of these features: it’s mentally absorbing, uses career skills in a totally different context, it offers similar satisfaction, but different clearer rewards or a connection to a person’s past. Sailing, music, sports, chess, gardening or woodworking, many of the things we recognize as hobbies can function as deep play and be useful in helping us relax, detach from work, have mastery experiences, allowing our brains to rest and recover.
I’ve thrown a lot of information at you today and not a lot of practical application. Next week, we’ll tie it all together with what this really can mean in your life to help you feel rested.
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I’m fairly certain that in my audience, there will be very few people that haven’t heard that we, as a general population, need more sleep. If you’ve been listening to me for any length of time, you’ve heard me mention it before. If you’ve ever heard statistics on stress, nutrition, or health, you’ve probably heard that you should get more sleep.
And yet, we aren’t. As a nation, we aren’t sleeping more. We’re actually sleeping less. We usually hear it as a general recommendation. You should sleep more. It’s not like you don’t really realize that. Most of us know that we’re functioning with less than optimal sleep. Some of you are powering through. Some of you would like more sleep, but can’t seem to get it.
I’ve always loved sleep and have always fallen asleep quickly and easily. Unless of course, I’ve opened a novel in the previous 24 hours and then I’m awake until it’s done. Which is why that only happens on vacation these days. This past New Year’s Eve, I pulled the first all-nighter I’ve done in a long time, Not because I was out partying. I was at the beach with a friend and while she (being in cancer treatments) went to bed at 8, I started a novel and with a break to watch fireworks from the deck, I read until I finished the book at 5 am.
My son takes after my mother. They have trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and prefer to stay up late and sleep late. Sleep has always been an issue for him, since the moment he was born. When all the other babies were fussy and cranky and ready for bed at 7 or 8 pm, he had the best part of his day. Now that he’s hit puberty, it’s actually easier than it’s ever been, but he still perks up about the time everyone else, meaning me, is ready for bed. This was the part of parenting that scared me the most. I know I don’t function well on little sleep and mothers of newborns don’t sleep much.
It turns out that my fears were somewhat justified. I was extremely sick during my whole pregnancy. The medical term for what I had is "hyperemesis gravidarum" which is fancy doctor speak for "excessive vomiting during pregnancy." In order to keep me semi-functional, I was on several medications usually given to cancer patients to control their treatment-induced nausea. I’m forever grateful for those meds, but the downside was that for the eight months before my son’s birth I was already having to wake up every few hours to take one or more of the different pills. By the time he was born, I was well-practiced but exhausted. And, as I mentioned earlier, he didn’t sleep well. Which meant I didn’t sleep well either. For years. I actually remember very little of his earliest years, because I spent it in a sleep-deprived fog.
It doesn’t take extended excessive nausea or a newborn for us to experience the effects of lack of sleep, however. Whether we feel it or not, lack of sleep affects us very quickly. I read several studies that indicate that one night of sleep deprivation can change how our bodies respond to insulin. One study suggests that one night of sleep deprivation may have a similar effect on our systems as six months of eating a high-fat diet. Shawn Stevenson, who wrote the book Sleep Smarter, said it this way, “just one night of sleep deprivation can make you as insulin resistant as a person with type 2 diabetes.” So, my one-night reading binge on New Year’s Eve? It probably radically changed my body’s ability to deal with the food I was eating. And here, I thought I was just tired for a few days!
It turns out that sleep does an incredible amount of different jobs for us that just don’t happen as well or at all when we miss out on effective sleep. Here are just a few.
Anyone remember the six million dollar man? I’m showing my age here, but the opening narration included, "Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster." You have that technology too, It’s called sleep. Sleep rebuilds you. Your body is always either in a catabolic state, where it is wasting away or an anabolic state where it’s regenerating. Sleep is a heightened anabolic state, enhancing the rejuvenation and growth of your immune, skeletal, and muscular systems.
Poor sleep will make you dumber. Really. A study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that poor sleep quality was equal to binge drinking and marijuana use in determining academic performance. College students who were poor sleepers were found to be much more likely to drop out of classes and receive bad grades. Research shows that with 24-hour sleep deprivation, there’s a 6% reduction in the amount of glucose, or fuel, that reaches your brain. And your brain isn’t impaired equally in all areas. The amygdala or more primitive area of the brain responsible for survival wasn’t impaired as much as that responsible for executive functions. Executive functions are things like decision-making, managing time, paying attention and switching focus, making plans and organizing, remembering details, and having self-control.
I’ll give you one more. Your brain is very active when you’re awake, it’s making all those executive decisions I just mentioned, it’s taking in new information and processing it, it’s learning, it’s monitoring feedback from the rest of your body’s systems, it’s generally doing all the things that make you amazing. All these actions create waste products and the brain runs on a different waste removal system that the rest of your body. When you sleep, that system becomes ten times more active. It’s removing dead cells, getting rid of toxins, and taking out the cellular trash. What happens when the waste removal system in your home is backed up? When the garbage doesn’t get taken out. I’m not tossing blame, in my house, that rests on my shoulders and stacks up frequently, so I know how fast it smells. What happens if your bathroom plumbing gets backed up? Things can get pretty ugly, pretty quickly, right? During sleep, several things happen to make waste removal much more efficient. One theory of one of the foundational causes of Alzheimer’s is the brain’s inability to get rid of its waste products.
Those are only three of a huge number of beneficial processes that are interrupted by lack of sleep or lack of good sleep. Think about it, it just makes sense. We’re designed to sleep maybe a third of our lives. As incredible as our bodies are, something we physically need to do so much of the time has to be incredibly valuable. But, we treat it as completely expendable.
What are you trading sleep for? More awake hours for what? Netflix? Work? Social media? Internet scrolling? Worry or stress? Next time you’re thinking about staying up late to watch just one more episode, consider what it's costing you. Your body will be less able to repair itself, less able to take out the cellular trash, and less able to make good decisions. So, if I can overgeneralize for emphasis, you might know what happened on "This Is Us", but you’re going to be more fragile, dumber, and have a head full of brain waste. Sounds like a good trade, right? Not so much.
If you’re staying awake to be more productive, it will actually backfire on you. You’ll finish whatever you’re working on more slowly and with more errors than you would fresh and you’re decreasing your productivity for the following day as well.
Another area that may hit close to home? Lack of sleep may be impairing your ability to lose weight. There several reasons for this, but I’ll just share one that I laid the groundwork for already. Remember I said that sleep deprivation impaired executive brain function like decision-making and self-control? While it causes more activity in the amygdala? You’re tired. You’re hungry because another thing that happens is that leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone, levels fall. You have impaired self-control and decision-making and your amygdala is sending you messages that you need food for survival, more sugar please, the glucose reaching the brain is reduced, grab those chips, stat! You’re stacking the deck against yourself and this is just one of the ways.
So, what can you do? There are a lot of ways to influence your sleep, and I’ll give you a list of ten. But, mostly today, I wanted to crack the door open on that very general, “we should get more sleep” statement so that you understand that there are critically important things happening in your body when you sleep. Hundreds, if not thousands of specific processes that are really important for your life, health and vitality. Trading sleep for an all-night video game binge seems harmless at 15, but even one all-nighter can have long-term harmful effects that wear down systems over a lifetime. Sleep isn’t just a luxury. It’s a vital part of a healthy life.
Here are ten quick suggestions to help you sleep better, longer. I’m not going to do a lot of explanation, but there are science and explanations available on all of these things and many of them you’ve heard before…you’ve just not done them. I suggest you begin taking sleep more seriously and work these into your life one at a time.
There’s nothing earth-shattering in this episode, but I hope as you make decisions this week about your sleep, you’ll begin to prioritize it more. I’ve changed how I eat in the last six weeks and a side benefit is that I’m sleeping better. I’m exercising again, and I’m sleeping better. I’ve darkened my room, and I’m sleeping better. I went to bed the other night instead of choosing a few more hours of work, and you know what? Life went on. I’m making some more intentional changes in the days to come. I hope you’ll join me!
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It’s ironic really. April and December are typically the two busiest months of my year. 2018 is no exception. That makes it the perfect time to talk about rest, right? In the last few months I’ve been doing a better job getting consistent sleep, but the last three nights I got about 60% of what I usually get. So, I’m prepping this podcast while sleep deprived. Not a good way to start a crazy-busy month.
I’ve talked about busy-ness before. I’ve talked about the importance of sleep before in small bits. But, apparently, something’s not penetrating my heart, because I keep getting into the same situation, where my activity level and schedule are too much. Too much for me to be the parent, friend, or daughter I want to be. Too much for me to do quality work. Too much for me to create art or writing that matters.
My circumstances are stacked against me. Do you ever feel like that? I’m a single mom and a small business owner. Either of those things is enough to be “too much” most of the time. Put them together and it feels to me like a recipe for overwhelm and exhaustion. Add to that my propensity to volunteer and “too much” is a sure thing.
Part of the problem for me is also personality type. I tend to get in deep with things my family is involved in. Part of the problem is also that I’m a natural leader, so I wind up leading everything I’m involved in. Part of the problem is that I’m what’s called a multi-potentialite, polymath or scanner. They all mean basically the same thing. It’s the opposite of a specialist. I had a friend once tell me that I’m a “skill-collector” and that’s pretty true. I love lots of things, and lots of new things all the time.
We live in a culture that drives us to that “too much” point in multiple ways. We value intensity, all or nothing-ness, busyness as a badge of honor, doing, doing, doing, accumulation, more, harder, better, bigger, faster.
My circumstances, personality, and the culture are all factors. But, this problem is epidemic; it crosses all personalities and circumstances.
Why am I worrying about it now? One of my commitments for this year is to choose health. I’m not in a healthy place right now in this sphere. I’m finding I’m over-scheduled. I’ve got very little downtime. I’m not able to do the hobbies I enjoy. I’m consistently tired. There are some seasons of life that are like that. Or, more like that than others. But, I’m not seeing it change enough as the seasons in my life change.
I’ve recently noticed two specific things that have really made me recognize that I need to deal with it right now. First, I’ve noticed that I can’t relax. I can never turn my thinking mind off. I’m working all the time, even when I’m not really working. Not that I don't want to, but I seem unable to. I don't know what to do with myself, my thoughts if I'm not working. This is a huge problem, unhealthy for me and my family, as well as exhausting.
The second thing I’ve noticed is that as I do more creative work, whether that’s in my art studio or writing, I need to be in a different mental state. Creativity doesn’t hurry on demand. The best work is born out of slow skills. If I want to do great work, I need to cultivate that kind of mental presence. It’s not that I don’t need to work at it…waiting around for inspiration to strike is not what I’m suggesting. It takes hard work, but creativity flourishes in an environment with mental space. When I’m constantly hurried, thinking, anxious, and under a time crunch, my work suffers.
Maybe you don’t have the kind of personality, interests or work that I have, but odds are good you struggle with this in some way. Because, as a culture, we don’t value slow, meandering, just being, or rest. We are constantly overstimulated. We treat our life as escapism. If we're exhausted and overworked, we don’t have to deal with real heart or relationship issues. And, we think we can live with no limits.
For about six weeks, I’ve been working with a group focused on improving our health. As I’ve been thinking about the idea of rest as it relates to physical effort, I realized that many of the concepts also apply to a life that’s over-stimulated, over-committed and over-worked. I’ve had many conversations in the past with people doing hard workouts, but not understanding that rest and recovery are crucial to fitness gains. Here are seven reasons why.
Those seven reasons that rest is crucial to physical recovery and wellbeing also apply to mental and emotional wellbeing. Rest is part of the equation of life. We need it. Science is finding more benefits of rest all the time. And, we continue to ignore the warning signs that our bodies and minds give us that they need rest. We need it physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Lack of rest or recovery mentally and emotionally leads to burnout, a bazillion dollar mental health sector of the pharmaceutical industry and the breakdown of families and relationships. Sure, seasons of hustle might need to happen. But, not years. Not as a permanent condition. Like physical overtraining, the toll in susceptibility to injury, lack of ability to bounce back, negative impacts on sleep and weight loss, mood or mental health issues and general enjoyment of life all contribute to a “too much” lifestyle.
I’m taking a serious look at my “too much” lifestyle this month and what I can do about it. I’d encourage you to join me. We’ll talk about what kind of activities or lack of activity actually contribute rest and recovery, why sleep is important and how to improve it, and how we can create a rhythm of rest in our lives.
My question for you this week is this: Are you getting enough physical, emotional and mental rest? If you look past the excuses, like personality, circumstances, and culture, why not? What are you valuing more than your relationships and your health? That’s a really important question. I’ll ask it again. What is it that you are proving with your actions that you value more than your health and your relationships?
Right now, when I really get right down to it, I’m valuing work more. Whether it’s creative work, career work, ministry work, or personal projects…it’s all work. And my son deserves better, he is way more important than work. And I’m modeling a behavior that I don’t want him to learn.
So, I have some changes to make. How about you?
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Spring has sprung here in Middle Tennessee. As I work on this episode, it’s pouring down rain, we have flash flood warnings, and we expect up to 4” to fall tonight and tomorrow. It’s going to drown out the daffodils and cherry blossoms I’m afraid. What that really means for me is that allergy season is underway in one of the worst parts of the country for allergy sufferers like me. And what that means for you is that you get to suffer through a month of me sounding stuffed up. I’ll do my best to spare you. But April Fool’s Day on the horizon also means that the first quarter of 2018 has vanished. POOF! Gone! Just like that!
Most people’s New Year’s resolutions or goals don’t make it out of January alive, and I told you when we were talking about it a few months ago, that I’d update you as we went through the year on my progress with my goals and how I stay on track. We're in a month with 5 Sundays and I thought I’d take this first week of the quarter to do some reflection and check in on my progress.
Whether you care how I’m doing on my goals or not, that’s the first key thing I want to remind you of today. Creating a rhythm of reflection in your life is really important for your personal, emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth. I think I spoke about this in an episode a long time ago, I’ll try to find that one and link it up in the show notes, but if growth in any area of your life is important to you, you need to spend some time reflecting on that area of your life on a regular basis.
Self-reflection is deliberate thinking about your own behavior and beliefs. We’re not used to doing that in our culture. It requires slowing down. It requires vulnerability, courage, and discipline. But without it, without a rhythm of reflection, growth is haphazard at best and learning doesn't happen. Here are five important tips to keep in mind:
I’m not doing a general self-reflection today, but more a peek into the process I use specifically to keep my goals on track. I spend about a half hour at the end of each month doing this. Because it’s the end of a quarter, though, I have one extra step.
First, I review my goals. I set my goals a little differently this year. Usually, I’d do some dreaming about what I want my life to be like, then I’d evaluate my life in different categories, like work, relationships, finances, etc. I’d figure out how to get closer to that dream and then I’d create goals in each of those categories. This year, however, I did something totally different. Back in episode 62, I talked about creating five commandments to live by. I named five things that if I’m doing these five things consistently, my life will have been lived well. Then I created goals in each of these five areas.
My five commandments are: love God, prioritize people, spend intentionally, choose health and create consistently. Typically, in this step, I’m reminding myself of what I said I wanted to accomplish. But, since this is a quarterly review, today, I’m doing more than refreshing my memory, I’m taking a deeper look and asking questions as well. Is this goal still valid? Is this really the path I want to be on? Circumstances change over time, and new priorities can crop up. For example, I’d specifically not set any work or career goals this year. It wasn’t where I wanted to put my focus. But, some things have changed in the last three months that have brought that to the very top of my list.
The first step is to go through each of my goals and check their validity and my progress. So, I’ll go with the first as an example. That first commandment is to love God. One of the reasons I’ve pulled back from work goals in 2018 is that I’ve taken on a ton of ministry responsibilities in the past twelve months. Part-time job-ish commitments, probably 20 hours a week. It’s very, very easy to get so busy giving and serving, that you lose track of your own relationship with God and you crash and burn in a variety of ways. My goal is to cement my own relationship time, not study, writing, team-leading, or serving time, but relationship time. I’ve been semi-successful. The first six weeks of the year were spot on and the last six, not as much. Is it still valid? This is still a critical goal for me, so I need to recommit to it and get back on the wagon.
I’ll do one more. Because I chose health to go through in episode 69 when we were talking about a plan t0 make permanent changes, I’ll review that for you. Up until this month, I’d been on a seven-month binge of really bad health choices, I’d gained 25-30 pounds, and was feeling wretched. To kickstart myself, I started a 30 day challenge on Facebook with a group of people that wanted to join me and I’ve met all of my March goals, I’ve made healthy choices for more than 25 days in the month, I’ve been exercising five or six days a week, I’ve lost close to ten pounds by the time this airs, and most importantly, I’m feeling a lot better. This one’s still important and I’ll be continuing what I’m doing in April. If you’re listening to this in April of 2018 and you'd like to join us, it’s free and you can sign up here.
It takes me a lot less time to mentally process that than talk through it. It’s asking myself:
The first two questions are the difference between a quarterly and a monthly review. On any given month, I’ll look at the goals and evaluate my progress, but not necessarily be checking in on the validity of the goal itself.
When I have that done, I run through a series of exercises in Cultivate What Matters Powersheets (a tool I mentioned in episode 66). Basically, I review the previous month, the good and bad. I put down in writing anything that’s stressing or bothering me. I look at my calendar and then I write down what I need to accomplish this month. Then, the key task, I create a month-long task list. This includes daily tasks or habits I want to cultivate in the upcoming month, weekly things I need to do, and monthly tasks—which I assign to which week I’ll accomplish them within the month. Then, I pull out the habit trackers I created in January and fill it out for daily tasks I listed and then place it in my journal/planner.
I see the daily task tracker in my journal each day. Weekly tasks tend to be scheduling issues, like making sure I send ministry emails, prep and print small group discussion pages, or work on this podcast. Weekly things tend to get done without this process, so the daily and monthly tasks are where I spend my attention. Sunday evenings, I usually set up my week in my planner, so I check my monthly tasks at that time to see what I need to focus on that week.
And that’s it, that’s my monthly process. It takes about 20 - 30 minutes at the end of each month and keeps me on track throughout the year while being flexible enough to adjust to changes and circumstances.
Back in episode 64, I mentioned that the gaps between how I wanted to be living and how I am living are biggest in two areas. Spending intentionally, (mostly about time) and choosing health. I’ve already shared that I’m doing well on choosing health now and I feel really good about that.
Spending intentionally, I’ve still got some work to do. April is going to be a super busy month for me. I have house guests coming, two out of town trips and dog sitting for a dog trainer friend of mine. Usually, that involves five to eight dogs at a time. At the same time, I’m starting two educational courses in April, and it’s the onslaught of the busiest time of the school year for my son. This is all on top of an already full schedule. Oh, and it’s allergy season, so I’ll be feeling generally rotten this whole month.
This is the season that my goal is to plan for less, not more. On the other hand, I’ve chosen to do these things intentionally. There are reasons, good reasons, behind each choice. My schedule didn’t fill up accidentally, which often happens. I’m paying close attention. I’ve also off-loaded some things and am continuing to pursue ways to do so to make room for those choices. So, I have been intentional about it, I’m just choosing to be busier than I prefer.
One last thing to mention. I said earlier that some things have changed with my work plans, so that will be taking up an increasing amount of time. I’ve added that on to my goals list for the year and will be working on that alongside the commandment goals. Things change. Circumstances change. If you need to adjust priorities, that’s a choice, not a failure to achieve something else. I need to decrease focus on some other things in order to increase focus on business.
I’ve added this to my list in February and March. There’s nothing magic about the beginning of the year, it’s just convenient and present in conversations around us. There’s nothing magic about the beginning of a quarter. It’s just a convenient time to trigger me to remember to review my priorities.
What is magic, whether it’s January first or a random Tuesday morning, is that you make the choice to get up and move forward, no matter what you’ve done or not done previously. I posted a photo that I took on a hike before work in my healthier challenge group a few weeks ago. It was of a NO PARKING sign. The only way to achieve what you want in life is to small-step-by-small-step walk toward that thing that’s important to you.
I haven’t done everything right in the last three months. But, I’m not parking. I’m continuing to take steps. Change is an ongoing process.
So, that’s a first-quarter update for you. I’ll check back in with you early July about my progress in the next quarter. I mentioned how busy my April will be, and so, I’m going to be talking for the next few weeks with you about the importance of rest. Makes sense, right? Here’s why. I’m realizing that I’m having a harder and harder time relaxing, even in downtime and I need to address that, it’s not healthy and correcting that is part of my choose health goals. Plus, I need reminding about the critical nature rest plays in our lives. Statistics say I’m not the only one struggling with this in our always-on, always-connected world. So, let’s see what we can find out about it this month. Until next time, y’all have a fantastic week!
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