Stoic Letter 23
I took a few days off last week because I wanted to rest. It’s something I learned from Dale Carnegie. He writes in How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, “Rest before you are tired.” It’s a great piece of advice for avoiding burnout. But for most of my career, I used to wait to take a break until I was already tired and running on fumes. It’s like drinking water when you’re thirsty. The way to avoid thirst is to stay hydrated. It’s the same thing when it comes to resting your body. When you’re getting signals from your body that you need rest, it’s important to listen.
What are some of those signals? I bet you know it, you probably just ignore it like most of us. Frequent headaches, heavy eyes, sleeping badly, waking up several times in the night, not being able to focus during the day, getting agitated quickly — the usual traits of a person who’s behaving irritably. I’ve trained myself to recognize those signals, and when I see even just some of that stuff, I take a break from most of my goals and work, and rest. So I took a few days off last week.
Work is important, but being healthy and energized matters more. It’s in no one’s interest to beat yourself up until a point you can’t function. That’s why everyone needs their rest.
But sometimes, a short rest is not going to solve it. Sometimes resting can turn into a lifestyle of sloth. When you always are looking forward to rest, it makes you lazy. This is not something we like to hear, but it’s the truth. I’ve been there. It used to be that after every single day of work, I couldn’t wait to rest on the couch and watch another episode of my favorite tv show. By Wednesday, I was already looking forward to the weekend so I could rest.
Seneca, who was a proponent of a calm lifestyle, was also against too much rest. He said: “Sometimes rest itself is restless. This is why we must be roused to action and kept busy by the performance of skilled arts whenever this sloth which cannot bear itself puts us in a bad state.”
What type of life is that? I was trying to find relief in rest. I was avoiding work. The truth was that I didn’t enjoy my career at the time. And that was causing a lot of stress, so I didn’t sleep well. Seneca talked about why that happens: “There is no calm repose except when reason has settled it; night causes disturbance, rather than removes it, and merely changes our worries. In fact the dreams of sleepers are as troublesome as their days. The real calm is when a good state of mind unfolds.”
When you’re chronically worried and your entire life is filled with worry, sometimes the answer is not just to rest, but to find a way to stop worrying. If there’s something in your life that’s causing chronic stress, either change it, or accept it. There is no use in letting it negatively impact your health.
But if you’ve been working a lot and you’re getting agitated, taking a short break will charge your body and mind. You will be excited to get back to work again, which is the default state of mind of a healthy person. If you find pleasure in your work, you won’t yearn for rest all the time — only when you actually need it. All the best.