The counter-intuitive wisdom of resting as a way to succeed at your goals.
So, you’re reaching for a big goal this year. What is it? Are you training for a marathon? Writing a book? Traveling the world? Quitting smoking? Losing weight?
You’re on schedule (or perhaps you’re slightly off schedule but you’re still pushing forward) to meet the benchmarks you identified in January, and you’re feeling positive about the possibility of getting to the finish line, right? But… you’re getting tired, flagging in your efforts, and feeling discouraged.
Weariness is one of the occupational hazards of setting goals and trying to achieve them—especially if you’ve set the same goals and failed to reach them in the past. Even as there is great encouragement in making progress, any major goal you set for yourself will require you to push through inner (and sometimes outer) resistance, maintain a certain level of commitment and energy for the project that you may not always feel, and (well, let’s just say it) work harder than you’ve ever worked before.
It’s inevitable that at some point you’re going to feel exhausted and discouraged. What’s the cure?
You’ll like my answer, I think. The cure to exhaustion, discouragement, and wavering commitment is rest. That’s right, rest!
It’s the same in running, you know. When you’ve done all of your training for a marathon, for example, you then spend the week or two before your big race NOT running much at all. It’s called “the taper” and it’s baffling to non-runners. “How does it make sense to stop running before a race?” people want to know. It makes sense because intense exercise creates little tiny tears in your muscles. It’s in the healing of those tears that muscles are built up, so you need to take time now and again to let the tears heal if you want to run strong.
You might say that any major effort to reach an important life goal creates tiny “tears” in the fabric of your good intentions. Sometimes those little tears need time to heal so that your intentions can be strengthened.
One of my goals this year is to finish a novel I’ve been writing for many years. I’ve set a schedule to revise my manuscript and have stuck to it pretty faithfully. But I was feeling that the progress was too slow, so I recently took myself on a one-week writing retreat to really buckle down and get some work done. Don’t let the word “retreat” fool you. I wasn’t resting while I was hunkered down in an adorable little cabin loaned to me by some sympathetic friends. I was plugging away through thousands of words, sorting, revising, troubling over them.
And when I got home, I had this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and depletion. I told my husband, “I think I’ve changed my mind about finishing this book. I think I’ll throw it in the trash.” He listened to my hyperbolic venting and then wisely advised, “Take a break.”
And this is my encouragement to you. If you’re feeling weary from your hard efforts and considering giving up, take a break. If you’re afraid that taking a little time away from your goal or project will cause you to totally lose your momentum, here are some thoughts about how to make sure that your rest period doesn’t turn into the total abandonment of your commitment:
- Predetermine the length of your break and set a return date. If you think a week will do the trick, block off a week in your calendar and then also write in your “return to work” date. I’m taking one week away from my novel—from Tuesday to Tuesday—because I have a standing appointment with friends to write on Tuesday mornings that I don’t want to miss.
- Decide what “taking time off” means. If you’ve been working on losing weight this year, does it mean you totally forgo all healthy eating? Or does it mean you get to have French fries twice this week? For me a break doesn’t mean not writing at all (I’m writing this right NOW!); it just means I won’t be looking at the novel.
- Tell guilt to stay away this week. Every time you feel guilty, remind yourself that your backsliding/resting/ignoring your project is temporary.
- On your return date, pick up where you left off and let your support system know you’re back in the saddle. Inviting accountability is always your best resource for making progress.
Happy resting. And may you heal the tears in your commitment so that you can return to your goal-reaching efforts with renewed vigor and enthusiasm!