Redesigning rest and unlocking energy use

Given that the human brain is constantly monitoring our energy budget and predicting our energy use and attempting to get us to balance output with restoration, it is perverse, but not altogether out of character, that the part of our brain that thinks it runs the show should come up with a notion such as, ‘I’ll rest when I’m dead’. Sometimes we choose to believe the dumbest ideas.

Illustration of someone taking a nap

Some questions to frame what follows.

  1. How do you normally rest? What are your go-to things to do (or not do)?
  2. How often are you well rested?
  3. What distinct energy stores have you used up? Physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual.

What about the energy for the challenges to balance negative self-talk or to maintain self-control? The energy to pay attention, avoid distraction or to negotiate. Or the feeling of positive energy use: the runner’s high, socialising (if you’re an extrovert), sensual and sexual energy or paying attention to an amazing film or entertainment. Some energy use can be predicted, sometimes it’s demanded and we’re forced to react.

Are there certain energy reserves you delight in using and some that throw you into panic as they dwindle?

Rest, in the form of breaks, leisure time and rest days are all part of the equation, restoring our energy to enable all the energy demanding elements of our days.

Energy restoration can be doing nothing but it depends on what type of energy we need to restore. For example, cardiovascular exercise can restore low cognitive energy reserves. Time with friends might restore mental energy.

Rest is a component of maintenance distinct from sleep, nutrition and exercise. How often do you feel fully rested? If you were to look over recent days, how many were well balanced, restoring the energy you needed for everything else?

The influences of culture and media that reach into our lives are at best ambivalent about us taking rest – when we’re resting we’re not producing or consuming. The smartest trick big businesses have pulled, Trojan Horse like, is to persuade us to bring them to the centre of our ‘rest’ activities – on goes the TV, out come our devices and now we’re back to being productive consumers. Many of us need a rest from this and the tech-sabbath is gaining popularity.

Watching can be rest but only by design, only if it’s the right replenisher for the specific energy restoration we need, and only if we’re disciplined about time-boxing the activity – the next episode will start in 10 seconds ... Big money is after your attention, it doesn’t care about your wellbeing.

Is there also a cultural idea that rest is a luxury, that needing rest is admitting weakness; that rest is remedial medicine, a necessary thing we have to do? ‘Busy’ has become the acceptable answer to the question, ‘how are you?’.

Do you need to replace default rest activities with more effective ones? Do you need to explore why you’re not giving yourself permission to rest or not taking it seriously? Is your rest ineffective because it is interrupted by distractions?

We can match intentional rest activities (colouring in, building something, time on the allotment, playing music, mountain biking etc) with the combination of energy sources we need to replenish.

But it is almost as if the energy-use aspect of the equation is arbitrary or out of our control, or something we’re a victim of. The day just happened, I wasn’t particularly skilful, the day was more done to me than done by me and now I also need to be responsible for a ‘wise’ rest choice ... I’m too tired. And it’s even more tiring being the wise human voice for an inner, stronger, animal part that never runs out of energy and wants to go in a different direction.

I could suggest that we have rest activities prepared in advance to turn to when we need – because we know that when we need them, we won’t have the energy in the moment to be intentional and reflective and make wise choices. But what if the Day Crafter considers bringing intention to the other end of the equation: where today will I choose to intentionally spend energy, how much will I spend and when?

For me this question immediately highlights the kinds of energy I like using. These are the activities that I’d struggle to run out of energy for; the activities that lead to a particularly contented sort of tired and the sense of a well earned rest.

Can I craft my days to feature more of those kinds of intentional energy uses? The rest I need may be more predictable.

The Practice

If you approach rest without an intention you may be open to the combined international forces of distraction (CI-FOD?!) and you may not achieve the rest you need. What types of energy have you used up? In which areas are you in need of restoration? Can you design a rest activity to suit your specific maintenance needs?

Can you design your days to deliberately use the types of energy you love using most, creative, social, cognitive, spiritual or physical?

Written by Bruce Stanley on Fri, February 05, 2021

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