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Pausing vs Resting: The Life-Changing Distinction
When was the last time you had a rest?
By 'rest,' I don't mean a lunch break. I want you to think beyond your afternoon kip or your half-day off.
See, I feel very strongly that the term 'rest' has been overused. We use it to describe a few minutes of downtime between checking emails and attending meetings. But those are just pauses – not the kind of lengthy, mindful breaks that we all need every once in a while.
I know what you're thinking. "Scott, when do you suppose I'll have time to take a proper rest? I have three kids and work full-time. It's not even in my vocabulary."
To that, I'd say it's time to get creative. It's time to change your perception of what it means to rest.
Misonceptions of Rest
Picture this: it's Saturday after a long, 40-hour week. You're desperate for a break and can't wait to dive into your weekend plans – reading books, lounging around the house, and catching up on personal admin.
The weekend flies by (as usual) and you're back to work on Monday after two blissful days of rest. But there's a problem – you're still completely and utterly exhausted.
That doesn't make any sense at all. Didn't you go to bed at 8pm sharp for three nights in a row? Didn't you take two hours out of your weekend to sit in the park or do some gentle yoga?
The answer is yes. But you also did something else.
Whenever a work email lit up your phone screen, you took ten minutes to type a quick reply. You also spent about 30-45 minutes each day reading up on industry news and trends. And if that wasn't enough, you agreed to a quick Zoom call on Sunday to help a colleague with a tech problem they were having.
So, yes; perhaps you spent most of the weekend resting. But you weren't taking a proper break from work. You were just pausing it.
The Life-Changing Difference between Pausing and Resting
Pauses and rests are two very different things. Let's go back to the source and take a look at their definitions:
A pause, or a break, is a short rest period between two tasks or during the same task.
Rest is a period of time in which you cease from action, motion, work, or performance of any kind.
I understand that these two definitions hold many similarities – but did you catch the difference? A pause anticipates resumed action, while a rest does not.
When you take a pause from work, be it during your lunch break or on a Sunday afternoon, you're doing so with the intention of getting back to your task.
The same is not true for resting. When you rest, there's no expectation that you'll return to it after a certain amount of time has passed. To rest is to fully step away and disengage from whatever it was that occupied your attention beforehand.
Herein lies the life-changing distinction between these two very different activities. Pausing can help you feel refreshed and energized, but it won't ever give you the same level of emotional and mental clarity as proper rest.
Resting is about creating space for yourself to think deeply, reflect on life, and gain a new perspective. It's about knowing when to step away from the chaos of everyday life in order to nurture your mind, body, and soul.
Why We Need Vacation Days
I was reading an article in Forbes yesterday that brought this whole issue to my attention in the first place.
Did you know that taking vacation days is literally a matter of life and death? If you work 55+ hours per week, you're 35 percent more likely to die of stroke than if you worked 35 to 40 hours.
Unfortunately, taking vacation days isn't really a strong suit for Americans and Canadians. The United States is literally nicknamed the 'No-Vacation Nation.' That's not admirable; that's sad.
Because it isn't just stroke-risk workaholics need to worry about. Workers who don't take vacations are more likely to suffer from heart disease and metabolic syndrome, as well as heightened stress. That's only scratching the surface.
We can take all the lunch breaks we want and take as many weekend pilates classes as we like, but without days of complete and total detachment from work-related thoughts or activities, we won't ever experience the true power of rest.
The Psychology of Quality Rest
There are so many fascinating points to unpack when it comes to the psychology of rest. First, note that our brains are only wired to handle a specific amount of focus – so if we prolong that focus, our brains become overwhelmed and fatigued.
Research shows that our brains are designed to switch back and forth between periods of focus and relaxation. Scientists are still figuring out exactly what happens when we focus on a certain task; we do know, however, that it takes a lot of mental energy. That's why it feels so draining when we've been working on something for too long.
The role of resting, then, is to allow our minds time to recharge and process the information we've taken in. It's also a chance to emotionally detach from our work and gain perspective on it, which can help us become more creative problem-solvers in the long run.
What Happens When You Rest?
Believe it or not, your mind doesn't suddenly lie dormant when you enter rest mode. Instead, you activate a circuit in the brain known as the DMN, or default mode network. This circuit is responsible for many of the things that make us human, like our ability to reflect on the past and plan for the future.
When this circuit is activated, it helps you connect with your inner self – your hopes and dreams, goals and feelings – while also helping you process past experiences. In other words, it's a chance to develop emotional intelligence while being in tune with your emotions.
When Rest Is Interrupted
It's unfortunately easier than you might think to interrupt a state of rest. Just because you're at home on the couch instead of sitting at your work desk doesn't trick your brain whatsoever. All it takes is one work email or text to throw off the balance.
The reason this is such a problem is because of something called 'task switching.' This happens when we move back and forth between different activities, and it takes our brains more energy than if we just stayed focused on one task. It's why multitasking can be so exhausting.
Since our work lives are so often drenched in high levels of pressure and stress, switching from a restful reading session to a work-related task – like responding to an email on your phone – can be an abrupt and overwhelming transition. You're suddenly launched back into a mental office environment, and it can be difficult to return to a state of rest.
This is why vacations are so beneficial; they give you a prolonged amount of time to remain in a restful state without interruption.
But Scott, We Don't All Get Vacations...
Our world would be an awful lot healthier if everyone got vacation weeks during the year. It's simply a fact. Vacations are linked with much better health outcomes for those fortunate enough to have them.
But the unfortunate reality of life is that most of us don't get the chance to take extended vacations. Some of us are so entrenched in the workaholic culture that even if we earn vacation days, we don't – or can't afford to – take them.
This is where we need to get extremely strict and disciplined with ourselves. You set a schedule for working out, so why not for resting? It's equally as important.
Embracing Discipline With Rest
The most important element of taking breaks from work – whether over the weekend, on vacation, or in the few hours between EOD and dinner time – is your ability to completely switch out of work mode.
That means being totally disconnected from all of it: work calls, Slack messages, emails, and even the company social calendar. Your periods of rest should have nothing to do with work whatsoever.
Even a quick 5-minute window spent replying to a boss's email is enough to derail your momentum and keep you in work mode for the rest of your break. Your brain doesn't get the chance to truly relax and reset.
Strategies for Unencumbered Rest
I've had to embrace restful discipline in order to combat things like burnout, exhaustion, and overworking myself. Here are some of my top tips for protecting your peace during rest:
Use your phone's Focus modes
If you've got an iPhone, you might have seen the cool feature where you can toggle different Focus modes. For instance, there's a Do Not Disturb preset that blocks all notifications from coming through when enabled.
I recommend creating a new Focus that only allows notifications from loved ones; block out all of your work-related apps and contacts.
Set aside one hour each day for guaranteed rest
We all lead busy lives, and it's easy to neglect rest. Make sure to give yourself one hour every day where you do something that's completely disconnected from your work. Get a calendar and literally pencil in that hour of rest for each day, depending on your schedule.
Make your plans transparent
Sometimes the pressure to over-perform at work prevents us from taking proper breaks. We feel obligated to stay available 24/7, so turning off our phones on the weekend feels unthinkable. There's a simple solution to this: make your plans known.
Let teammates and managers know that, for your health, you are proactively staying away from work-related activities on certain days. The pressure immediately lifts and you can take a true break.
Don't wait for the weekend
I strongly believe that we need to take complete breaks from work every single day – whether you do that in the hours before work, after work, or both. Let your workday end at the same time each day and respond to emails first thing in the morning instead.
Keep in mind that 'resting' doesn't mean you can't focus at all. In fact, I think it's beneficial to take up a solid hobby you can invest your time and energy into on weekends. The only requirement here is that you keep work out of it!
What If I'm On Call?
Now, I fully recognize and respect that not all employees have the same benefits. Many of you are entrepreneurs, in fact – so you probably don't even know what a 'weekend' feels like anymore. How can you rest when every day calls for your professional input?
My solution to this remains the same: discipline. You need to break up your days into sections so that at least a portion remains sacred. For example, if you have to respond to messages and emails every single day, get them all done in a block on weekend mornings so that you can enjoy the rest of your day free from work-related stress.
The key is not to let yourself switch from work to rest without any regulation – because that's not true rest.
I will always be an advocate for rest. It's not enough to simply pause; we need real, deep rest that excludes work from our mindsets. Discipline is a great tool to help us make this happen, as it allows us to separate work life and rest life in a way that we can actually manage.
How do you regulate rest in your own lives? I'd love to hear your strategies. If you haven't given this much thought until now, I encourage you to try out some of the tactics outlined above and see how it influences your work performance.
If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.
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