Do you ever feel overwhelmed at work or at home?

Before you answer that, know that you’re living and breathing (or perhaps hyperventilating) through one of the most overwhelmed eras of our time. The relentless urgency and endless distractions of our personal and workplace lives may be the defining tenet of our modern age.

We exist in an always-on culture. Everyone is stressed out from permanent busyness. Organizations are seeing burnout, breakdown, fatigue, disengagement, and a lack of emotional connection affecting all areas of their business. Distraction is a major obstacle — workers are being interrupted by all manner of tools ironically designed to make them better at their jobs.

Family lives and relationships are also suffering from the ethic of constantly working ourselves into the ground. These misguided beliefs and real stresses have made “leisure time” feel like a thing of the past.

So what is the solution? Does the ideal “good life” of ease and happiness along with productivity and success still exist? And if so, how do we find it? Do we need to download a new proficiency app to our phone? Reconfigure the universe to add 10 more hours to our day? Simply work harder, or quit our jobs altogether?

Maybe the solution is simply to work and live smarter (or different.)

The Science of Renewal

Getting out of the overwhelm means taking the time to stop. This may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed at how few of us are able to implement this effectively in our lives. Yet, all it takes is a surprising new kind of mindset that changes the rhythm of how you work and live.

When you “time shift” between rest and activity; between expending your energy and recovering it, you break the pattern of overwhelm and take back the energy you need to do what’s important to you and your success.

Studies show that rest, renewal, and recovery are essential ingredients to your work-life success. Ferris Jabr writes in this stunning Scientific American article “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime”:

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to achieve our highest levels of performance, and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

While findings show that overwhelm can physically shrink the thinking brain, resting and renewal expands it. Sandra Bond Chapman writes in Psychology Today that: “The frontal lobe brain networks — responsible for reasoning, planning, decision-making, and judgment — work for you in creative ways when the brain is quiet, not while you are effortfully trying to find a solution to a problem. Moments of insight increase as the brain unwinds.”

Why does this occur? Because when the activity of your brain settles down and becomes less active — the complex brain literally expands, and you begin to connect random ideas and transform them into new thoughts, viewpoints, insights and solutions. This is why learning to meditate, practicing yoga, or simply slowing down and pausing for periods of time, increases your ability to think, remember and make decisions more clearly.

Giving your brain a break makes room for new creations. Giving yourself a break resets your rhythm. It helps you recover. And this makes you feel better.

How to Protect Your Renewal

If recovery, rest and allowing ourselves to be unplugged is so incredibly good for us, why don’t we do it more often?

I would argue that it’s because we haven’t disciplined ourselves enough — or perhaps, learned how to discipline ourselves away from the compulsion to keep on going. Building in the time for daily rituals and practices is what’s needed. It’s what stops us. The act of stopping teaches us that rest and renewal is paradoxically necessary to getting anything of value done.

Steve Jobs once said something wise that lends itself to this topic. It was in the midst of a live event when a heckler in the audience asked him about why a particular Apple project was killed, and his response was this: “Focusing is about saying no.”

Training yourself to stop and rest — saying no to the busyness — gives you the opportunity to check in with yourself. Stopping may be your meditation for the day.

This is how it works:

  • Noticing your busyness and saying “no” is the first step
  • Noticing your distraction and fatigue and stopping before it gets to the point of overwhelm becomes your discipline
  • Begin to create “intentional” periods of uninterrupted time for work
  • Block “planned’ grace periods for breaks and renewal into your daily schedule
  • The spaces for renewal become just as important as the spaces for work

You need to also say “yes” to other things: organizing your schedule to be at your son’s (or daughter’s) baseball practice at 5:30 pm; or simply sitting in the sun absorbing Vitamin D in silence (with your phone on airplane mode.)

Rather than working even harder, start to shift how you work and how you recover. Build restorative renewal practices into your days (and nights, even weekends) and create habits of resilience in your body and mind.

This ancient art of simply letting yourself switch off naturally enhances your ability to be your most creative and productive self.


To read more, download my latest eBook for free: It Takes a Culture: Building a Wellness Strategy for the Modern, Distracted, Uber-Individualized Workforce

(Photo: Trike Daily)