I was sick all last week, some days incapable of moving while others having just enough energy to clean the house. While incapacitated, I spent time playing video games, working on my book (now in its second round of workshopping) and binge-watching shows on Netflix. I caught up on all of those little things there’s never enough time in the day to do: sorting mail, throwing out old food in the fridge, clearing out my inbox.
In being forced to take it easy, I was reminded of some important things. Even at our slowest, we’re still making strides. They may feel small, but they’re important in the long run. Limited activity helps promote mindfulness. It brings us back to the present, oftentimes when we need it most. Stuck on the couch, I was able to enjoy the citrusy scent of the candle my parents gave me for Christmas. I appreciated the view of rolling hills and lemon trees looking out of my backyard.
The unplanned downtime was a blessing in disguise. It reminded me of the delicate balance between grinding and unwinding.
Most days for me feel like a marathon. Work. Errands. Cleaning. Gym. Dog park. Bills. It’s rare that I complete everything on my “To Do” list in one day. If I do, I’m exhausted by the end of it. Yet this grind is so important. It keeps us on our toes. We stay hungry. We’re not comfortable. The act of grinding implies that there are goals yet to be accomplished. There are hurdles. There are constraints, and those constraints force focus, creativity and a healthy perspective.
Yet just as important is the ability to step back and relax. To unwind. To decompress. This is usually more challenging, though equally important for personal and professional well-being. Having nothing to do allows your mind to expand and wander. To be tickled by new thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. This is exactly why research has found that most creative moments happen during downtime or times of distraction.
Researcher Allen Braun explained further in an interview with Buffer:
“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity.”
Harvard researcher Shelly Carson adds that “a distraction may provide the break [needed] to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.’’
This poses an interesting question: should we be scheduling times of disengagement or distraction? Or does this defeat the purpose? After all, creative insights are born out of a relaxed state of mind which cannot be planned or anticipated. I think it benefits each one of us to factor downtime into our schedule simply with the goal of putting our minds at ease.
When we relax—whether by choice or force—we’re able to focus in a different way, attracting different energy and producing different outcomes.
This is something I plan on prioritizing this year: giving myself permission to unwind, knowing that this state of relaxation helps reenergize, realign and optimize outcomes. Run a bath. Go for a jog. Take a spontaneous trip to the beach. Binge-watch that new show you’ve been dying to see. Take a staycation. We should be relentlessly pursuing our goals, but we weren’t built to be constantly grinding. Take a break every now and then. Your mind, body, spirit and long-term goals will thank you for it.