How would you feel if I called you lazy?
I don’t know about you, but I can feel my hackles rising, the word has so many negative connotations doesn’t it?
It’s a criticism which my inner critic, Brian, likes to wheel out every now and again, especially when I’m feeling stuck in a rut. He tells me the reason I haven’t got a readership of thousands is because I’m not working hard enough, I’m not pushing hard enough, I’m not hustling enough.
This idea is so firmly entrenched within society that working oneself to exhaustion in a haze of busyness is an accolade.
In fact, we don’t even have to be busy, we just have to look like we are. We’ve all done it haven’t we? Our other half calls to say they’re on their way home, and despite being on a well earned tea break we jump into action so they can see we haven’t had a minute to ourselves all day, we’re just soooo busy.
I felt the urge to jump up from my lunch yesterday when the postman walked up the driveway, just in case he could see me scoffing my salad through the window and formed the conclusion that I sit on my arse all day. I mean, I do write, so sitting on my arse constitutes a portion of my day, but not all of it (and anyway, I don’t have to justify myself to you!)
See what I mean?
It’s like in-built programming. We must be busy, or else we’re lazy, and we can’t possible be lazy as that is an insult of the highest order.
Or is it?
With the world’s growing awareness of mental health and what contributes to a good state of mental and emotional wellbeing, it’s becoming increasingly recognised that rest is an important part of being healthy.
A whole industry has developed around self care, yet it’s still an area that many people struggle with. We struggle to give ourselves permission to take a break and do nothing, or if we do manage to take a break we feel guilty about it. The resistance to rest comes in may forms: I’m too busy, if I stop what I’m doing I’ll never get going again, I’ll just do this one more thing and then I’ll rest, or the work horse’s favourite excuse: I can rest when I’m dead (which might be sooner than you think if you don’t take a break!)
But rest is as important as productivity. In fact, believe it or not, rest is an important part of productivity. Without rest, we simply cannot perform at our full capacity. Have you ever had the feeling that you’re super busy but you’re not actually achieving anything? This is what happens when we mistake busyness for productivity. When we’re overwhelmed, we can spend a lot of time being busy in an unproductive way, which perpetuates a cycle of working harder, getting more tired and yet achieving little. It’s the hamster on the wheel.
Ultradian rhythms anyone?
No it’s not a rising indie band, it’s a biological rhythm, similar to circadian rhythms like the sleep-wake cycle.
The Basic Rest Activity Cycle is an ultradian rhythm.
Physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman and his research assistant Eugene Aserinsky were the first to notice these rhythms in 1960, when they used EEG to study the electrical impulses in subjects’ brains while they were sleeping.
They discovered that when we sleep we have periods of 90 minutes rest (non-REM sleep) followed by 20 minutes of activity (REM sleep).
During the day time they discovered these cycles are reversed, allowing for a natural biological rhythm of 90 minutes activity followed by 20 minutes rest. This is the Basic Rest Activity Cycle (BRAC).
The problem is, we are so societally conditioned to work all day, that functioning in this way is almost unheard of. Imagine if you told your boss you were going to take a 20 minute break every 90 minutes for the sake of productivity, think they’d buy into it? Perhaps not. In a world focused on hard work as the only path to success, our culture just isn’t set up for it.
The Healing Break
In his book The 20 Minute Break, Dr Ernest Rossi details how a 20 minute healing break three or four times in line with our natural ultradian rhythm can help restore the mind-body connection, which increases productivity and creativity.
Some of the big tech companies like google are apparently moving more towards making space for employees to manage their own time in line with productivity rather than how much time they spend at their desk, but this is a way of working that will likely take much longer to filter down to the average office job.
But with the rise of working of home working, a growing number of people might find they have more flexibility in this area.
For me, the idea of working in sync with your natural ultradian rhythm goes hand in hand with the book I’m reading at the moment, Martha Beck’s The Way of Integrity. This book is all about tuning into your intuition and living in integrity with yourself, part of which involves paying attention to your body’s cues and taking appropriate action, including resting when tired, moving when you need to and heading out into nature when you feel the pull.
How often have you been stressing about a problem, only to have it resolve itself when you shelve it for a while and go out for a walk? This is the natural ultradian rhythm in action. Allowing the brain time to process information on its own instead of trying to think our way through things can often give us the spark of creativity or clarity that leads to the aha! moment we’ve been looking for. I find this to be true in my writing. New ideas for a blog or lines for a poem will often come to me whilst my mind is quiet and I’m not directly focused on writing.
Instead of seeing rest as the opposite to work, consider that we’re actually not working at our full capabilities when we don’t rest. Dr Rossi posits that most accidents in the workplace and on the roads are caused by human error brought on by fatigue. If we were able to tune into our ultradian rhythms and give ourselves permission to take rest when we need it, he argues that many of these accidents could be avoided. How many mistakes do you make when you’re tired, only to create more problems that take even longer to solve?
What your own natural ultradian rhythm will be is something you’ll have to figure out through trial and error. For some people the 90/20 split is spot on, others have longer work cycles and shorter rest cycles and vice versa. Why not tune into your body and experiment with finding your natural rhythm? Notice when your attention starts to wander and give yourself a short period of rest, see what works for you. The quality of the rest is important, so avoid stimulating activities like watching television or listening to podcasts, your mind needs space to process information. Instead, try a walk in nature or sitting somewhere quietly and allowing your mind to wander idly.
Banging my meditation drum again
I know I extoll the virtues of meditation frequently, but it seems that meditation serves the same purpose as the period of rest in the ultradian rhythm. It gives our brains time to process information effortlessly, regulating our nervous system and reducing our stress levels to help us maintain our health and emotional wellbeing.
I firmly believe that if the whole world meditated for twenty minutes once a day we would live on a much more hospitable planet.
Even if a rest every 90 minutes is beyond the scope of your busy life, I wholeheartedly recommend trying to find some time to set aside for meditation. The extra time it gives you from the mental clarity alone will be worth it, never mind your newfound superhuman ability to stop biting the head off anyone who asks you a stupid question.
The Oxford dictionary defines lazy as:
Unwilling to work or be active, doing as little as possible. Synonym: idle. He was not stupid, just lazy.
What our society seems to have forgotten in its championing of the work hard ethos is that spending time doing as little as possible is also an essential part of the human condition, and an important component of overall health.
I’d like lazy to be redefined as a more positive word.
How about this:
Lazy: to do nothing, allowing your brain a period of intentional rest. Synonym: chilled-out. She was busy being lazy.
How easy do you find it to be lazy?