take a break

Refusing to give up doesn’t mean you are resilient. Being tough isn’t enough. Resilience is built on a set of skills that include self-awareness as well as grit. Push ahead by all means, but understand how to manage yourself and your reserves of energy.

Self-awareness allows you to find a balance between your levels of stamina and determination, with the strategic use of your energy and personal resources.

The idea that to be successful at something you must drive yourself hard permeates westernised cultures. But a stance which is unforgiving about the need to rest ignores our physiological needs, what science has to say on the subject, human experience, AND common sense.

The ‘can-do-go-getter’ who blindly forges ahead regardless of their personal needs is a popular trope in corporate culture. It can lead to people trying to out-do each other, in the hope of praise and recognition. I recently heard this described as ‘resilience’, but that is wrong.

Resilient strengths

One of the main characteristics of resilient people is that they are in touch with their inner needs. They are emotionally intelligent. They are sensible enough to know the value of taking time to stop, reflect, and even take a little doze.

This is especially important when you are facing a really tough problem that just won’t go away or let you solve it.

Seriously? Am I suggesting that if we all take breaks for a little siesta we can up our game and improve our chances of promotion? Well, no (though I was speaking recently to someone who had worked in the Hong Kong stock exchange. He was puzzled by the working culture in London. He told me that in HK they had quiet zones where you could take a rest after lunch).

No, I’m not suggesting a nap. Though it’s highly recommended if you can manage it (more another day), I know that, in most office cultures, you’d be handed over to HR for remedial action pretty quickly if you tried sleeping when you should be working (as they’d probably see it).

What I am promoting here, as I have done before, is taking regular ‘thinking breaks’. It’s a habit which helps to reduce stress and boost physical and mental energy levels.

Press on and stress

Expecting yourself to hack through a full day, remaining upbeat, active, creative and productive, is just not realistic. In the sense that stress can do lasting damage to body and mind, it’s downright stupid.

Taking time out regularly allows you to re-energise and refresh your thinking. It boosts creativity and confidence. There are also many health benefits. Among others, lowered blood pressure, clearer thinking, lowered risk of heart attack, improved problem-solving, and better mood.

Psychologists know the benefits of respecting the body’s natural rest-activity cycle throughout the day. Taking short breaks is restorative. Critically, if things like ‘success’ and ‘productivity’ are important to you, breaks improve creativity and our ability to problem-solve.

What the…?

In suggesting ‘breaks’ I’m not suggesting 20-30 minutes to nip out for coffee, nor even leaving the confines of the office (or wherever you work).

‘Break’ as I’m using it here means two to five minutes to relax, breathe, and tune in to your thoughts and feelings. It’s a moment to check in with yourself, to ask how your day is going. Sit quietly, close your eyes, breathe from the diaphragm, and review. That’s all.

Resilience is about understanding and responding to your needs in order to do more, go the extra mile, doing the best you can… or whatever current aspirational business-speak calls it.

Taking moments away from the coal-face of your daily demands pays dividends. Punctuating your day with brief ‘thinking breaks’ can lift your spirits and help you feel more purposeful in what follows. It also counters stress if you do it regularly.

We are not machines, even though many of us have jobs in systems that behave as if we are.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.


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