What’s your relation to relaxing?
Dumping yourself in the sofa after a tough day?
Making a joke about needing some rest after your vacation?
Thinking that sleeping in on weekends equals rest?
The paradox of rest
Ever noticed that a “relaxing” day of watching TV makes you tired and apathetic, actually even less interested in doing things than before your rest?
Ever noticed the strange satisfaction and energy you can feel after solving simple tasks at home (changing that light spot, taking out the trash, gluing or screwing that thingamajig that’s been bothering you)?
It has do to with what true relaxation is, vs. the false kind that has been imprinted on us.
Disclaimer: this article is unusually unscientific – even for being me. It’s all about personal observations and preferences, that may not have any bearing on you.
If you want something done, give the task to a busy man
Ask somebody with all the time in the world, and it will take exactly that long
Sitting begets sitting, and action begets action. You get more energy from doing (to a point) than from not doing
It’s supposed to be a turn on too
Resting doesn’t work if you think of it as only “turning off” work; you need to “turn on” non-work sides as well.
It’s about re-charging by doing semi-instantaneously rewarding things. Hobbies, e.g., are often both time-consuming, costly and require concentration and effort, and, yet, they are still relaxing and rewarding and you can’t wait to get off work to do some more.
Search for those kind of activities, perhaps through my lists of how to rest, how to be happy, through lateral living or little household chores to get you going, instead of defaulting to after work beer, or some sitting device and the TV or social media.
Retirement and relaxation
Some retired people just wither and die.
(that word “wither” always makes me think of the amazing libertarian sci-fi apce opera “Wĭthûr Wē” that I recommend highly. Please note though that it has nothing to do with relaxing).
(on the other hand, I’m retarded, not retired)
It seems, either you stay active or you lose your mental and physical faculties one after the other and die way too early.
I actually thought I’d ‘just’ be consuming books, blogs and podcasts all day after retirement. Finally, I would get to relax completely. “Of course” that wasn’t enough, even if I came pretty close (I sleep 8 hours a night, I work out every second day, I do things on my terms, but I do them all the time).
Even if I have no intent of, or desire for, “working”, I keep updating my blog, writing on my second book, and I’ve started a podcast in Swedish. In addition, I’ve got a few unlisted investments going, and I’m starting up a business angel venture. It turned out action (output) was more relaxing than exclusively inaction (input). The latter can make you anxious and edgy, like a caged animal – or apathetic.
I think relaxing shares some of the same characteristics as short term vs. long term joy and happiness that I wrote about the other day. It’s all too easy to just lean back in your sitting device of choice, doing nothing. It feels so good to relax all muscles, exhale and get a few seconds for yourself.
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Take a few minutes if you want.
Use the meditation tips from an earlier article of mine. Sit comfortably (albeit ergonomically), take deep breaths. Think only of the breathing, or turn on your awareness and pay attention to everyday details that usually are just background noise to you: sounds, textures, wall cracks, colors, smells. One at a time, pick them apart.
The problem is when you turn on the TV, and that positive and active relaxation/meditation goes from 1 minute of personal time – brain time – to several hours of sitting still, watching mindless “lean back” garbage (news, political debates, game shows, celebrities, reality shows etc.), as opposed to engaging “lean in” media.
Porn and camp fires
Just as with betting, gaming, drugs and porn (I’ve heard), the initial kicks hi-jack your brain’s reward system and make you want more of the same (without actually ever achieving quite the same level of bliss again).
The way to re-charge your body and brain is not to turn off moving or thinking; it’s to re-direct action to the opposite of your work-life.
If you sit down more than 4 hours a day at work, what you need is not more sitting, you need walking, playing, stretching, using the natural range of your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, not to mention natural range of thinking (outside Microsoft Office). Otherwise, that range will shrink prematurely (and anything coming prematurely is a no-no in my book), making you “old”.
Then it might be time for an hour of calm contemplation in front of a “camp fire” (an actual fire is probably best, but perhaps you prefer chatting on-line, watching your favorite program or something similar), but only after proper relaxation, i.e. pleasurable action.
Relaxing as a sprezzaturian
Just as with my article on everyday happiness, I’ll exemplify with a personal list of how to re-charge, or “relax” if you will. Most of these suggestions are “larger” scale activities that take an hour or two – but further down you’ll find some 5-minute suggestions as well
- a walk with a friend or your favorite podcast/music, instead of the default beer, TV couch snacking usually fills me with ideas and energy to implement them
- reading fiction
- it stimulates my imagination, makes me want to research, write and explain similar things for others (just remember that sitting or lying still, reading for hours on end is not good for you)
- I’ve never meditated for more than a few minutes at a time (nevertheless, just one minute of silence and focused breathing makes wonders – or why not try a thorough, fully-aware 1-minute tongue twisting with your partner while synch-breathing at the same time?)
- lifting weights
- now, this might be master class level for most, especially if we are talking about weekdays, including Friday. However, if you dare try, it might change your life.
- complex sports (tennis, wake board)
- this typically takes planning, scheduling, commitment etc. Once that’s in place it’s often very rewarding and relaxing, but the recurring time slot (tennis) or amount of planning required (wake board) just might make the activity stressing and taxing instead.
- goofing around (swim, jump, laser dome, paint ball, climb trees, play with my dog)
- anything that makes you laugh during or after is highly relaxing
- watching a movie/TV
- don’t do this at home! Just kidding…, or am I? Sometimes a movie, sitting down, emulating the campfires of yore is exactly what you need. just make sure you pick the right moments. Sitting and consuming entertainment should be your last resort, not because you should be effective, but because most often you won’t be re-charged afterward. You might not even enjoy it due to a feeling of skipping other obligations (Wait But Why’s dark playground)
- highly individual, of course… writing is working for me, but shorter pieces, e.g. for my podcast is about as cathartic for me as taking out the trash and sets me on a trajectory for either just enjoying my time (WBW’s happy playground) or doing more stuff
- Sure, it involves some sitting down, but combining the heat with getting up regularly for cold showers, snow play or swimming, your capillaries will be shiny as new afterward, and your testosterone and HGH levels as high as a teenager’s.
- reading non-fiction
- the right level of non-fiction can be very inspirational – just make sure you don’t choose too heavy litterature
- watching a science show or listening to a science podcast
- I’m always bursting with creativity, joy and I’m generally energetic after listening to new scientific findings. However, if it involves sitting down you should think twice about it.
- 5 minutes, 25 minutes, an hour… It’s good for you, you can think through your day, meditate or just be aware of your body. You’re not sleeping, but you don’t have to torture yourself with pure thinking either thanks to the intense bodily experience.
- With some hesitation and trepidation I add alcohol here at the bottom of the list. Sometimes it’s just a waste of time (and health), but sometimes (if you’ve got the time and health buffer) it can be magical.
- A forced or complacent after work beer is a time thief & detrimental to your health and can thus be doubly stressful. However, on rare occasions, skipping gym and going all in at brunch can shake things up and put everyday life in perspective.
- If I go sober for over a month, just focusing on gym and productive work, I tend to go a bit numb but after i no limits bender and hellish hangover, junk food and media consumption I’m right as rain again; full of energy, motivation, desire to exert and prove myself . It’s almost as the inverse of Tim’s playgrounds, where I occasionally need to be bad to enjoy being good.
- I call it creating a “life topology”, deliberately creating some volatility, in order to appreciate just being
FYI, of the above, I prefer walking most of all (it’s scientifically proven to be one of the best ways to stimulate and rest the mind at the same time; it’s also very easy to do, has an extremely low threshold, and can be done in any amounts of time)
Please note that the same activity often can be relaxing in some contexts and exhausting in others. Pay attention to when camp fire time re-charges you and when it depletes you, to when household chores are energizing vs. exhausting and so on.
Personally, I’m sometimes flabbergasted by how a usually relaxing activity can make me tired and vice versa. I often need to just give various things a little try to see what works that specific time.
Just one, redux
Don’t fall for the siren songs of instant gratification when it comes to relaxing, but don’t put off rest for too long either. As Tor Nörretranders explains in his must read book “The User Illusion” the interesting action is in the gray area between black and white.
My rule of thumb is to perform limited activities, that afterward will make you happy you did them.
Do the vacuuming on Friday evening right after work, e.g.
-“WTF?!”, you say
I know. It may sound retarded or near impossible. I mean, how on earth is that relaxing?! That’s what you want to relax from.
Nevertheless, indulge me and try just one room and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You’ll feel energized, relaxed and happy all weekend, including the rest of your Friday evening.
Doing it on Sunday evening can quite the contrary ruin your weekend, as well as the start of the week, making you feel haggard and behind schedule from the get go.
It doesn’t have to be vacuuming of course; any little household chore will do just fine, or some other limited project (limited=whatever I write here will come out wrong… 1 minute is often enough, but most things actually take 5 minutes. However, once you’re off to a start, doing “one more” is likely to carry you for up to an hour – or several if you get hooked).
My “things” are dusting, washing, loading the dishwasher, shopping, writing, mending/fixing loose screws, appliances, watering plants, mobility exercises (2 minutes for your psoas in the couch might be just what get you going) etc.
Then again, gym, sauna, massage, walking etc are more intuitively relaxing and at least more naturally associated with resting.
The main point (again)…
…is that resting doesn’t work if you think of it as “turning off”.
Think of it as re-charging by doing semi-instantaneously rewarding things. Hobbies, e.g., are often both time-consuming, costly and require concentration and effort, and, yet, they are still relaxing and rewarding, and you can’t wait to get off work to do some more.
Make your own list of active-relax activities, perhaps through my lists of how to rest, how to be happy, through lateral living or little household chores to get you going, instead of defaulting to after work beer or some sitting device and the TV or social media.
Rest is supposed to replete you
A final word: Remember, it’s supposed to be relaxing, to re-charge you, replete your energy levels, not the other way round. Try different routes, various more or less creative activities (not the couch) and pay attention to your own reactions. Perhaps you’ll reach the same conclusions as I have.
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