My paternal grandparents were of The Great Generation, shaped by the depression and later WWII. Between surviving those world events and raising 5 children on a factory worker’s salary, a scarcity mindset became a core family value.
Two generations removed, I was bequeathed this mindset, the thought that wealth and opportunities are limited, and the fear that one will never have enough. This showed up in my upbringing as a constant drive to work, to keep moving. Sleep after 8 AM, watching tv for an extended period, any nonproductive activity all came at a very high risk of giving away an opportunity to squirrel away more resources for the future. And that future always held an inevitable doom requiring more resources than we had… because of that one time we laid on the couch too long.
Of course, this is all reenforced by the water we swim in; the culture of productivity and paper thin boundaries between work and personal time. The “strongest” among us have the ability to achieve nonstop productivity, multi-task in all areas of life and work longer hours than anyone else. Brené Brown refers to this as “exhaustion as a status symbol”. Paradoxically, as Americans, we have a mandate to innovate and pursue happiness. And yet, scarcity does not bread “happiness”, or joy as I prefer, nor innovation… it kills it.
For my grandparents, scarcity was a reality of their young lives. They came by the mindset honestly and passed it on in order to keep the next generations alive. But because of them, I now have the opportunity to learn how to do more than survive… to thrive.
Regardless of what our culture would like us to believe, our human bodies were
“built to oscillate between work and rest. When we allow for this oscillation, the quality of our work improves, along with our health… A growing body of research has established that we do our best at any given task for only a limited amount of time, energy or attention, then our performance drops off, our attention wanders and our motivation evaporates. But resting after a depleting activity eliminates the effect of the fatigue.” (Nagoski, Burnout)
In other words, none of us are built to be constantly productive regardless of the stories we tell ourselves about strength, grit and worthiness.
We are all aware of the phenomenon of “my best ideas come when I am in the shower,” or in a dream or only after we walk away and return to a task sometime later. These are examples of the oscillation of work and rest, well… working!
Joy and innovation are born out of the cultivation of play, rest and boredom. (Brown, Atlas of the Heart) Yes… I said it… BOREDOM! We all accept that “our best ideas come in the shower” but the necessity of boredom somehow feels counter intuitive. But again, giving our brains enough rest to get bored or to engage in play allows our “default mode network” to activate and, without conscious thought, process all of the information we have consumed. In a way, passively tapping into your natural innovation. In thinking about this physiology, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Yoga with Adrienne, “find the balance of effort and ease.” I need both a task and rest orientation… and I need to find a balance between the two. Not because I am weak or strong, but because that is how the human physiology works.
Even after gaining all of this knowledge about the mechanics of rest, I continue to find it incredibly hard to implement in my own life. I seem to constantly be struggling with the overwhelming thought of “what I would give just to lay in bed and NOT MOVE!” and the feeling of, “If I actually do that… I will disappoint my people… and the world.”
My old scripts from growing up and current ones from our culture play on a loop in my head as I “relax” on the couch or relent to a nap in bed. Invariably, every speck of household detritus and entropy gets VERY. LOUD. (With 2 kids, a husband, a dog and 2 cats… there is plenty of chatter!) Then, I am hit with the intense fear that all sources of household income will dry up and I will have single handedly turned my family into a bunch of vagabonds, destroying my children’s childhood and any hope of a “productive” adulthood. Just writing this paragraph, I can feel the panic bubbling up in my chest and the irritability building up on my tongue. Not very restful…
And yet, this is a practice… AFGO. I (try to) respond by:
Acknowledging that rest… doing nothing, is in Fact Hard AF. In that moment of spin out, I remind myself that rest is hard for me, it is hard for my people and it hard for most of humanity. (Neff, Fierce Self Compassion)
Restorative Breath. I tend to prefer box breathing. Ultimately exhaling longer than the inhale is the only “trick”.
Cozy Yoga. When I feel like I am crawling out of my skin, I pop on a cozy Yoga with Adrienne video. I avoid the strenuous but look to move my body with my breath and calm down that spinning out nervous system.
Phone a Friend. I tell a friend or my husband what is going on and how I feel. I connect with people who are able to validate and normalize how I feel. They remind me that “it feels hard, because it is hard.” In these moments, it is also important that I reduce contact with people who, often inadvertently, invalidate or minimize my experience. (Nagoski, Burnout)
Invite my Kids In. When someone needs rest in our house, we invite the whole family “team” to participate and support. I explain to my “team” why rest is important and also why it is so hard for me to model it. I (try) to release myself from the expectation to CRUSH resting…. to be the best rester than ever rested!
Invariably, after periods of rest, I am grateful I did it, remind myself I need to practice rest more often, and chuckle at the intensity of my rest meltdown.
As I write this, I can’t help but wonder,
What did you learn about rest growing up?
What do you think about it now?
How does it feel when you rest?
What gets in your way?
What do you want to model for the next generation?
Disclaimer: This is a "one woman shop"! I was not blessed with proofing nor spelling super powers. If you spot a mistake, comment, email or DM me! I thank you in advance for your compassion and grace. ❤️