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The Benefits of Not Trying So Hard

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

It continues to be the number one topic of conversation with everyone I speak to these days—exhaustion, lack of motivation…No one actually uses the scary words “burnt out,” but we all seem to be on the edge. I’ve written recently about the need for recovery to counterbalance all our exertion, but wanted to return to the topic in a slightly different way after reading Leah Borski’s, Aug 23, 2021 blog on Entrepreneur magazine website. She hits the nail on the head, reminding us that not striving is as important to creating success as pedal to the metal.

That’s why at SheEO one of our principles is “we take our time” and we have a week off per quarter and three at the end of the year. We’re trying to model a new way of working that recognizes we don’t have to kill ourselves to succeed. If you have a hard time restoring yourself but know you need to, I encourage you to read Borski’s ideas:

“It’s true that in order to live our purpose in this world,” she writes, “we’ve got to have a vision and a plan for achieving our dreams. We must be tenacious in working toward our goals, and we might occasionally have to sacrifice a little sleep for that dream. However, our `hustle at any cost’ culture has convinced us that this means choosing between success and quality of life (e.g., health, happiness and fulfillment). This either/or mindset is not just inaccurate — it actually threatens our bottom lines and secretly sabotages success.

“The stress, exhaustion and decision fatigue caused by “hustling” can all lead to mood swings. Our logical processes literally shut down, opening up the floodgates to irritability, frustration, anger and sadness. In other words, the primitive part of our brains (controlled by emotion) takes over and dictates our behaviors, while our higher-level thinking is put on pause.   

…. Breakthroughs in neuroscience research unveil proof that goes against everything we thought we knew about achievement.

“Periods of intentional rest are now known to boost our

  • Productive energy
  • Creativity
  • Innovative thinking
  • Executive function
  • Positive mindset
  • Intuition
  • Memory

“One specific method that’s especially effective? Napping. Often we’re tempted to rely on coffee in lieu of taking a short break when we feel sluggish during the workday. However, napping has been shown to enhance alertness and attention even better than caffeine

“Brief periods of rest also counteract the sluggish effects of not getting enough quality sleep at night. Napping even makes us better problem solvers, which directly leads to innovation and decisive action — two notable hallmarks of success.

 “Maybe this all sounds great, but you’re wondering who has the time or flexibility for a workday nap? You’re right, many of us don’t… but guess what? Falling asleep is not necessary in order to feel the restorative benefits of midday rest! Try these three faux nap ideas to enhance creativity and productivity. They’re easy to fit into even the busiest of schedules — so pick one, set a timer for five minutes and enjoy.

1. Close your eyes

“More than 50 percent of the surface of the brain is devoted to processing visual information. Closing our eyes frees up the energy associated with that 50 percent, allowing our brains much needed recovery. We can tap into the unconscious processes that help us connect with our innovative ideas and solve problems more efficiently simply by decreasing visual input.

“Action step: Create a cozy nap environment without the expectation of falling asleep. Taking that pressure off of ourselves goes a long way toward relaxation and leads to increased productivity. Consider playing some soothing music to help drown out any distracting noises. Allow your eyelids to gently close, and notice any thoughts that arise.  

2. Daydream

“As a child, were you ever scolded for gazing dreamily out the window? Our parents and teachers presumed that a wandering mind was a hindrance, but neuroscience researchers find that daydreamers actually score higher on creativity scales

“Making time for free-flowing thought allows for almost effortless disentanglement of the jumbled information in our minds. Just as our muscles gain flexibility through gentle stretching, new insights are more likely to surface when we’re relaxed. ….

“Action step: Choose a photo or work of art that feels relaxing to look at, perhaps a calm ocean scene or some flowers against a bright blue sky. (Note: Blue is calming; orange stimulates creativity.) Set a timer for five minutes. Sit comfortably and gaze at the picture. Allow your mind to wander while keeping the focus on the feeling you get from the image, and keep a pen and notepad nearby to jot down any flashes of inspiration.  

3. Breathe

“The adult brain, a mere two percent of body weight, is responsible for around 20 percent of oxygen consumption. This means oxygen is one fuel our brains heavily rely on for planning, decision-making and higher-order thinking.

“Simple focused breathing gives us a mental energy boost. It also helps us relax into our unconscious mental processes, supporting creativity and productivity by activating our parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for both mental and physiological relaxation).

“Action step: First, practice diaphragmatic breathing — drawing the air into your belly instead of your upper chest. Place one hand over your heart and the other over your abdomen while inhaling. When your lower hand rises during inhalation and your upper hand does not, you know you’re bringing the air fully into your diaphragm.

Next, breathing only through your nose, inhale for a count of four… hold for a count of four… exhale for a count of four… and hold again for a count of four. Repeat this sequence for anywhere from two to 10 minutes…   

“What if, instead of celebrating busyness, we paused enough to tune into our deeper levels of consciousness?

“Then we would understand that we don’t have to trade our dreams for restorative rest. In fact, when we give ourselves the space to relax, we empower our minds to align with our dreams. And that is when we can achieve a level of success that hustle culture just can’t match.”

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