Let me explain just what I mean by being productive!
The problem when I say ‘be productive’ is that most people immediately start to think about being productive at work, or maybe at study. But for me that misses out whole other parts of our lives where it is great to be productive.
You may think I’m mad when I say that we need to rest productively. Surely that doesn’t add up. Surely the point of resting is to be not productive. Well, maybe that is so in terms of how we think often think about rest. But how many of us try to rest, relax, and recuperate only to find our minds drawn back into what needs to be done in others places? How many of us try to rest in ways that aren’t helpful… or productive.
Let me give you an example of unhelpful rest….. I love to ‘rest’ by drinking a bottle of red wine …but ….I pay for it the next day. The rest I engaged in wasn’t productive. Yes it helped me switch off, it did help me relax. Alcohol does that. But was it productive? Now this is not a binary. It’s not as simple as – some things are productive (or helpful) and some things are not. In fact Professor David Nutt in his book ‘Drink?’, while being clear that there is no safe drinking limit (alcohol is for the most part not good for us) we all have a point where we get the benefits from it without the negative effects the following day. My point is about 2 small glasses of red wine. I feel relaxed and have no ill effects on my sleep or the next day. The problem though is that after 2 glasses of wine it’s so easy to have a third or fourth! Inhibitions and control obliterated – full-tilt wine drinking!
That’s my nemesis anyway. Yours may be different. You might ‘rest’ by engaging in social media and that is fine. I love social media. But, like the alcohol example, once you start mindlessly scrolling and not actually mindfully engaging you will ‘come up for air’ half an hour or more later and feel cheated. I know, believe me, I know!
We need to engage with our rest so that it’s productive. We need to plan what we are going to do and then engage in it mindfully. All that simply means is become absorbed in it to the exclusion of everything else so that we can switch off to all of the other things going on – take a rest from the rest of life in a way that is not detrimental to us later. Give ourselves some head space. Do something that enriches us not takes more from us. I’d argue that overusing social media (mindlessly scrolling), over eating, drinking too much, watching just whatever happens to be on TV rather than carefully choosing something… all have a negative consequence.
And that’s the thing with self-care. In fact that’s the thing with any action. There will be a consequence. This is why we have to personalise our self care. If you are happy with the consequence of your action (I mean truly happy!) then keep doing that. If you feel any sense of guilt or regret then you probably aren’t happy with the action. So change the action. Keep engaging in the same habits you get the same results. Change the habit you get different results says James Clear in his book ‘Atomic Habits’.
There was a study I read about some time ago. The researchers explored the difference between people who planned their weekends and then engaged in the activities they had planned and people who just did whatever came to them and drifted through the weekend. They found that people who had planned their weekends and did the things they planned felt a sense of achievement and felt rested (productive rest) while those who drifted mindlessly through the weekend felt frustrated that their weekend was nearly over and wondered what they’d done with the time (negative rest). The fascinating thing was that when they looked at what each group had done they had largely done the same things. Yet the planners had less of those Sunday night, back to work tomorrow blues, because they had productively rested.