The intensity of our ambitions has sent us into a ceaseless pursuit of upgrading. We've drifted to constantly elevate our standards without ever questioning the method. Chasing a finish line that doesn't exist, we keep running.
The superficiality of this chase is the result of mindless hustling. Days, weeks and eventually years pass by our eyes before we realize that we've spent the majority of our time in a manic state of hurry - always looking for an angle to advance.
A life containing only hustle prevents you from thinking, growing and contributing. An invisible cage is built that traps you in a state of perpetual puerility.
This life is similar to a pie eating contest.
You enjoy pumpkin pie, but you've placed yourself in a contest where you force yourself to eat more pumpkin pie than you can enjoy or even care to pay for. With alarming pace, you shove down as many pumpkin pies as you can down your mouth in ten minutes.
But you get no pleasure from any single bite.
All you're concerned about is more. The irony is that you're headed for misfortune regardless if you win or lose the contest.
If you win, you get a bellyache. If you lose, you're out a few bucks that could have been spent on something better.
In hindsight, you look back and think, "I probably would have been better off without entering that contest."
We keep hustling.
The American dream fancied to us growing up lingers in our minds and strongly molds our desires. This so called dream has dripped its way into the rest of the world. The acquisition of stuff and the accolades of achievement are the hallmarks of the dream.
Having stuff or achieving things are not inherently wrong.
But when they trump other things that we collectively deem important (family, faith, well-being, happiness, and contribution), it causes a disconnect between what we believe and how we live.
The nose to the grindstone posture is normative in America. The default response when you ask anyone how they are doing: "Busy, just so busy."
But it's an ironic response because it's evolved into a humble boast. I've certainly been guilty of this myself. We've become proud that we try to do too much.
Because society pats us on the back when we adopt this masochistic attitude towards hustling.
So we sign up for the game we don't even want to play - simply because most of everyone else is playing.
But this unrelenting busyness is not an inevitable position of life; most often, it's something you and I have chosen.
We're tirelessly driven, anxious, over-caffeinated, fearful, wired, and always grinding. Sure, you could turn these states into an Instagram picture quote and aim to get some double-taps.
However, I must ask, "You don't want to live like that do you?"
I sure don't.
Unfortunately, we've forced each other to live this rushed existence.
We're up to our eyeballs with hustle, only to hustle the next day again.
We work extra hours to buy the Tahoe, only to desire to upgrade to the Escalade a few months later.
We push to get promoted only for it to relinquish more of our one and only non-renewable asset - time.
We sacrifice the very things we say are important to us to occupy a bigger home only to want to move into a bigger, chicer neighborhood five years later.
We've lost sight of the value of rest and have replaced that emotional real estate with hustle.
Throughout the ages, philosophers have highlighted rest as integral - not optional - to the human existence. Leonardo da Vinci said:
Now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work, your judgment will be surer.
Religious leaders will preach that rest is essential for the soul. Across many faith mediums including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Baha'i you'll find they all advocate that a time for rest is critical.
Even without philosophical or religious reference, you and I both know that rest is non-negotiable. We must sleep.
But we seek to find the minimum amount of rest we can get by with.
With the frantic pace that we've tossed ourselves into, we simply hustle so much that we leave no time for voluntary rest. We stop only when we have to - when our eyes can't stay open anymore.
We claim there is too much to get done, too many deadlines to meet, too many bills to pay, too many errands to run, and too many meetings to attend.
It's turned into a badge of honor: "We can sleep (and rest) when we're dead."
This sounds noble and maybe even inspiring when you see it on a YouTube video. But consider a few questions before you march on with the crowd.
Could you not fulfill your duties with less, but more potent effort?
Can you not keep your commitments in four, five or even five and half days out of the week?
Sadly, a lot of answers will be no. No, I can't hustle less. No, I can't stop pursuing accolades. No, I can't withdraw from the grind.
This pace forces you to run faster only to fall behind. Stress accumulates, well-being suffers, and external success masks the internal despondency.
Then, in five, 10 or 20 years, the importance of rest suddenly makes sense in the rear view mirror. Dr. Seuss summed it up with a few words:
How did it get so late so soon? It's the night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness, how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?"
The reality is this: You have enough time to get the things you need to get done, done, including rest.
But if you neglect that truth, you'll hustle your life away. And one day, you'll be asking how did it get so late so soon.
Ways To Create Space For Rest
Before you actively rest, you must create the space in your life to do so. Here are three considerations:
Live with less
Start with the number of goals your are currently pursuing. There isn't a hard and fast number of appropriate goals, but you know what you can handle.
Often, we openly accept goals into our lives like a church accepts new members. However, when it comes to goals, this approach gets tiresome.
We take on too much too soon and realize that we don't have enough bandwidth to sustain the required effort to turn the goals into reality. Burnout lurks around the corner, and soon, something has to give.
Narrow down your goals to a few that you can give an honest effort towards. This will lower overwhelm and increase the success rate of your follow through on the necessary behaviors needed to be done consistently for the goal to happen.
Deal with debt
If being held captive by consumer debt is forcing you to hustle your head off, it's only a matter of time before you crash.
Being objective offers some insight when dealing with debt. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor between 161-180, had an exercise where he'd describe glorious or expensive things without the euphemisms:
Roasted meat is dead animal.
Vintage wine is old, fermented grapes.
His aim was to see things as they are, without the fancy - which usually clouded his judgment.
When it comes to consumer debt, exercising a similar posture will help put things into perspective:
The Maserati is a vehicle that transports you from point A to point B.
The rustic bohemian loft is simply shelter - a place where you eat and sleep.
The Rolex is a device that tells you what time it is.
To be fair, research shows that these things can make you happy - but only for a minute. Moreover, circumstantial situations (buying a new home, car or watch) only make up about 10% of overall happiness according to happiness scientist Sonja Lyubomirsky.
Consumption isn't the problem. It's compulsory consumption that is causing all the chaos. Having stuff isn't bad. Having too much stuff that causes us to choke in debt is the issue.
It's the excess of these things that force us to put the hustle in front of the things we claim are important to us: family, faith, well-being, and contribution.
When we're drowning in debt, we have no choice but to surrender to the grind. There's no room for rest. It feels like your whole existence is at gunpoint.
Besides, the stuff we buy doesn't impress anyone like we think it is. Get objective with yourself and do what you got to do relieve the burden of debt from your life.
It doesn't have to happen overnight
I love technology. I use it often. It allows for a lot of things to happen. But one thing that I never tire of appreciating is the speed at which it operates. It makes everything faster.
That's also the problem.
I've adapted to expect things to happen fast. Combined with the hustle posture that our society admires, this produces a wicked cocktail of redlining.
Meaning, if I lean in as hard as I can without any intermittent recovery, I can expect it to happen faster.
But a lot of the good stuff in life isn't meant to be as fast as a download.
Derek Sivers, the author of Anything You Want, moved to Santa Monica, Ca. He found a wonderful bike path about 25 miles in length that stretched along the coast. The next logical decision was to get a bike so he could ride this path to fulfill his exercise routine.
With enthusiasm, he started riding the trail pretty often. He also timed his rides. The trip averaged about 43 minutes. After a while, the excitement of hitting the trail slowly faded.
Derek asked himself, "Why am I feeling this way?"
He realized that he was aggressively hitting the trail each time. Pedal to the medal - he was determined to complete the trail as fast as possible every ride. Completely drained and exhausted after each trip, Derek soon felt curious about the fact that no matter how hard he peddled, it always took about 43 minutes.
He decided to experiment.
Derek wondered if he took the same path, but along the way enjoyed the scenery, and wasn't so masochistic about his ride if he could complete the distance in the same amount of time.
So he tested this theory.
Along the same path, without the manic intensity, he saw dolphins jumping in the Pacific Ocean and completed the ride in 45 minutes.
Sure, the story may feel cinematic.
But for a moment, consider the benefits. Derek, due to the desire for speed and completion drove himself into mental and physical exhaustion. If he continued at this rate, this might have led him to quit a healthy and pleasurable activity that added value to his life.
But he decided to pull back the intensity and enjoy the journey.
Yes, it took two minutes longer. But he exchanged two minutes for potentially a lifelong healthy habit - rather than quitting altogether.
Life travels in a similar fashion.
We can redline for a while and expect faster results. But the good stuff in life usually takes a lot of time. Pulling back the intensity to exchange it for consistency is often the wiser move.
And, this allows for some breathing room and rest to enjoy the journey along the way.
Good things might happen fast. Great things always take time.
The Ice Cubes First Method
When I make my smoothies, I put the ice cubes in my Nutri-bullet in first.
Because they won't fit in if I put everything else before it.
If I fill the Nutri-bullet with almond milk, protein powder, and ground flaxseed to the brim first, adding the ice cubes on top of that would cause on overflow.
The Nutri-bullet wouldn't have the capacity to hold all of the items.
Therefore, putting in the big, bulky ice cubes in first makes sense. Everything else - the almond milk, the powder and the flaxseed will find their way in and make space for themselves.
Planning your days are a lot like building smoothies. Except you might be putting the ice cubes in last. Here's what I mean:
You probably have three to five urgent and important things to do each day - maybe even less. Everything else can wait or doesn't need to be tended.
However, you spend the majority of your time on things that don't matter. You fill up your Nutri-bullet with trivial things like emails to friends, Facebook, shopping for toiletries at Target, and re-organizing the mess on your desk again.
By days end, you try to throw in your big ice cubes and write that blog post, make your 100 sales calls, update the resume, and go to the gym but you don't have enough mental and physical bandwidth to do so and you overflow with stress.
You end up feeling like you live in a time famine.
This is a simple fix.
Put your ice cubes in first. In other words, start with the three to five most important things you need to do every day. The world will not end if you don't write the Yelp review. I promise.
Approaching your days in this fashion, you'll find that you have more time for rest, play and leisure later on in the day.
3 Ways to Voluntarily Rest
When you've managed to make room for rest, it's time actually to practice the act of resting. As odd as it sounds, it requires discipline to rest. Here are three ways to do that:
A study funded by the National Institute of Health revealed a 23 percent decrease in mortality in people who meditated versus those who did not, a 30 percent decrease in death due to cardiovascular problems and a significant decrease in cancer mortality.
Research has also shown that mindfulness training triggers a relaxation response - one that augments our immune system, reduces inflammation, fights high blood pressure, increases insulin sensitivity and assists in better sleep.
Mindfulness training also thickens the prefrontal cortex. The part of the brain that is associated with sensory and emotional processing. Moreover, more activity in the prefrontal cortex is correlated with feelings of joy, positivity, and connectedness. A lack of activity in the prefrontal cortex is correlated with despondency, depression, and anxiety.
Mindfulness training doesn't mean wearing a robe and living in a cave while you sit crossed legged with our eyes closed. For the layperson, it's a lot more practical than that.
Instead, it can be used a tool to manage our thoughts. In the frantic pace of hustle, we get hit with impressions at an alarming rate each day.
The battle is in what to do with these thoughts. Unfortunately, we react as if every thought is crucial, imperative and urgent. Hence, the frantic, caffeinated existence we nurture.
With mindfulness training, you can allow thoughts to come and go without having the urge to react. To problem solve. To advance.
Rather, you can sit and watch your thoughts go by - similar to sitting on the bank of a river watching the water flow downstream.
This practice allows you to see the world as it is, not what you expect it to be, how you want it to be, or what it fear it might become.
In addition to the health benefits of mindfulness training, it also serves as a pressure relieve valve on your mind. With diligent practice, you can develop the skill to understand that every thought isn't to be acted upon which can help reduce the malaise that the hustle typically brings along.
Mindfulness training can be argued as a wonder drug, but it must be refilled daily. Meaning, you must practice it consistently to reap the benefits.
One of the most practical resources I've come across for mindfulness training is headspace.com. It's like a personal trainer for your brain. And to start, all you need is 10 minutes.
Work in rhythms
Periodization refers to the way athletes train in cycles - they alternate the intensity and volume of training with periods of recovery. This cycle happens daily, weekly, and yearly - with a purpose to show up to each workout and event with the highest potential for a successful performance.
In other words, an athletes training program embeds tactful rest and recovery into the program itself. Rest is part of the equation - not a side dish that is tacked on at the end.
This approach allows the athlete to manage their physical and mental energy to be their best when it matters the most.
You might not be trying to qualify for the Olympics, but there's a good chance that you're a corporate athlete who needs to properly manage mental and physical energy to be your best when it matters the most.
It turns out, just like an athlete, people in the workplace function best on a periodized schedule as well. Tony Schwartz paints this picture beautifully in his book, Be Excellent at Anything:
McGill University researcher Debbie Moskowitz has found that Monday is the best day for low-demand administrative tasks, including setting goals, organizing, and planning.
By Tuesday, most of us are fully ramped up. Over the next two days, our capacity for focus and engagement is at its peak. It makes sense, both individually and organizationally, to tackle the most challenging work on those days.
That means addressing the most difficult problems, taking on writing assignments, working through strategy and doing creative brainstorming.
By Thursday afternoon, Moskowitz has found, our energy often begins to ebb. This can be a good day for meetings in which meeting consensus is important.
By Friday, we're usually at the lowest level of energy for the week, especially in the afternoon. This can be a good day for more open-ended work, such as brainstorming, long-range planning and relationship building.
Designing the workflow for yourself and your team with these rhythms in mind means you're taking advantage of the natural flow of your energy.
This insight gives you the keys to your best work consistently.
By leveraging your most energetic and productive energy levels during the week, you can count on yourself (or others if you're managing them) to follow through with focused, concentrated doses of work every week.
But more importantly, it relinquishes the concept that you have to be "on" all the time. Instead, you automatically build in rest into your weekly approach because you know it's the natural flow of your energy cycle.
And just like an athlete who needs rest to come back stronger and faster, you too, need rest to come back refreshed and enthused to do your best work every week.
This periodization cycle allows you to do just that.
Day of rest
If you can't complete all you need to get done in six days or fewer each week, your process is probably broken.
Even then, if you manage to get all your duties met in six days, you must plan a day of rest. Otherwise, hustle will creep in and disguise itself as rest.
I'll just check email real quick.
I'm just going to make a quick call.
I'm just editing this piece; it'll take only a few minutes.
Before you know it, you're 187 minutes deep into busyness and the day is half gone.
In fitness, it's important to establish a routine. Scheduling workouts at times that leverage your willpower and lifestyle is the best way to ensure you don't skip the gym.
Similarly, if you don't schedule rest into your weekly plan, the odds are it won't happen. Saturday's and Sunday's are typical days of rest. But they don't have to be these days if your schedule doesn't permit.
The most important thing is that you schedule it - regardless of what day it is. Protect that day fiercely.
It's significant to note that on your days of rest, slouching on the couch in your underwear all day may not be the best look. Use part of your rest day to engage in passive, restful activities.
Going to brunch with your family.
Reading that novel you've wanted to dig into.
Have a treat yourself day and get a message.
Do some yard work.
Go on a hike.
Host a dinner party.
Go to a movie theater instead of Netflix binging.
Everyone will be different in how they use the rest days. Find your lane.
These things don't have to take up the whole day - a few hours, maybe. The rest of your time can be used for solitude and slumber.
If you're still reading, I want to be clear that I'm not promoting laziness.
Growing up, my Pa used to come into my room and wake me up before the sun would rise. My alarm clock would sound like this:
"It's time to get up and get to work. If you don't, somebody else will and they'll out-practice you today."
He was referring to getting up and hitting the basketball gym to work on my game. Dribbling drills, conditioning work, and countless jump-shots would follow.
At the time, I wrestled and resisted the lesson. Looking back, the posture of working hard and hustling is one of the most valuable lessons I've learned in 30 years.
But there is another lesson I've learned more recently, and it's this:
Without rest, the hustle becomes sloppy.
Consistent, and lethally focused hustle depends heavily on how well you rest and recover. To do great work you can't cut any deals with rest. It's non-negotiable. So we might as well get good at it.
Coming September 2016
Hi, I’m Brian McFadden, teacher of the Ultra Wellness Program — the course that teaches business owners, independent workers, creative leaders how to get in the best shape of their life, for the rest of their life. If you're ready to upgrade your health, change your body and skyrocket your productivity, sign up for the presale list. By doing so, it'll give you the chance to register for the course before everyone else. Even better, you'll save hundreds of dollars on the cost of the program. Sign up by clicking here.
I share life strategies on health, happiness, and simple living every Tuesday and Friday here on my blog. The easiest way to stay connected with me is to sign up for my no spam, gimmick-free newsletter.
Thanks to Arianna Huffington, Sonja Lyubomirsky and Tony Schwartz for helping me prompt this piece.