Muscles don’t grow and maintain their strength without consistent effort and conscious attention. Muscles also require rest; they require you to pause.
I am missing my ‘strength training’ class! Luckily, my strength training coach is offering online classes, which is great, to have the opportunity to not lose the muscles I started to build.
It has also made me realize how much attending a class is more than just the task of building muscle and staying healthy. It is also about the accountability of showing up and the support of a coach to work on specific goals.
The 1-hour class time a few days a week is my time to put focus on that which I have said I want to accomplish and get support to do so. As much as it is my time to work on my strength, it is also my time to pause.
With the current situation, I got all keen and told my trainer I could now do her work outs every day and not have to wait to attend a class. First, she laughed (because she knows me) then got more serious.
She explained that if you want to ‘build muscle’ you need a plan and focus on what you are going to do each day in order to achieve your long-term goal. She also emphasized that an important part of building muscle is the ‘rest that happens between workouts’.
She went on to share that muscle groups need time after strength training to repair and recuperate. It is the ‘pause between the effort’ where you build the strength.
I was thinking about this as it pertains to leading others. How often are leaders wearing the badge of honor of being the first ones in and the last to leave?
Or in current conditions, sending emails out at all hours of the day and night and on weekends?
Or heralding their unused vacation days for all to know that they are ‘that dedicated and committed’ to the organization that they can’t possibly take time off? You know who you are!!
Being a great leader is definitely about knowing what you want to achieve and focusing on how you want to show up every day.
As in strength training, if you go in with a plan you are more likely to experience success. Part of the ‘plan’ in strength training is planning for rest days.
How many leaders consciously plan to pause? To rest? To step back and be still, in order to step in and be better?
We have seen really well-intentioned leaders burn themselves out because they told themselves the story that great leaders work harder and longer than everyone else and don’t take time off because that would appear weak, or lazy, or like they are not ambitious enough.
My trainer shared that over-training and not resting can actually lead to under performance! What???
This article shares that same perspective on the dangers of overtraining. “Tired muscles are more prone to serious injuries and prevent you from performing to the best of your abilities.”
- How does that relate to your leadership?
- How creative are you when you are tired and feeling overwhelmed?
- How effective are you when your resources are low and you don’t see the end in sight?
- How much time do you take to really listen to your team when they are challenged with something?
- Are you rushing to give them quick fix answers or are you pausing to teach them to problem solve?
The Courage to Pause
Very successful author Stephen King shared, “For me, not working is the real work.” Pausing is not about avoiding work or being lazy. “Research shows workplace performance improves after a period of rest and recovery, even among people who enjoy their work. A study from the University of York and the University of Florida found more than 40% of our creative ideas come during breaks and downtime, when our minds are free to wander.”
The “slow down movement” advocates cultural shift towards slowing down our daily lives. Acknowledging that quality is more important than quantity...it’s about being present in the moment.
Some benefits of slowing down by Dolly Chugh, a psychologist and NYU professor:
- Our minds need it - Too much fast and automatic thinking means not enough deliberative thinking.
- Our bodies need it - Just like successful athletes, we can't compete at full speed all the time.
- Our relationships need it - Being constantly busy equals less time for being present to relationships that matter.
Planning for the Pause
Just as we plan out our leadership strategies both personally and for our businesses, we need to plan for our pause.
We have all heard the saying, “Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up”. Planning for ‘the pause’ will help you speed up in all the areas that count. Schedule it in, and it is much more likely to happen!
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Pause to write– writing is a great way to ‘clear the clutter’ of our minds, clear out the issues that are buried in your subconscious.
It can make us more self-aware, help us detect covert, unhealthy patterns in our thoughts and behaviors. It removes our mental blocks and allows us to better understand ourselves and the world around us.
Furthermore, journaling helps us shift our mindset from negative to more positive thinking. Studies suggest that it has significant health benefits like strengthening our immune system, dropping blood pressure, and improving sleeping patterns.
- The early morning writer - Get up early and do a ‘brain dump’.
Set a timer for 2-5 minutes (if you are new to this you might want to start with 2 minutes) and just writing for that period of time, whatever comes into your mind. If you can’t think of anything just write, I can’t think of anything to write, as many times as you need to until something else comes to mind.
- The evening writer – before you leave your office/workspace, write out your priorities for tomorrow and anything important you want to remember from today.
This can help clear your mind to be fully present when returning to your personal life.
It focuses us on being and staying in the present moment. In our busy, multi-tasking-glorifying world, being present is a challenge!
- The mindful eater – eat a silent meal. While you are eating your meal, focus on every spoonful, every chew, every flavour – eat silently and mindfully for one meal per day and see what impact that has. Do a family challenge... and then discuss what each person experienced!
- The mindful walker – take a silent walk. Focus on every footstep, on the grass, the trees, the sounds you hear. When something else comes into your mind send it away and refocus on your footsteps and surroundings.
- The mindful sitter – sit silently for 5-10 minutes. Find a space where you won’t be disturbed, turn all technology notifications to silence, set your timer, and close your eyes. Just sit, don’t try to control your thoughts, let them come and go. If you do want to try to quiet your mind, create a counting rhythm...1, 2, 3, 4 then repeat.
- The mindful breather – breathing is so automatic we don’t need to think about it. However, thinking about breathing is actually a great way to create pause. There are many different techniques, here’s one to try - Close your eyes and breath in for the count of 4, hold for the count of 4, breath out for the count of 4, hold for the count of 4. My yoga instructor calls it the 4 square breath, or something like that, I might be totally making that up! Try setting a timer and doing this for 2 minutes. This is a great exercise to do when you are feeling stressed and need a quick, in the moment activity to slow down and gain some perspective.
Pause to Exercise – we all know the scientific benefits of exercise.
I’m not going to spout stats, go look it up!
Exercise can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. For our purposes, let’s go for simple! Go for a 10-minute walk to break up your day.
This gets you out of your physical space, gives you a change of scenery, helps you experience a physical and mental break from the stressors of the day.
Maybe you have a rooftop terrace or a park nearby. Even walking the halls or the stairs can offer you break and a different perspective. Or set your timer for 10 minutes and do 10 reps of a variety of activities until the timer goes off.
You might include jumping jacks, squats, pushups, toe touches, lunges, and/or a variety of stretches. Make it fun and choose exercises or stretches that you enjoy. And if you are counting, you can’t think of anything else...trust me I’ve tried!
Pause to Read – read something that is not associated with your work. Reading takes you to another place, another world and can give you a break from you world for awhile. Perhaps it’s a fiction novel, a book of poetry, a biography, an article on a subject in which you are not familiar. Maybe it’s a trashy magazine...doesn’t matter.
Here are some great meditation podcasts you can listen to whenever you start to feel tense:
- Calming your mind
- Learning compassion
- Responding to Covid-19 with kindness and empathy
- “Yes And” (Improve Technique for Creative Conversations)
Do you have the Courage to Pause?
My 11-year-old granddaughter created a ‘Bored is Illegal’ game to deal with the current Covid restrictions.
She has a baggie into which she has placed many pieces of folded up paper with different activities written on them.
When she is bored, she randomly pulls out a paper and does the activity, and also ropes everyone in the room to join in.
This morning’s activity was ‘build a fort’, so off we went to get creative about building a fort.
What if you created your own ‘Courage to Pause’ baggie? What activities will you fill your baggie with?