I recently returned from the World Masters Games in New Zealand. We came up empty in the hunt for surfboat rowing medal glory. Team ‘Crusty’ scored a creditable fifth, but sadly those Kiwis don’t play at sport! Hardened crews the lot of ‘em. No out-of-condition pub crews, or last-minute ring-ins attempting to recapture long-past glory days. Bugger!

Already I am missing the regular training. Not so much from the physical angle (there are other ways to stay fit) but from a mental perspective. You see, the great thing about rowing is that it’s not only good for the body, it also clears the mind. Out in the ocean, connected with nature and concentrating on big things (like not getting smashed) or small things (like a technical improvement), it’s impossible to think about anything else. The brain gets a break and it’s much-needed.

“My brain needs a holiday”

I was reminded of this in a recent conversation. My client has been pushing very hard for a long time trying to work out what the next chapter of her life will look like. Supremely capable, smart and driven, she’s finally realized that the answer needs time to form. For her, it’s time to pull back, not press on. As she reflected so wonderfully, “my brain needs a holiday”.

Sometimes we just need to stop

Many of us are losing the art of the pause. In our headlong rush for instant information, instant results and instant gratification, the default is to always push on. We work longer, squeeze more in and juggle work/life commitments - badly. It can look like progress, but often feels like anything but. In my executive coaching work, this is a common finding. It shows up as an absence of balance. Physical health, mental health, family time and nutrition are all out of whack. The result is often stressed, absent, unhappy, unfit and – ironically – poor-performing leaders.

Get fit watching TV

When we are at the gym pumping iron or busily going nowhere on our spin cycles, we’re not actually building our muscles, we’re tearing them. The muscle-strengthening process happens as the tears are repaired - when we are resting. If we don’t rest, the muscle builds more slowly. The excess effort is a waste of time and energy. We are just spinning our wheels.

In the same way, taking the time to pause, rest and reflect is an essential part of training our brains. When we do this well we develop clarity, regain perspective and ultimately make better decisions. In our ‘go-hard-or-go-home’ world that can be easy to forget.

So what are you not going to do?

On my bedside table, I have a pile of unread business books by some amazing authors. I get a couple of chapters in and then get distracted as another ‘hot’ title arrives. Truth is, by the time I get to bed I am pooped. My brain is full. It’s not the right time to be topping up with the latest from Seth Godin, Elizabeth Gilbert or Malcolm Gladwell.

Whilst there are hacks through book summary services like Blinkist, that misses the point. The process of reading a book – slowly and luxuriously is relaxing, like a good massage or a walk in the mountains. My father recently told me that he was reading the whole of the Game of Thrones series. That’s 3,500 pages of blood, sex, death, ambition and dragons. It’s also a journey of escapism and brain-fuel – far removed from the day-to-day business of life (for most of us!). I think I might just join Dad on the journey as a way to rest and refuel.

There are many other things you can stop doing to create the time and space for your body and mind to relax, of course. Saying no to invitations, reducing travel and taking up immersive activities (like rowing) all help. It’s about building the discipline to do less, not more.

Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much you can get done!


Work with Mark

Since 2010 Mark Hodgson has been successfully helping executives, coaches and consultants to build confidence, gain clarity in their message and position themselves as influential thought leaders who people want to work with.

He is the author of Time To Shine - Adapting who you are and what you know to succeed i... and a leading thinker and speaker on adapting our personal leadership to succeed in a volatile world. To book Mark as a speaker for your next event contact him here.

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