Greg McKeown

Greg McKeown 

Chapter Four: Rest, The Art of Doing Nothing.

Jerry swale is an eye surgeon who tried to do it all for a long, long time. His wife recalls how he would sit with his head in his hands and say, I can’t do it all. I can’t do it all. But then he would stand up and declare, I have to, and he would desperately try to push himself to do more. But at age 56, he started experiencing some health issues, like a rash on his hands that threatened to end his surgical career. He knew he needed to get to a dermatologist. But he was so busy at work, he didn’t even have the space in his overscheduled life to make an appointment. Finally, on a long road trip with his wife, he realized that space would not magically appear in his life. If he was ever going to get the medical help he needed, he would have to make the space for it. Which meant that for the first time in as long as he could remember, caring for himself would have to take priority over caring for his patients. So together with his wife, he worked out what he needed, and how he would go about doing it. He told everyone at the office that he needed to dial back his hours, and they were supportive. Church was harder, but with the new realization that he couldn’t truly serve others in his fatigued state, he stepped down from the elder board and told people why not long after three other overwhelmed people also stepped down. It was as though he had given them permission. He got to a dermatologist, he started riding a bike every day, which he loved. He started getting eight hours of sleep a night compared to the five or six hours he used to claim were all he needed. Soon after, his business partner retired with just a month’s notice, leaving Jerry to take over all his patients. If Jerry had tried to deal with that added responsibility, and workload in a burned out state, it might well have finished him off. A year prior that stress might have given him a heart attack, his wife recalled. Fortunately, with his energy restored, he was able to meet the challenge with relative ease. He was clear headed about what he could and couldn’t take on. He was able to make decisions more quickly and execute them more efficiently. Rest proved an antidote for both preexisting and future stress. It kept him grounded in the effortless state.

Learning to relax.

It may seem odd that we need to learn how to take a break. But in our 24/7 always-on culture, some people simply don’t know how to relax. Ironically, for them doing nothing is painfully hard. Joe Maddon, the manager of the Los Angeles Angels, has learned that professional baseball players tend to be among those people. Madden who worked for the angels for 31 years, and who in that time held a long list of positions including manager Scout, roving hitting instructor, bench coach, and first base coach is someone you might expect to advocate for endless hustle. Certainly, according to Madden, a lot of players are taught to expect exactly this. He said, since coming up in the minors position, players are taught to arrive at the ballpark early, take batting practice on a daily basis, and prepare for a game hours before the first pitch. But the baseball season is long. With 162 games, teams can go through stretches where they play almost every day for a month and a half. By the time the playoffs come in the fall, many players are spent. However, Madden sees the advantage of a different approach. He said, I didn’t have enough chance to do nothing last offseason, I want more of an opportunity to do nothing. And I mean that in a positive way. When you get this downtime to be able to do nothing. Well, that’s my goal. One way he has implemented the art of doing nothing with his players is by instigating American Legion week. The week is held during the dog days of August when player performance often dips. But instead of cramming in hours of pregame practice, he told his players to just show up for the game. He encouraged them to sleep in, take naps and arrive fresh. The same way they did when they were teenagers as amateurs.

It’s not the Madden isn’t interested in his players performing at their best. Of course, he wants a team Have elite players playing the best baseball of their careers. He simply believes that regular spurts of doing nothing are the best way to achieve that. He said, if you treat it that way, it keeps their minds fresher. And if their mind is fresher, they’ll play a better game. addons approach has had a transformative impact not only on the angels, but on the other teams he’s coached over the past decade as well. After he launched American Legion week with Tampa Bay, the Devil Rays made it to the World Series within a year. When he brought it with him to Chicago. The Cubs won the most games in the league over the next four years, including the World Series in 2016. Incredibly, over a five-year period Madden’s Cubs won 21 of 24 games during American Legion week. Recent research in physiology supports Madden’s counterintuitive response study showed that peak physical and mental performance requires a rhythm of exerting and renewing energy, and not just for athletes. In fact, one study found that the best performing athletes, musicians, chess players, and writers all honed their skills in the same way by practicing in the morning in three sessions of 60 to 90 minutes with breaks in between. Meanwhile, those who took fewer or shorter breaks performed less well.

Relaxing is a responsibility.

To maximize gains from long term practice. The study’s lead author K. Anders Ericsson concluded, individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis. Many of us struggle with the tension between not doing enough and doing too much. Have you ever pushed yourself so far past the point of exhaustion one day that you wake up the next morning, I totally depleted and need the entire day to rest. To stop this vicious cycle in its tracks, try this simple rule. Do not do more today than you can completely recover from today. Do not do more this week than you can completely recover from this week. We can miss the signs that we’ve reached the end of an energy cycle, we can ignore the loss of focus low energy and fidgeting. We can power through, we can artificially try to compensate with caffeine or sugar to get past our energy slump. But in the end, our fatigue catches up with us, making essential work much harder than it needs to be. The easier way is to replenish our physical and mental energy continuously by taking short breaks. We can plan those breaks into our day. We can be like the peak performers who take advantage of their body’s natural rhythm.

We can do the following: One, dedicate mornings to essential work. Two, break down that work into three sessions of no more than 90 minutes each. Three, take a short break (10 to 15 minutes) in between sessions to rest and recover.

The power of the one-minute pause

Katrin Davidsdottir is a native of Reykjavik, Iceland. A gymnast turned CrossFit competitor. Her goal was to be the fittest woman in the world by winning the CrossFit World Championship. In 2014, when she was just inches away from reaching the World Championship she stalled. Every muscle in her arms was straining. One more poor sky would and she’d be that but she lost her grip. She came crashing down to the floor. She was allowed to try again. But by this point she had broken down emotionally and mentally. She tried again but couldn’t do it so she gave up. The following year, David’s daughter decided to hire Ben Bergeron, as a coach. When I spoke with Bergeron, on my podcast, I asked him about that 2014 competition. He told me that if at that stalled moment, she had taken even one minute to rest physically and reset mentally before resuming, she would have finished the climb and made into the finals. Think about that. Taking just one minute to get into the right state. The effortless state, in order to take advantage of the body’s amazing ability to rapidly recover would have made all the difference for her on that day.

So Bergeron immediately shifted her approach. Her entire life became about five things, training, recovery, nutrition, sleep and mindset. And the results have been remarkable. That year with Bergeron, as a coach, David’s daughter not only qualified for the championship games, but became the 2015 champion, she was crowned fittest woman on earth. The following year 2016 she did it again. In fact, as of this writing, she has finished in the top five every year for the past five years. When we are struggling, instead of doubling down on our efforts, we might consider pausing the action, even for one minute. We don’t need to fight these natural rhythms. We can flow with them, we can use them to our advantage, we can alternate between periods of exertion and renewal.

Lack of sleep is killing us.

Does it sometimes seem like you’re sleeping a lot less than you used to? Collectively, we all our research shows that today we get less sleep almost two hours less on average than 50 years ago. This is not inconsequential. People who sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, asthma, arthritis, depression, and diabetes, and are almost eight times more likely to be overweight. Sleep deprivation is insidious. In one study, people who got less than six hours of sleep per night saw a decline in their motor skills and their cognitive abilities and nodded off more frequently. No surprise. But even more concerning was the finding that we are quite bad at noticing the cumulative impact sleep deprivation has on our minds and bodies. We tend to think that after a few nights in a row of insufficient sleep, we can simply reset. We tell ourselves all we need is one solid night to catch up. But as this study revealed, we are actually racking up sleep debt. For every night we don’t get the ideal seven or eight hours of shuteye. By day 10 subjects had racked up so much sleep debt. They were experiencing the same effect as the participants who had not slept for an entire night. While they claimed to feel only slightly sleepy, their performance suggested otherwise. As the study’s author explains, routine nightly sleep fewer than six hours results in cognitive performance deficits. Even if we feel we have adapted to it. Getting more sleep may be the single greatest gift we can give our bodies, our minds and even it turns out, our bottom lines

Go Deep.

Sean Wise is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Over his two decades in the venture capital industry, where he specialized in supporting high growth ventures at the seed stage, he has worked with many highly driven founders operating in high-risk high-pressure environments. In other words, he knows a lot of people who don’t get enough sleep. The Silicon Valley mythology would have believed that the founders of the most disruptive world changing companies have no time for something as trivial asleep. After all, all the origin stories of most successful startups tend to involve caffeine fueled founders coding and a translate state for days and nights on end, until they ultimately emerge pale and wild eyed from lack of sleep with their billion-dollar idea. Why is his observations differ substantially from this narrative? I have seen firsthand that poor sleep quality and or insufficient sleep quantity undermines the mindsets of founders, he says, making them harder to work with and less resilient, which in turn reduces the probability of startup success. This is not surprising when you consider that research showing that sleep problems may undermine alertness, creativity and social competence or critical qualities for high striving entrepreneurs. Having seen firsthand how better sleep quality leads to more innovative thinking, why is decided to experiment with his own sleep. He wanted to see if he could improve not just the amount of sleep he was getting, but also its quality. Specifically, he wanted to increase both his ratio of deep sleep to light asleep and his amount of uninterrupted sleep.

Research shows that Wise’s goals were well chosen. Deep sleep is crucial to many aspects of health. Even if we manage a full night’s sleep less enough of that sleep is in a deep state will suffer from sleep deprivation. Unlike in rapid eye movement REM sleep in the deep sleep stage, your body and brainwaves slow down. This is the stage where information is stored in long term memory. Learning and emotions are processed, the immune system is energized and the body recovers. Healthy adults spend an average of 13 to 23% of their night in deep sleep. So if you sleep for seven hours, that translates to just 50 to 100 minutes in a deep state each minute. In other words, his precious sleep quality on the other hand, is how much uninterrupted sleep you get overall. Uninterrupted sleep is when our brainwaves and heart rate reach a point that allows physiological and psychological resources to be restored. This is why we rarely feel rested when we wake up a number of times at night. To try to maximize both deep sleep and sleep quality. Wise took some simple steps. He went to bed at the same time every night, turned off digital devices an hour before bed, and before turning in took a hot shower. He then tracked asleep on his smartwatch for a month. He noted his heart rate, time in bed, time asleep, quality of sleep and percentage of deep sleep. Why the hot shower? Recent sleep science found that participants who use water based passive body heating, also known as a bath, before bed slept sooner longer and better. This seems counterintuitive considering that our sleep cycles are associated with a drop-in core body temperature. But according to this research, the key is the timing of the bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime. The lead author explains that the warm water triggers our body’s cooling mechanism, sending warmer blood from our core outward and shedding heat through our hands and feet. This efficient removal of body heat and declining body temperature speeds up the natural cooling that makes it easier to fall asleep. After four weeks, why is his deep sleep shot up to almost two hours a night and 800% increase. His uninterrupted sleep went up 20% he felt sharper, more creative and more present. He woke up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle another day. As Weiss points out, we spend a third of our lives asleep. Perhaps it is time for you to evaluate if you could be doing it better.

Take an effortless nap.

I’ll admit I don’t always get the optimal amount of deep or quality sleep at night, but I am a champion napper. Luckily for me, research shows that naps can counter this sleep debt. In fact, naps can improve performance in reaction time, logical reasoning, and symbol recognition. Even in well rested people, they can improve mood. Making is less important and frustrated in one study, and that was as beneficial for some types of memory as a full night’s sleep. What’s amazing is that in a 90-minute nap, you can get the same learning benefits as an eight-hour sleep period. Researcher says the idea of taking regular naps is appealing to most people I have spoken with. Yet, they find it almost impossible to do in practice. What makes it so hard? We are conditioned to feel guilty when we nap instead of getting things done. It’s a perfect storm of the fear of missing out the false economy of powering through. And the stigma of napping is something just plain lazy or even childish.

Much has been written about the corrosive effects of today’s hustle culture in which we were comments like I just don’t need a lot of sleep or who has the time to sleep not me as a badge of honor. But in fact, sleep shaming is a timeless tradition. The historian and presidential biographer Ron Chernow tell the story of how when us civil war hero Ulysses S. Grant attempted to go to bed at 11pm. The night before an important battle, one of his commanders pointedly reminded him that Napoleon indulged in only four hours of sleep every night and still preserved all the vigor of his mental faculties. Grant who regularly got seven hours was dubious and replied, Well, I for one never believed those stories. If truth were known, I have no doubt that it would be found he made up for his short sleep at night by taking naps during the day. It’s about time we started thinking about naps differently.

The recipe for taking an effortless nap is as follows.

One, notice when your fatigue gets to the point that you feel it is real work to concentrate. Two, block out light noise using an eye mask, and a noise canceller or earplugs. Three, set an alarm for a desired time. Four, as you try to fall asleep banish all thoughts about what you “could be doing.” Your to-do’s will all still be there when you wake up early now, you’ll be able to get them done faster and with greater ease.

The first few times this may take some effort, you may not actually fall asleep, but keep trying. Once you figured out the time of day, you’re likely to need a nap block your calendar for it. With some practice naps will become effortless and guilt free.

Slumber with a key

Salvador Dali is best known painting. The persistence of memory appears to be set in a realistic rocky landscape of Dolly’s native Catalonia. But like much of surrealist art, the piece has a bizarre dreamlike quality. Clocks have lost their integrity and melt in the sun Like camembert cheese. Alone fly produces a shadow with a human form. A swarm of ants gather painted at the height of the surrealist movement in 1931. The work catapulted Dali into global prominence. Dali’s influences were the art of the impressionist period in the Renaissance. His formal education was in Fine Arts in Madrid. Given his background we would expect Dali to have painted accurate lifelike depictions. How then did he break free from these classical techniques to create haunting juxtapositions between reality and dreams. He napped at least the surrealist version of an app, Dali would sit in a chair wrists dangling over the edges of the armrests. In one hand, he would grip a heavy metal key between his thumb and forefinger. On the floor directly beneath the key, he would place an upside-down plate. Dolly would close his eyes and relax. The moment he drifted off to sleep. His grip on the key would release clang. Dali’s eyes would snap open, and he would be filled with new inspiration for his next strange work. Dali explained that in that fugitive moment when you had barely lost consciousness, and during which you cannot be assured of having really slept. He was in equilibrium on the tort and invisible wire that separates sleep from waking. Dali called his technique, slumber with a key.

Dream a fertile ground for creative solutions to what burdens us all day. But we often wake up with only wisps of ideas that quickly vanish, we fail to capture them. If you are seeking inspiration, the easiest thing you can do is rest your eyes. Sit in your favorite chair. Whether you use an alarm, or a key. Keep a pencil handy and write down whatever comes to mind when your eyes snap open. When we end our war on our body’s natural rhythms, when we let others passes in the unwinnable race for the most achieved with the least rest. Our lives gain texture, clarity and intention.

We return to our effortless state.

Greg McKeown


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