Good weather feels like so much pressure.
As if, the indoors are meant only for rainy days and snowy nights.
As if, watching sunlight and clear sky through a window is letting it go to waste.

New Year’s. A time of reflection, of taking stock of the year past, of making goals and resolutions for the year ahead. New Year’s is when we build ambitious vision boards and create plans on how to achieve them.  While the benefits of goal planning are clear, this time of year can become overwhelming for many people because there is a lot of pressure on productivity— of doing something:  starting a hobby, completing a passion project, working towards a promotion, or going to the gym more. In the midst of all this planning and doing and achieving, no one is talking about resting.

Americans have access to unprecedented amounts of information at all times, and we are feeling the pressure to consume it. Our current culture rewards people who are “always busy” or “always hustling”, because it shows dedication, drive, ambition; seemingly – the only way to make it.  So, resting has become the opposite of that. It is seen as synonymous with lazy, unambitious, uninspired. There is shame and guilt associated with rest because we live in optimized times, where every moment needs to be maximized for some tangible result.  As a culture, we are inundated with “productivity” and “optimization” content. There are journals (like the SELF and The Bullet) for early-morning or late-night journaling, audiobooks and podcasts to fill empty moments with information consumption, book after book published on how to harness time for a tangible result. Walk through any bookstore and you’ll see a dedicated section to “productivity” with titles such as: “Smarter, faster, better”, “The productivity project”, “Atomic habits”, to name a few. It’s no wonder that Americans are more stressed out and younger people are more burnt-out than ever before. We are permanently exhausted; trying to achieve all our goals, fighting feelings of being left behind and missing out on opportunities, then feeling guilty every time we take a break or rest because we could’ve done something productive with that time instead. 

I have struggled with the concept of “rest is wasting time” myself over the past few years. With any free time came a small voice in my head, urging me to be productive, to “use this gifted time”. I mistakenly believed that any time I had between work, relationships, social obligations, and general living stuff (like laundry and groceries), had to produce some “result”. I couldn’t shake off the feeling of guilt if I slept in on the weekend, waking up to thoughts of “you could have woken up 15 minutes earlier to do a quick yoga-stretch”, or “you could’ve read or journaled”, and on and on it went.  The list of things I wanted to accomplish, the articles and books to read, events to attend, just kept growing no matter how much time I put into it. I was constantly overwhelmed with feeling “behind” and losing motivation to catch up. What I didn’t realize is that I was burnt out because I wasn’t allowing myself any restorative or healing time. 

When I began to give myself periods of time to rest without guilt, I noticed an upswing in my motivation to get back to my goals. Shifting your perspective from seeing rest as something outside your routine to seeing it as a part of your daily activity will help you incorporate rest into your life. Resting should be seen as an integral part of the strategy you have for reaching your goals. This is because when you give yourself time to rest, you allow yourself the space to step away from pressure and then approach it with fresh energy. When you rest, you give your mind the opportunity to wander and daydream, increasing creativity and problem-solving. Not only does it have these emotional benefits, it also has physical benefits. Resting allows time for your body to heal and fight stress and burnout. Essentially, resting will not only restore your mind and body, but equip you to reach your goals more efficiently.

It can be hard to get into the habit of resting because the “fear of missing out” (FOMO) and the guilt is so strong. If you’re having a hard time disconnecting from the need to always be productive or finding that you have to justify it to yourself, try one of these strategies: 

  • Include rest-time into your daily/weekly planning: If you plan your week or have a daily planner, block out time for rest, even if it’s 15 minutes. If you have a TV show that you watch, set aside that time as your “rest-time”, and do it guilt free. It may feel strange to put it in a calendar, but until you get used to it, it will be a good reminder to have!
  • Tell yourself that you deserve this time (because you do!): Self-talk is a very powerful tool you have! Sometimes you need to remind yourself of the things you deserve; you may get so caught up with deadlines, projects, ambitions, and forget to prioritize yourself. 
  • Find ways to be kinder to yourself when you’re feeling exhausted and burnt out: Think about what you would say to a friend who was feeling what you are. Think about reversing the ‘Golden Rule’: treat yourself with the same kindness you show to others. 

So whether you believe in New Year’s resolutions or plan your year as you go, remember to allow  yourself enough time to recharge and rest without guilt, so that you are at your best capacity to thrive.