What does it mean to be resilient in lives when much of the time we expect far too much of ourselves by way of work and other demands? We often take a militaristic, “tough” approach to resilience and grit. We slog through the mud, go one more round, or pick ourselves up for one more play. We believe the longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and the better we’ll be. However, this entire conception is scientifically inaccurate.
The lack of a recovery period after strenuous effort dramatically reduces our ability to be resilient and to prevail. A Harvard Business Review essay on this emphasizes how lack of recovery will endanger our health. Lack of recovery—disrupted sleep or hovering constantly over our phones, costs our employers $62 billion a year in lost productivity.
Just because work stops, it doesn’t mean we are recovering. We “stop” work sometimes at 5PM, but then wrestle all night with solutions to work problems, talk about our work over dinner, and fall asleep thinking about how much we’ll do tomorrow. “Workaholism” is “being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas.”
The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again. This conclusion is based on biology. Homeostasis is the biological concept describing the ability of the brain to continuously restore and sustain well-being. Certain actions create equilibrium, and thus our well-being. Those actions aren’t the same for all of us. The more you come to know what those restful actions of repose are for you, the more resilient you can become, and the better defended you will be against overwork. The value of a recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of work required of us.
So how do we recover and build resilience? Most people assume that if you stop doing a task like answering emails or writing a paper, your brain will naturally recover, such that when you start again later in the day or the next morning, you’ll have your energy back. But surely everyone reading this has had times where you lie in bed for hours, unable to fall asleep because your brain is thinking about work. If you lie in bed for eight hours, you may have rested, but you can still feel exhausted the next day. That’s because rest and recovery are not the same thing. Stopping does not equal recovering.
To build resilience, we need adequate internal recovery (short breaks during the work day) and external recovery (weekends, holidays, summer, vacations). Experts from this HBR paper I copiously quote here recommend something called “strategically stopping.”
That sounds suspiciously like what I call sabbath time. Sabbath isn’t just not working on Sundays. Sabbath is finding moments of regeneration to allow our spirits and souls to catch up with bodies and minds in constant motion. This all relates to the summers I want you to have and the summer I know that I need. Create tech free zones where you don’t check phones and email. Play solitaire or get up and walk around after intense 60 to 90 minute blocks of work. Don’t accept lunch at your desk. Relax, meditate, sleep, watch movies, journal, or listen to entertaining podcasts. Spend time with beloved friends not talking about work. And do take all of the recovery time (vacation!) you are allocated by your employer. This is how to make the most of how God has gifted you.