Today we have come to the final post in this seven weeks series on study skills and methods, and just as God rested on the seventh day in Genesis, so too this post will cover rest… and a couple of other things. While in many ways this post at the end may seem somewhat superfluous and unnecessary, I think there is something useful and cathartic about deliberately considering rest. In my mind there are a few ways to rest, but most of us fall into the method of collapsing at the end of a busy day or a busy week and just attempting to be comatose. Although this is restful in some ways, actually deliberately resting can be far more rejuvenating when all is said and done.
When talking about rest and relaxation I commonly use the analogy of a sponge. Now a sponge will work for quite a long while absorbing water and then being squeezed out while drying things off, or cleaning up messes. However, leave a sponge around for too long without giving it a good soak and it will dry out completely. Once that happens it will take a lot longer for the sponge to re-absorb liquid again and go back to doing its job as a sponge. Ultimately we as humans are a bit like sponges, we can function for a very long time absorbing, and being squeezed out. But if we get exhausted and dry out too much, then it takes a much longer period of rest to rejuvenate us.
So in this post I want to cover two aspects of resting: Exercise and Rest.
Hold on, exercise doesn’t sound a lot like resting, it sounds like work just rephrased differently. Well yes, that is one way of looking at exercise, but in many ways it complements our modern lifestyle by contributing to our rest in different ways.
In our modern lives the majority of us will fall into a sedentary lifestyle, where sitting for long hours at a desk or table, interspersed only with short walks to the coffee machine or lunch spot. While this has a whole host of biomechanical woes attached to it, one of the eventual issues is that we end up with sore achey bodies from forcing them to engage in postures and a lifestyle that they are not accustomed to. This is further exacerbated by beign engaged in an academic field, as a lot of the time our work comes home with us. In this vein it is important that we engage in regular exercise, even if it is only heading out for a 30minute walk a day. Perhaps it might be useful to get a pedometer and count your steps, or get involved in a Corporate Cup if your institution has one. But getting out for some exercise every day is important, especially for our hyper-sedentary lifestyles.
But there is a double benefit of exercise. When we exercise our bodies produce a whole bunch of hormones and chemicals, one of these come under the category of endorphins. Now endorphins are what gives you that nice happy glow after going for a run or playing sport. That even when half your body is aching and you are hot and sore you still feel like it was worthwhile. However, that is only a small part of what endorphins do in our bodies. There are studies that strongly suggest that endorphins, and therefore exercise, is useful in managing stress, and even thinking clearly. So the next time you are stuck on a problem down in the basement of your lab (like where I used to work), then head out for a run. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
Now onto resting, and I bet you are thinking ‘Ahhh… time to collapse on the couch.’ Well yes, but only partially. One of the traps that I think we have in the modern world, and that is exacerbated in academia, is our constant connection to our work. While many people can go home and even if they may still be thinking about work, and checking their emails, they may not have the ability to do their work at home. For us though in an academic field we can always be connected to our work, and that is often why we do it. We are prone to waking up in the middle of the night with the answer to a question, or pondering the problems in our research for days on end. Lets face it, it is enjoyable. But it isn’t really rest. I think often we need to deliberately put our work aside from the foreground of our mind, and actively rest and focus on other things. We need to break that continual connection we have. Those resounding dings of emails arriving and scurrying off to check what needs to be done. I want to suggest two ways that we can help ourselves deliberately rest.
Regularity not Immediacy.
The first way we can rest better actually starts at work, or in our place of study. Many of us have fallen into the pattern of responding to things immediately as they come up. When an email arrives we feel almost compelled to check it and see what it is. Our email check frequency has gone from 1hr to 15mins and now to Push, so that we can know about something as soon as it arrives. But this pattern continues throughout our lives, and not just at work. When the phone buzzes in our pocket or bag, we instantly check what it was. One way that we can mitigate this trend is to simply check our emails less.
One push for this is the #2pmProject, where they advocate for only checking your email once a day at 2pm once you are back from lunch. Deal with it all then and close the email client. Now this likely wont work for everyone, and certainly doesnt work for me. But personally I have switched to only checking my email on the top of the hour. That way I still work through my emails regularly, but they don’t pop up every instant. The NY Times has a good article on this trend here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/29/opinion/end-the-tyranny-of-24-7-email.html?_r=0 and I encourage you to read it. The freedom from having to respond to things immediately ultimately helps us rest better.
The second way we can rest better is to simply set time aside to rest. The concept of a day of rest is nothing new, in fact the Israelites enshrined it in the commandments way back in Sinai. But really how often do we practice it. Even if we do have a lazy day in the park, how often are we checking our emails or social media to see whether there is something better to do or something that we are missing out on? One way that I think we can rest better is to engage in a Sabbath rest of sorts. A few years ago some people got together, and inspired by their Jewish heritage and faith, they formed The Sabbath Manifesto (http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/). They have distilled their resting ideals down into 10 principles, and encourage liberal freedom within those. I think that this is a good response to our hectic lifestyles. The active setting aside of our busy lives and resting.
But the question is what does that look like for us? Personally I try to spend Sundays after church with friends and just hanging out socially. Thinking a bit less about my work, but also trying to steer clear of social media altogether. Taking life for what is is and resting. For others I know it involves turning the phone off for an entire day, or putting it in a box at home, as a physical disconnect. This type of deliberate resting is actually more energising than the slumping on the couch, and helps you recharge a lot better. The Art of Manliness blog has a series of suggestions on it here: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/05/20/tech-sabbath/ Whatever you do I encourage you to be deliberate about it. Deliberate resting is far more edifying and recharging than haphazard slumping on the couch (deliberate slumping is good though).
Well that’s the end of this series. It is time for this author to do a bit of resting. Tell me how you rest below.