Rest & Recovery: The Forgotten Truth

Have you ever watched a car doing a burnout; spinning its wheels at high speed, generating a lot of smoke, burnt rubber and loud noise? Having worked in the world of motorsport in a previous lifetime, it's something I used to enjoy (because I'm a bit of a petrol-head), but now I think about things differently.

It's fair to say there's a lot of energy being spent during a burnout, but what's actually being achieved? What thing of value is being created? When the smoke clears, what product or result will there be, for all the energy and noise generated? Absolutely nothing of value. Zero, zip, nada, sweet FA. In fact, it could be argued that only destruction has occurred: destruction of the tyres, destruction of the fuel burnt, the air polluted and the environment damaged. As a parent now, I see the legacy we're leaving behind for our future generations, but that's another blog for another day.


The reason I mention this is because it may apply to you too. There comes a point in your working life where you're looking busy, spinning your wheels, creating lots of smoke and noise, generating lots of bustling activity, but you're not getting anything of tangible value accomplished, often because you're burnt out. Like the tyres, you're steaming hot, exhausted and worn. You've been running like hell, with pure intent and for all the right reasons, but not actually getting anywhere.

So what's the traditional thinking here? Invariably it's grind on, work harder, work longer, push through. But you've already been doing this, and where has it got you? Diminishing returns, that's where it's gotten you. As your exhaustion levels rise and mistakes appear, concentration fails, productivity flounders and you end up with nothing left in the tank to even blink. You get less and less back for everything you put in. As the input weakens, so too does the output, but still you push on with what can only be described as either sheer bloody mindedness, some kind of Protestant work ethic, or an addiction to an insanely unhelpful "poor me" control drama.

"I've realised that somebody who is tired and goes on working all the same is a fool" - Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology

There is another way, and it's not complicated, expensive or even on trend. The solution is simple, but is often overlooked or disparaged for being too easy. You know the interesting thing about something being too easy to do? It's also too easy not to do.


As I gave you a muscle car in the accompanying image to this article, I'm going to use a muscle metaphor to illustrate my point. When I'm talking about growing a muscle, you can read growing a business or pursuing a goal to success in its place, because the principle point transfers. Here goes...

There are two distinct aspects involved in the successful development of a muscle: 1) is repeated, intense and focused activity (i.e.: lifting weights), whilst the other, entirely equal aspect, but often forgotten or disparaged as too simple, is 2) rest and recovery.

To train and grow a muscle, you must put it under an incredible amount of stress and resistance (weight training), and then let it rest and recover, so that it'll go back bigger than it was before; allowing you to lift heavier weights next time. Productivity intervals like this in your working life (i.e.: work > rest > work > rest) are the not-so-secret secret of sustainability, longevity and overall success. It's so bloody simple to do, it's so equally simple not to do.

Somewhere along the line our modern thinking has become corrupted and infected with a self-destructive PUSH! PUSH! PUSH! mentality. Yes, of course we must push to make things happen, but we must equally intersperse rest and recovery time, otherwise we'll end up spinning our wheels at huge physical, mental, emotional, material and spiritual cost, and get absolutely nowhere for the vast expense.


When you get home from a day of heightened productivity, stress and activity, what do you do? Do you have a glass of wine/beer? Do you slump in front of the TV to decompress? Do you partake in a little laughing grass to mellow out? If so, do you know why you do this? It's because the body craves oscillation. To oscillate means to move back and forth at a regular speed, like the pendulum of a clock. Our bodies need the benefit of activity and recovery, in equal measure, to grow, remain balanced and healthy. There must be equilibrium in all things, so if we're working significantly more than we're resting, our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance is thrown out. This is when burnout and breakdown ensues.

Rest is a critical component of growth and high performance, however the need for recovery is often viewed as evidence of weakness, so we push on through and try to grind it out. The problem however is, if we are not disciplined enough to afford ourselves regular, intermittent recovery periods, our bodies will force us to oscillate, resulting in burnout and breakdown. Then how productive will you be? Everything you have ever worked for, held dear and cherished will evaporate in front of your very leaden eyelids! Pushing on at the expense of your essential rest and recovery is a false economy, because of the Law of Diminishing Returns.


Our parents and grandparents readily accepted how critical rest and recovery was to their well-being, but then they didn't have 24/7/365 news cycles, media streaming and omnipresent social media distractions to deal with. All of this technological progress competes for our attention relentlessly; it doesn't stop, so we must choose to unplug ourselves and switch off. As a species however, we don't know how to switch off now, and we often don't know who we are when we're not working. Our identities have increasingly become assimilated into what we do (for a living), rather than who we are (character, personality). Studies have shown we actually have more leisure time than our grandparents had in the 1960's (due to increased automation), but it doesn't feel like that to us, because we never switch off.

Even when we are supposedly spending quality family time together, how many times have you seen a parent on the sidelines of a kids football match, glued to the phone in their hand? They're mindlessly choosing to plug themselves back into the communications grid - The Matrix - during family time, and they're withering from Attention Atrophy as a result.


Your ability to concentrate, apply critical thinking and mental strength of focus will diminish without a regular workout. Like a muscle without exercise, your attention span and ability to think and concentrate will atrophy unless you use this ability regularly - so use it or lose it! When you're at your kid's football match, be all there, don't check your email or social media, don't plug back into The Matrix. Equally, when you're at work, be all there, don't allow yourself to be distracted by trivial and non-essential activities (i.e.: constantly checking your social media Likes or RSS feed). Wherever you are, be all there, and give everything you're doing your 100% attention. This is how to strengthen your cognitive processes.

Imagine yourself working on a vital task, with a deadline and a sense of urgency. On average we are distracted every three minutes, by some kind of notification or solicitation from our phones and devices. So you're working away and your phone goes ping. You pick it up, see that Argos has emailed you about a sale on Tiddlywinks (which is of no interest to you), so you put the phone down again and continue with your work. No harm, no foul, right? Well, no actually. On average it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get you back in the flow, to the same high level of concentration and cognitive processes you were operating in, before the ping.