My therapist led me to a life-changing insight in 2020. He asked, “Max, do you equate being stimulated to feeling good?”
“Without a doubt,” I said.
“And do you equate not being stimulated to feeling bad?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I wonder what would happen,” he said, “if you stopped seeing stimulation as good and rest as bad—if you found value in both.”
This moment was a fork in the road for me. I could continue down the path I’d been on since adolescence–valuing adrenaline and stress, villainizing rest–or I could evolve.
I want to evolve. If I don’t, I’m effectively opting for a slow suicide: repeatedly running my body down until it turns against me. As a 33-year-old, my body is still on my team. But if I don’t get my act together, one day it won’t be.
I have a one-year-old daughter, so this involves more than my personal health. As Jim Henson said, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” I don’t want my daughter to remember me killing myself in the name of achievement. I want her to remember me challenging myself and respecting my body.
Since my talk with my therapist, I’ve been looking for recipes for relaxation and rest. Nothing is off limits–philosophy, scripture, science–if it can help me live a life that honors both stimulation and rest. Along the way, I’ve circled three big Rs: rituals, resources, and reappraisals. The more I make space for these three Rs, the better I feel.
Where my current habits wind me up, rituals are calming and encouraging practices that wind me down. I play piano ritually, riffing on a few chords over and over until I entrance myself. I nap ritually, resting my eyes for 20 minutes each day, usually during lunch when I notice my morning energy declining. I walk ritually, strolling to a beautiful park about a mile away. I revisit words that sing to my soul, like Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth”, Carl Jung’s “The Stages of Life,” Kristin Neff’s “Self-Compassion,” Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the “Tao Te Ching”. These rituals help me tap into a different part of my brain. The more I go there, the easier it is to get there.
Resources are calming and encouraging relationships: companions, mentors, and friends who actively support and accept me. With my resources, I can express myself and open up about my emotions. If I’m nervous, I can say I’m nervous. If I’m excited, I can say I’m excited. If I am confused, I can say I am confused. My resources walk with me. They listen to me, challenge me, and love me. The more I develop and use my resources, the less compelled I feel to drum up stress in my life. Knowing I have people firmly in my corner, I find myself less anxious and more at ease.
Reappraisals are calming and encouraging perspectives. When I reappraise, I reflect on painful or challenging moments in my life and look for gifts in those events. These moments may have saddened, overwhelmed, or angered me when they first happened. However, with time, I can usually find gifts in each one. Maybe I learned an important lesson or met a person I otherwise wouldn’t have. Taking time to reappraise, most events in my life are a mixed bag. Even when the initial experience was painful, I can spot something I am grateful for somewhere in that bag.
The more space I make for my rituals, resources, and reappraisals, the more my body sings. However, my way is not a prescription for the way. A big part of why this approach heals me comes down to how I am wired. If someone else is wired to rest, they may need more stimulation in their life, not less. Their path is their own, and so is mine.
I share this in case others sense their bodies saying no to the incessant projects and goals. There’s a time for them, but that time is certainly not every waking moment.
Max Yoder is GM of Lessonly by Seismic, and the author of ‘Do Better Work’ and ‘To See It, Be It’.