Person lying down with book on face. Is this how we imagine rest?

If you were able to take some time off work over the holidays, you’ve probably started the new year with a feeling you really need to “hit the ground running” and “get back on track”.

Today, at the start of the year, we’d like to turn that on its head and ask: what if we looked at our goals, ambitions and targets for the next 12 months and decided that the most important priority was… rest?

Flipping the script on rest and productivity

We’ve talked before about the importance of mastering the ability to switch between different states.

Our work with horses teaches us that when leaders are able to move from adrenalised, high-alert states into relaxed, flow states it can signal to everyone on a team that it’s OK to rest.

We’re able to access different inner resources when we’re not in a highly activated state.

And by consciously choosing to step into a “resting” mode, we hone our ability to shift between different states in response to what’s needed in the moment.

Putting rest first

Building on that awareness, we’re getting curious about what it might mean not only to recognise the importance of rest – but to prioritise it.

To see rest not as a reward for achieving our goals but as the fuel that allows us to get there.

When preparing for endurance events like marathons, runners understand the importance of building rest days into their schedules. For an elite athlete, the days leading up to a race are a carefully managed blend of time to recuperate and recover and training to improve performance.

And yet, for many of us, the days leading up to a deadline involve late nights, long hours and less of the rest we know will help our wellbeing.

If a team member asked for time off in the weeks before a key delivery date – how would you respond? What if you were to block out your own vacation days – and make it clear that, far from ignoring the deadline, you were ensuring you were adequately prepared for it?

Perhaps planning time to rest and recuperate should be considered even more essential during intense periods of work.

What neuroscience teaches us about rest

The latest research into how our brains work show that, rather than being “wasted” time, resting actually improves our performance. It’s when we’re not engaged in active, focused thinking that our brains undertake critical activity in building memories, making connections and understanding others.

Resting our thinking brains, it turns out, is critical for us to achieve optimum cognitive performance and relate to others most effectively.

Napping, daydreaming or exercising – however you prefer to let go of your focus and allow your mind to “wander”, make sure you don’t neglect this essential element of your wellbeing.

Given this new understanding, it’s not surprising to find more and more leaders advocating rest as an intrinsic part of performing well.

Author and CEO Suneel Gupta recommends a 555 model – 55 minutes work, 5 minutes rest, noting:

“Instead of waiting for vacations or long weekends to get periods of rest, high performers take frequent focused breaks every single day.”

How are you going to rest in 2024?

Here’s a challenge to bring into the new year.

Instead of writing down and committing to your goals, deadlines and ambitions – we challenge you to commit to rest.

Will you adopt the 555 model, disciplining yourself to consciously rest for 5 minutes, every hour?

Will you lock in days to rest before big deadlines, knowing that maintaining your energy and wellbeing will be more crucial than ever?

Or will you choose to prioritise rest in other ways – blocking out time off; making sure the time you’re not at work allows your brain time to wander; joining forces with colleagues or friends to keep yourself accountable?

If you’d like to explore how to balance different flow states within your team and organisation, as well as harnessing the power of rest, contact us to understand more about how we work. We’d love to hear your challenges, ambitions, and share how we could transform your culture to make sure you get there.

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