It’s an old familiar feeling. A heavy leaden weight in my chest, an oily greasy ball suppressing my breath. A weak, wobbling heartbeat that trembles unevenly with every contraction. A constant, low-lying malaise that slows the brain and jams the nerves. Yellow lightning radiating through my chest, radiating a deep, dull ache.
Too much stress. Too little sleep. Burnout awaits, and beyond it, a deeper and darker abyss.
The only antidote: sleep.
Modern life is the pursuit of achievement. To be seen as successful, you need to chase a never-ending stream of goals: promotions, paychecks, Pulp Speed. If you want to do something more than just clocking in hours at a cubicle, if you have aspirations and ambitions for yourself, you must put in the work, keep pushing yourself for long hours on end, and build the foundation to success. Among the go-getter crowd, sleep is a sign of weakness; the less you sleep, the more you get done, ergo the more successful you are.
But life is a zero sum game. You only have twenty-four hours a day. At some point, if you want to do more of something, you have to give something up. If you’re focused on putting in ten, twelve, fourteen or more hours of work a day, everything else suffers. Family time, social time, self-development, entertainment, rest time.
The modern world rewards hard work, and the appearance of hard work, but not recuperation. People who put in fifty or sixty or more hours a week at work are praised for being hard workers, but not the guy who finds a way to do less. Promotions and awards and raises go to the worker seen as contributing significantly to the company by going above and beyond regular work. People with the stamina and the endurance to work long hours are held up to the limelight, while people seen as slacking off are ignored and condemned.
This is completely understandable. Focusing energy on your strengths and passions lead to greatness; doing nothing produces no results. If necessary work is left undone — clearing the sewers, tilling the fields, distributing food and water — people will die. Hard work and dedication are necessary both for personal success and for society to keep functioning. Perseverance, dedication, endurance, the ability to go the extra mile, are all admirable traits. But when you take things too far, push past your limits and cross the barriers of good sense, the body breaks down.
Case in point: the first paragraph.
For weeks and months on end, I’d been working from dawn to midnight, chasing deadlines and Pulp Speed. During office hours I work on the day job; before and after, I work on my current novel and Steemit, related endeavours, marketing, paperwork and training. I’ve been clocking seventy hours a week, and while I’ve been producing work, I can’t say it’s my best or that it can be sustained. Without time to refill the wellspring of energy, it will eventually run dry.
Proper rest is a critical, yet under-emphasised aspect of human life. The human body can only go so far before it breaks down. Without time to clear out toxins, rebuild torn tissue and replenish critical cells, the body will spiral into a cascade failure. Left unchecked, general fatigue leads to headaches, weakness, poor blood circulation, burnout, and worse.
It’s no wonder that modern-day productivity gurus stress the need for quality, uninterrupted sleep. In a fast-paced world that demands 24/7 availability, it’s easier said than done, but developing the discipline to establish and stick to a proper sleep schedule is more convenient than giving yourself a stress-induced myocardial infarction.
The reversal of the rule of rest is the rule of momentum. To create energy, you need to spend energy. By focusing and spending energy on your strengths and your passions, greatness becomes inevitable. Once the initial mental inertia is overcome, keeping yourself going on and on becomes easy: you just need to keep going what you’re doing. If you stop working, you have to overcome your inertia again to pick yourself up from a dead stop.
To reconcile the two, you have to schedule rest strategically.
Resting isn’t an excuse to drop all your work and walk away. Keeping yourself in a prolonged halt state kills your momentum. You need to overcome inertia before going forward. Taking a prolong break from work in the middle of a project (like writing a novel) makes it that much harder to get back to it.
Resting is a deliberate exercise in regenerating your stamina, allowing you to sustain your efforts. Sleeping however much you need to keep yourself going tops off your tanks; taking rest days as part of a training program allows your muscles to grow stronger after you tear them down in the gym; spending time with friends and family keeps you going and reaffirms your bonds.
Think of these breaks as a car coasting along a road, using nothing but momentum to keep going. When it’s time to pick up the pace, the driver just presses gently on the accelerator, and it’s back to its regular speed. Breaks should be like coasting, a deliberate period of non-work that helps you get to where you’re going, without slowing down so much you can’t get back up to speed when you must.
If you must take a long break, finish everything before you go. This lets you start on a fresh slate, and allows you to enjoy your vacation in peace. In my case, I make sure to finish writing my novels before I step away from my computer for overseas trips or camps or other maters. Taking a prolonged break puts you in a halt state — while this may be critical to recovery, if you’re in the middle of work it becomes much harder and longer to bring yourself back up to speed, and there will always be the temptation to ooze back into idleness.
In a modern fast-paced society, rest is underrated. Yet it is an essential part of life. Without rest, the body can’t sustain itself, and burn out. To enable yourself to keep going, to push on to greater heights, you must be as disciplined with rest as you are with work.
I’m already seeing the warning signs of overwork, and I’m not going to let my health deteriorate. I’m implementing a proper sleep regimen, setting strict cutoff times for work, and establishing pre-sleep relaxation routines. I’m done feeling exhausted, wrung-out, and balanced precariously at a precipice.
It’s time to be as healthy and energetic as I can be.
If you’d like to support my fiction, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.