How do you feel?
Are you getting tired, and run down? Or are you invigorated? Where in your cycle of energy are you?
Nature follows a rhythm of the seasons, and humans do too to a lesser extent. We get inspired, get off our butt, and start working towards something, whether it is for work or a race or a home project. That early burst of motivation and activity might be enough to accomplish something relatively small like cleaning the kitchen or to run a five k in a few weeks or to read a book, but bigger goals with greater importance take longer: months or even years. Do you have the strength to continue through to the end?
It takes most people six months to go from couch to marathon, and there are highs and lows in it. It can take years to be ready to do an ultramarathon, and that is not even to be a competitive placer unless you are genetically gifted. It takes years to write a book, or build a successful practice from scratch. Not every run is good, not every writing session is productive nor day of work enjoyable. There are going to be horrible days when you want to give up.
Those short-term lulls we can power through with external motivation. It could be our coach, it could be a couple of Youtube videos, or maybe a call from a friend. These inevitable ups and downs along the way are called life, and as long as you don’t quit on the bad days the good days will come again as you keep going.
It’s that keep going part of the cycle. As we keep going and pouring our heart and soul into the project or person over months, years (even decades), we start to flag. Our energy levels dip. The grind gets to us. We slow down in our progress, and the quick hits of external motivation lose their effectiveness because we are worn down in mind, body, or spirit. We are getting close to burn out.
Recognize when it starts to creep up on you. When the quick fix of adrenaline or espresso isn’t doing the trick. And be proactive before you crash.
Schedule time off, even if it just an afternoon to go and sit with a friend or wander through a park for a little while. Schedule a rest day from training and sleep in. Have that chocolate sundae and catch a movie with your significant other, with your phone turned off so no one can bother you. The world isn’t going to end.
Take that little break. A ten-minute walk about to stretch your legs and reset your eyes from the computer screen will make you more productive for the rest of the morning, and a Friday off will do even more for recharging your batteries. When you notice that the microbreaks and productivity hacks are losing their effectiveness, schedule the longer break to unplug.
For me, an afternoon off is sufficient usually. You might need longer to recharge when you are getting near empty. Do whatever it takes, whether getting a sitter or scheduling a trip. Even if your hiatus is weeks away, the thought of it produces dopamine that will help get you to that point. The anticipation of relaxation is almost as powerful as the break.
Achieving excellence and building greatness takes time, and as the clock turns and the calendar clicks through the days and weeks, make sure you listen to the rhythm of the days and your body. It’s the only one you have so take the time for preventative maintenance on your body and mind.
Because a pause is better than a break and lengthy repair.