Sunday, March 10, 2013

Take Pleasure in Leisure, I Believe in Joy!

Being driven to learn, grow, and get things done is an exhilarating adventure. I find it easier to follow my meaningful pursuits when they are enhanced with compelling rituals and rewards. Conditioning myself to take action instead of making mental excuses to lollygag is a welcome change from those days when I would succumb to the temptation to take it easy--those days of prolonged procrastination are mostly in the past.

So am I "all work and no play" these days? Hardly. Do I feel guilty for not putting my nose to the grindstone more often? Hell no!

The pursuit of leisure is not an antithesis to my action goals, but rather a complement. Breaks from intense studying, exercising, and strategizing help me accomplish my action goals. Those "Eureka!" moments often happen after I step away from focused activities. Ideas about how to work smarter, prospective topics for future writing projects, and tactics for daily activities pop into my head in unlikely places: in the shower, during interactions with other people, in middle of neighborhood walks, and during commute to and from work. Perhaps my mind is receptive to serendipity and thinking outside the box when I'm not relentlessly pressuring my brain to come up with all the answers during focused sessions. Leisure time helps my mind form new connections.

I am convinced that the mind is like the body: it needs time to recuperate between focused activities. Just like taking time off between fitness workout sessions, it's important for me to replenish mental energy between working on taxing activities. Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project, in a New York Times Op-Ed column ("Relax! You'll Be More Productive") states, "Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy."

Sprinkling in leisure and relaxation between action goals helps me absorb learning material better than the balls-to-the-wall study method. The dreaded "cram-and-regurgitate" mode of learning, often used when urgent exam deadlines are approaching, emphasizes mastery of rote memorization over creative application of lessons learned. When I have time to relax between focused study sessions, my mind is in a better place to work through challenges. Neurosurgeon and author Dr. Sanjay Gupta equates change-of-pace activities as a form of rest ("Work mode: 5 Tips From Dr. Sanjay Gupta On Being Unreasonably Productive"). Switching gears when I've reached the saturation point refreshes my mind--I often "hit a wall" when engaged in a writing project (including this blog entry), and it helps me to step away, get ample repose, and then resume the following day.

When I start pursuing new habits which support my goals, I include leisure time as part of the strategy. My fitness goals involve getting ample sleep at night. My learning goals include unstructured, free-form explorations. My writing projects have reference materials that were gathered outside of focused writing time. To study or to play? Both.

I still struggle periodically with taking too much leisure time between focused action goals. Even though I find it beneficial to rest for a day or two between high-intensity exercise sessions, sometimes I let a week elapse between workouts. Sometimes I take a sabbatical of few weeks before resuming technical learning. I find it difficult to get back in swing of things after an extended break. The Hanon piano exercises that I kicked ass at while I was regularly practicing piano sounds like ass after months of not practicing the instrument. There is a point where taking too much leisure time can be counterproductive. Finding that balance is still a work in progress.

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