He who does not get fun and enjoyment out of every day… needs to re-organize his life.
-George Matthew Adams

If you are losing your leisure, look out; you may be losing your soul.
- Logan P. Smith

I started the summer with every intention to slow down and rejuvenate myself for my work.  My whirl-wind book tour wound up just as school was getting out, and I thought I deserved a bit of a break. 

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But as the summer comes to a close, I’m struck by how tired I still am. 

This past Friday I was driving home from a long day of running kids and our dog around, giving a talk, attending meetings for work, etc., and my head felt so heavy that I wanted to cry.  Truth be told, I did cry, over something totally stupid, which is a loud and clear signal to me that I’m too tired to function.  (Think of your toddler who has missed a nap: Everything seems hard.)

If my goal this summer was to tend to my own needs for happiness, catch up on rest, and center myself, where did I go wrong?

In some respects, this new blog feature, Walking the Talk, has been the catalyst for some very positive changes in my life.  It has been a great joy for me to re-dedicate myself to following my own advice, and in many respects, I’ve been successful.  I have gotten back to regular meditation every day, and to more frequent exercise. (Though it is probably not what many people would call “exercise,” as I never need a shower afterwards.)

I have broken the habit of incessantly checking my email and phone for messages, and I now frequently leave my phone in the car when I’m out, something I NEVER would have done before.  I used to answer the phone even in the grocery store and, frankly, I now shudder at the thought of navigating the aisles with kids in tow while on the phone.  Remembering that makes me want to ditch my cell phone altogether.

But in other respects, I’ve failed miserably at my attempt to renew myself.  Moving to a new house this summer, and the house projects that are still underway, have been anything but rejuvenating, at least in the short run.  Preparing to launch my parenting class online has been fun but 10 billion times more work than I imagined it would be.  And simply having the kids out of school, while enjoyable, has not been relaxing.

So this week, I’m going to go back to where I started in June, and challenge myself to honor my need for rest. 

I’ve been working seven days a week, and while necessary, this is pretty exhausting. Moreover, I rarely get even seven hours of sleep, when experts are clear that eight hours is the minimum for our physical and mental well-being.

Ideally, I’d be able to get eight hours of sleep each night, and I’d take weekends entirely off. I’ve already stressed the need for rest several times this summer, and I know that many of you are probably wondering:  What’s new here with this post?  Well, clearly I haven’t been as successful as I’ve wanted to be in my quest for rest, and I think recognizing a failure—and making adjustments—is the best path to greater success in the future.

I am totally clear that I need to take smaller “turtle steps” as Martha Beck suggests, aiming for small, incremental change rather than eight-hours-of-sleep-without-fail-every-single-night.  And no-work-EVER-on-the-weekends.  It just isn’t realistic. 

So I just printed a habit tracker for myself (no they aren’t just for kids) and my first ridiculously easy turtle step is…to take 24 hours off one day of this holiday weekend. Next week I’m going to add this turtle step: if I miss my mark of eight straight hours of shut-eye, I’ll do whatever it takes to get at least eight the next night.  Exhaustion accumulates, and I’m hoping to be tear-free on Friday.

I was at a Bar Mitzvah this weekend, and I was reminded of what it means to observe the Sabbath. I was as inspired as I was when I read Wayne Muller’s book on the subject, where Muller makes “a plea for renewed Sabbath-keeping.”  He writes:

As a nation, we cannot live like this, endlessly rushing about in a desperate frenzy, never stopping to enjoy the blessings of family and friends, unable to taste the fruits of life. We can change society by beginning a quiet revolution of change in ourselves and our families. Let us take a collective breath, rest, pray, meditate, walk, sing, eat and take time to share the unhurried company of those we love. Let us, for just one day, cease our desperate striving for more, and instead taste the blessings we have already been given, and give thanks.

At the Saturday morning Bar Mitzvah service, the rabbi reminded us what it means to observe: no cell phones, no email—and no work, even if you love to do it.  Just rest.  For 24 full hours.
One day is not so long.  I hope you’ll join me this weekend—let’s take a collective breath and get some rest.

I’m guessing that many of you also struggle with getting enough rest and sleep.  What helps?  Do those of you who care for children during the week also find that your weekend fills up with chores and work and that you don’t seem to get a break?  (Remember the weekends before you had kids?  I remember long, leisurely brunches, the Sunday New York Times, beaches…) This is the time to revisit what brings us bliss, and do it.  What will you do this holiday weekend to relax and renew?  Happy Labor Day, all.

Thanks to Linda Graham for the introductory quotations.

© 2010 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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