3 min read

How to Relax

How to Relax
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

I’ve noticed a weird pattern.

Despite knowing that going on my phone in the morning will not in any way improve my day and, in fact, it may actually worsen it, I still find myself scrolling within 10 minutes of waking up.

My phone is addictive. Social media is an endless hole of more content. But this is a me problem, not just a phone problem: when I take time to rest, I spend my rest time exactly how I shouldn’t.

The Paradox of Rest

I think humans are pretty bad at determining what actually is restful and what is attractive but energy-draining. Take vacations for example. While appearing to be a wonderful time to regenerate and prepared to work again, they often leave us feeling more tired.

We spend hours on our phones, thinking that this is the solution. To turn our brains off and scroll. And, hours later, when we finally go to bed or have to do something, we fail to acknowledge that what we just did is ruining our life. We didn’t recharge. We drained.

Hustle, Bustle, Slow the Fuck Down

For most of my life, I thought I wanted to live in a city. I loved the rush of New York. The way people were going from place to place. They had somewhere to be!

The truth is: most of them are going nowhere. At least from my few months of living in Chicago, that’s what I’ve learned.

It’s the delusion of hard work. We think that the harder we work, the thinner we are stretched, the more we get done. But, it’s a delusion.

Hard work, in itself, is meaningless. Hard work on the right thing is priceless.

The problem is: we don’t spend enough time determining what the right thing is.

If there’s anything I’ve learned through building a startup, it’s that the hours you put into something has no effect on the results that you will achieve.

I, embarrassingly, spent about 5 hours making a decision that should have been made in 30 minutes. And when I looked back on my energy during that time, I looked a lot like this Greg McKeown depiction of the non-essentialist:

My focus was everywhere but where it needed to be. Overwhelmed by the excitement of building, I started to extrapolate what was possible based on that current excitement. Learn how to code a complex website in a couple weeks? Easy!

It’s not easy. When I talked to my co-founder, I was quickly sobered. We made the easy (and right) decision.

It’s tempting to be restless, to fill your time and give yourself no time to breathe. It’s also stupid. You run in circles.

Lessons from Rowing

In eighth grade, one of my friends challenged me to see who could row farther on the erg with 10 strokes. I went incredibly hard. I rushed up the slide, pulled as hard as I could, and grinded.

He took a slower approach.

My strokes took me fewer than 20 seconds, and I was exhausted. He took double that, could go a lot farther, and crushed my distance.

Our initial instinct to make progress is to make a lot of motion. To exhaust ourselves — as if our energy levels are reflective of how much we accomplish. The truth is that progress occurs through sustainability — through showing up every day.

I proofread each blog post I write once. Why not more? Because if I made myself do that, I’d start to hate writing.

Sure, some of my posts have typos. But I’d rather write 1,000 posts with some typos than 15 perfect posts that caused me to stop writing since the process annoyed me.

To go far, go slow.

So, how should we relax?

In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport introduces the Bennett Principle. It’s the idea that the more energy we expend in our leisure, the more energy we get back.

While counter-intuitive, my own experience reinforces it.

Scroll on social media? You’re tired. Learn a new skill? You feel energized.

Similarly, a meeting in which you sit there and do nothing is draining while a meeting in which you are part of the conversation is often energizing.

The world’s pretty anti-hobby this day. Do something for fun and people are wondering how you’re monetizing it. But, it’s ok not to monetize your work. It’s ok to just have fun. And I would argue the best way towards monetization is to find what is fun for you.

Slow Consumption

We have an abundance problem. Consumption of low-grade content is far too easy. Embrace slow consumption.

What does slow consumption look like?

  • One visit to your for-you page a day (not repeated glances)
  • Reading the same writers consistently (build your relationship with creators)
  • Stowing your phone away for the vast majority of the day

It doesn’t have to be difficult. It’ll feel weird, but you’ll feel better and more energized. That’s what matters.