This week I’ve been reading a book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I had heard it highly recommended on a podcast so I toddled along to the library and placed myself on the hold list and got hold of a copy. I was number 2 on the list for this book, not number 60 like I am for a book called Educated by Tara Westover. You might get a book report on that one too but you’re going to be waiting a while.
Anyway, Rest is one of those books that looks at the science behind resting – fMRIs and studies of various student groups, and all that kind of stuff. It also looks at the lives of great achievers through history – great politicians, authors, artists, and scientists – and shows us how they incorporated rest into their lives, encouraging us to do the same.
When Alex talks about rest, he’s talking about sleeping well at night, napping, walking, vigorous exercise (like marathons, or rock climbing), and immersive hobbies (like chess or building an 18 ft robot giraffe). All of these are aspects of rest and help renew our minds so that we can work better and more creatively.
He nowhere mentions watching TV or movies or surfing social media as aspects of rest.
When Moz and I were first married we lived in a little granny flat out the back of a friend’s house. For the first few months we had no television. (And no computer. Almost no one had a computer back then. It’s really crazy to think about that.)
We didn’t miss it very much at all. We read, we chatted, visited with friends. It wasn’t a problem most of the time. But there were some days I remember coming home and really wanting to sit and stare and be entertained. So I think that TV has its place in the list of restful activities.
But I also think TV-watching has a very limited ability to refresh us. It is so easy to keep watching, keep flicking to the next Netflix show, when it would be much better for us to either sleep, or walk, or read. Any of those things would be ultimately more refreshing. I can spend a day watching TV and be more exhausted at the end than I was at the beginning.
Social media is similar. I love to just scroll through my feed when I’m feeling tired. But the scroll can become never-ending and you can end up more tired than when you started. And more disturbed and emotionally unwell too, depending on the content that comes up.
It’s important for our brains to feel boredom. To spend a little bit of time not being entertained. The flickering low-level entertainment of TV and social media is a short-term gain but a long-term loss for our well-being. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, I’m not saying anything new. But maybe it’s important to check what we are doing when we’re trying to rest, and see whether it actually helps us to feel rested or not.
It’s easy to read Rest and to add a checklist of new activities that you now have to tick off in order to achieve greatness. To feel pressure to add more of these ‘restful activities’ to your week. But I’m sure that’s not what Alex Pang intended.
Instead, if you’re feeling like you should be working more and more and harder and harder to get things done so that you will achieve what you are made for, this book will give you good scientific and historical evidence that making time to rest is essential for good work. And it will give you some good suggestions for what this rest could look like.
Rest, after all, is included in our instruction manual. Let’s include it in our lives.
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