Why Your Rest Ethic Is Critical to Your Success

Oct 22, 2023
rest ethic critical to success

I may regret broadcasting this...but I recognize that as what it is: fear of being judged. Fear of letting my humanness show in a way that might undermine my professional credibility. 

I'm not a big fan of letting fear make my decisions, though, so here goes. 

I had a friend in town from Saturday to Tuesday. Monday night, a "school" night, we stayed up til 2 am, wrapped up in winding conversation over an unnecessary extra glass (or two) of wine. This isn't a lifestyle choice I make very often these days, as I know how important sleep is, and I refuse to show up to professional commitments as less than my best if I can help it. Fortunately, I knew I didn't have anything until the afternoon, so I'd have time to sleep in. 

Which is exactly what I did.

I woke up per usual, chatted with my friend for a bit before she hit the road, then I hit the sheets again. I got up a couple hours later to get ready for my day, feeling rested...and guilty.

Yep. Guilty.

As I talked to another friend later that night, she asked how my visit was. I told her a long-winded version of "lovely," but then explained that I was struggling with the decision to stay up late and sacrifice my morning. 

To this, my brilliant and empathic friend reminded me that life is measured in those kinds of moments - nights with a close friend, filled with laughter and connection. 

She was right, of course (one of the perks of having a therapist in your inner circle). 


It's All About the Work Ethic...Unfortunately

Like most of my fellow Americans, I was indoctrinated into the mindset that hard work is the path to success. A strong work ethic is one of your greatest assets. Any minute not consumed with productivity is wasted time. Those who don't work hard are lazy. 

And I pushed back on that.


Years ago, when I stumbled across the field of Life Design, coinciding with turmoil in my life that had me questioning so many things, I began to redefine how I valued time. I subscribed (and continue to do so) to the notion that time is the most non-renewable resource on the planet, and I began to get very intentional about how I spent mine. 

Long story short, that led to a pretty fantastic work-life balance that had me, surprisingly, doing better financially than I ever had before with more discretionary time to spend on non-work activities. 

Then a pandemic hit.

As everyone's mental health went down the drain, demands for psychological services skyrocketed. That, combined with other projects and endeavors added to my goal list, made it easy to let that hard-won balance slip.

While I still believe that time is precious and that productivity is not the be-all end-all of your worth, my actions lately haven't necessarily reflected that. Hence the guilt for taking a morning to nap and indulge (care for?) myself. 

I am sharing all of this with hopes that: 

  1. You can relate (and that you're not sitting there judging me).
  2. We can keep each other accountable for letting wellbeing, not productivity or money, be the underlying deciding factor for how we spend our time.
  3. I've adequately set the stage for what I really want to talk about today: rest ethic.


What Is Rest Ethic? 

Months ago, a mentor and friend, Dr. Loren Conaway, suggested that I consider writing about rest ethic. It was something that had come up in her practice recently, and she thought it would be a topic that would resonate with our community.

I think she's right. 

I have to be honest, though, it wasn't a term I was really familiar with, so I just made note of it and tucked it away for later. 

Well, later is today, and I did a bit of a dive into the concept. Turns out, I'm fully on board with it!

Rest ethic has to do with how well you recharge, restore, and recover from your work efforts. It seems synonymous with self-care to me and is essential not only for sustainable wellbeing but also for peak performance. 


Why Rest Ethic Matters

Many people balk at the idea of rest. They believe that time not spent being productive is wasted and, therefore, feel guilty about it. They fear that they will lose progress or momentum. They don't feel like they deserve it or have done enough to earn it. Or they mistakenly believe they do not - or should not - need it. 

The reality, though, is that rest is JUST AS IMPORTANT as work. 

Like yin and yang, rest and work complement each other. They are two halves of a whole, integral to success and wellbeing.

Like night balancing day, sleep balancing wakefulness, inhaling balancing exhaling, rest balances work. 

If you want to build muscle strength, you must take time off between workouts. Serious lifters know that rest days are just as important as training days. 

If you want to find creative ways to solve a problem, you must step away from the problem. Creativity happens when our brains are relaxed or in a playful, positive state, not an anxious or stressed one. 

If you want a rich life, you need to invest in relationships, not just your salary or 401K.

We need to take our rest ethic as seriously as our work ethic and value them equally, as one without the other is going to lead to strife. 

I mean, no one lying on their death bed laments"If only I had worked harder..."


What Is Real Rest?

Rest is not the same thing as sleep. Rest is a gathering of energy and resources, a refilling of the cup from which you've been pouring. I like to think of it as recovering whatever you've expended, whether that's physical energy, mental energy, emotional energy, or social energy. 

Rest might mean exactly what you envision for a kindergartener: lying down and stilling your body and mind. Or it might mean switching gears from work to play, engaging different parts of your personality and cognitive faculties. It might mean checking out from real-life and escaping into a novel or a daydream. It might mean watching a show or going down a youtube rabbit hole (though watch out for those because, if we're being real with ourselves, they're not usually all that restorative). 

Experiment with different kinds of activities or - pause for dramatic effect - the concept of just being. As in, not DOING anything. See what recharges you. Then prioritize it.


Next Steps

If you're still not on board with the whole idea of a rest ethic, then, by all means, stick with the productivity is king mindset...and recategorize restful activities as ALSO being productive. Because they are allowing you to recoup spent energy so that you can expend it all over again, frame rest as a necessary part of a highly productive lifestyle. Personally, I don't love that argument for a number of reasons, but, hey, whatever works!

The bottom line, find ways to build rest into your day and see what impact it has on your mind, body, and spirit. You just might find that as your rest ethic gets on point, your work improves, too. 

(And, yes, I will be taking my own advice on this one!)


“You were not just born to center your entire existence on work and labor. You were born to heal, to grow, to be of service to yourself and community, to practice, to experiment, to create, to have space, to dream, and to connect.”
― Tricia Hersey 


Written by Dr. Ashley Smith

Peak Mind Co-founder


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