February 8, 2021

7 lessons from 6 weeks of rest – a valentine to the Metta Solutions community


Many of you know that I am just returning from an extended period of rest from work, which I have been calling a “mini-sabbatical.” That term resonates with my academic colleagues but may be unfamiliar to others. It was a novel concept to me as well, and I’m just beginning to get my head around what I have done.

I transitioned out of an employed work life at the end of November, with the intent to fully focus on growth of my coaching and consulting business, Metta Solutions. I promised myself at least six weeks of nothing on my schedule through at least mid-January. I mostly succeeded in keeping that promise to myself and my wife. I had agreed to put $20 in a jar for every meeting I scheduled during that time, and I think I ended up with just $20 in that jar (and yes, I was honest about it).

This morning, before I started writing this post, my wife asked if I had gotten what I hoped for out of that time. My answer was, “Yes. I rested in many ways, and had time with you, time to play and time to reset my perspective on how I want to organize my work life. So yes. It was a success.”

This post is a bit of a thank-you to those of you who allowed me the privilege of this time away, and a celebration of what I learned. I hope you can take at least one thing from it that you can give to yourself as a Valentine’s Day gift this year.

The many flavors of exhaustion

Part of what helped convince me to set up this time away was something I learned from a coaching colleague, Dr. Jodi Hawes. Jodi taught me about the “ways that we get tired.” She talks about physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, and spiritual exhaustion, and she has encouraged me (and her clients) to develop a toolkit for addressing each. I have found this both challenging to understand and helpful for addressing the many ways I have been exhausted over these past several months. I’m sure you can relate to that.

Rest is so much more than sleep

In the same way that there are many forms of exhaustion, there are also myriad antidotes. Most of them are not sleep, though sleep is lovely. I’m particularly enthusiastic about concepts of rest outlined by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. I think so highly of this book that I bought it a few years back for friends and family as a Christmas gift. The concept that I love is that even high-adrenaline adventure and physical challenge can be seen as resting, because these pursuits take you out of your normal routines and force you to use your body, mind and spirit in different ways. I’m trying to put this into play for myself as I begin to prepare for a long trek/hike the year I turn 60 (about 18 months from now; more about all that later).

However, there’s even more to rest than that. Physician Saundra Dalton-Smith argues that there are seven forms of rest, and they dovetail nicely with many of the forms of exhaustion my colleague Jodi discusses. Dalton-Smith describes them as:

  • Physical rest
  • Mental rest
  • Sensory rest
  • Creative rest
  • Emotional rest
  • Social rest
  • Spiritual rest

How do we achieve this? Remember what my colleague Jodi suggests. We all need a toolkit for exhaustion, and in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, consider the toolkit below my gift to you. Some of these ideas may work for you, and in some cases, you might need something different. Regardless, I encourage you to explore the seven types of rest and develop your own plan for each.

My top tips for the 7 types of rest: A toolkit for the real world

Physical Rest

  • Sleep – be sure you get enough. Most of us need 7 to 9 hours, no matter how driven we are. I learned during my sabbatical that it takes longer than you think to recover from a sleep deficit.
  • Physical activity – this goes back to Pang’s ideas. Push your body to its limits as a means of increasing your overall physical energy. It really works, but as I’ve seen in my own life, it works even better if you’ve gotten enough sleep.

Mental rest

When you just can’t shut your brain off, try a short meditation practice or use a journal to make note of what is keeping your mind abuzz. Both of these tips help me shift out of hyperdrive.

Sensory rest

OK, we all know about taking an electronics holiday. It’s one of the things that mattered the most during my mini-sabbatical. I spent four weeks without attending a single Zoom meeting, and I tried to curtail my screen time, particularly in the hour before sleep. It works.

Creative rest

I’ve written here before about generativity and its benefits. Sometimes the energy we get from creating something is just what we need to improve our overall energy, mood and focus. Find something you are passionate about, and be creative. I did this on my sabbatical, when I took an iPhone photography course, so that the camera I always have with me is now a readily available tool for creativity. It means that I don’t have to think about it to capture an image, and I know more about how to do so in a way that is pleasing to the eye. And learning this had nothing to do with medicine or coaching, so it got me out of my normal patterns of study. For this post, I’m sharing one of my favorite photographs that came from this activity. I’m hoping to share more in the coming months.

Emotional rest

This one is hard, but critical.  For me, it involved taking ownership of my time online, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. I identified the sources of content that truly exhausted me and removed them from my feeds.  I am not looking for a bubble of people who think like me, but sometimes it’s simply too much.  I find it more constructive to marshal my energy and learn other points of view (even those that I disagree with) in my own way. I took charge of the emotional energy sink that those two platforms had become for me, and now my time online feels better.

Social rest

In these days of physical and social distancing during the pandemic, we may all be longing for social connection, rather than being exhausted from too much of it. However, as I ponder a return to normalcy (fingers crossed), I am thinking about the social interactions that nourish me and those that drain me. When we can all safely share space again, I hope to prioritize those relationships that both nourish me and in which I can nourish others. I’ll have to report back about how that goes.

Spiritual rest

We all have our own approach to spiritual practice, and many of us have faith traditions that form the foundation of those practices. These are activities that help us have a sense of meaning, love and belonging over time and distance. My own realization that being outside in nature is my doorway into the spiritual has been a truly rich gift over these past few weeks. Another coach friend of mine, Krista Moore, asks people, “what did you love to do when you were 10 years old?” My answer to that question? Getting out into the woods, witnessing (and appreciating) the richness of creation, and understanding that it all came together at the hand of something much bigger than me. Thank you, Krista, for that deep question. I highly recommend asking it of yourself as a gateway into understanding what might provide you with spiritual rest.

So there you have it – a distillation of my early learnings from my mini-sabbatical. Try making your own toolkit to manage exhaustion. I hope you’ll share in the comments about whatever brings you meaning out of this list or this process. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

Last updated February 9, 2021

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