A 30-day sabbatical. An essay in why doing more isn’t always the answer.
In India, Joseph Goldstein was living in a 6 feet by 7 feet hut with a canvas flap for a door. One day as he sat on his bed to meditate a cat wandered in and plopped down on his lap. Frustrated, Joseph tossed the cat outside and sat back down on his bed to continue his meditation practice.
He closed his eyes, but ten seconds later the cat came back in and laid down on his lap. Once again, frustrated by the cat messing with his meditation, Joseph tossed the cat outside and sat back down on his bed to continue his meditation. Ten seconds later the cat finds its way in and sits back down on his lap.
This process continued for the next thirty minutes with Joseph getting increasingly frustrated. Finally, with no way to keep the cat from entering his hut Joseph surrendered. He sat down to meditate, the cat wandered back in, and sat down on his lap but this time Joseph did nothing. He continued his meditation. Thirty seconds later the cat got up and walked out the door.
Doing more isn’t always the answer. Sometimes less is more, and sometimes simply letting go is what you need to do.
If you’ve been a reader of the blog for a while you’ll know that I’ve written over 500 articles and thousands of newsletters. That’s a shit ton of writing.
I’m a firm believer in practicing consistency in the areas of your life that you’re looking to improve. The more I practice writing the better I’ll get.
However, trying to write articles each week, coaching both in-person and online full-time, as well as some other things has left me feeling burnt out.
Get ready, here’s my own personal violin playing a sad sad song.
In the words of the lyrical genius know as Rhianna, I’ve turned my life into nothing but work, work, work, work, work and it’s affecting myself and my personal relationships on various levels. I’ve been feeling stressed out, anxious, and exhausted. Sleep is hard to come by, workouts have become more tedious than enjoyable, and my mood is all over the place.
More importantly I’ve forgotten how to play. How to relax. How to be fully engaged in life. Actually, nix that – I haven’t forgot, I’ve simply made the conscious choice of making work my priority.
30-DAY SABBATICAL: YOUR GREATEST WEAKNESS
Do you know what one of the most popular questions asked when you interview for a job is?
Tell me about your greatest weakness.
Or some version of this question. Most people try to answer it by saying something like, “I work too hard.” “I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” Or something else that makes them sound really good.
As Ramit Sethi says, this question is a huge trap. “If you answer too honestly — “I’m irritable in the morning and bad at time management”— you’re an instant no-hire. But if you answer in a lie, it’s transparently obvious.”
The key is to answer honestly but to show how you’re striving to improve it. My biggest weakness is that I take on far too much. I say yes to everything, and I set terrible personal boundaries. I have no off switch and am constantly running at 100 miles per hour – not literally of course, although that would be awesome. #theflash
About 7 years ago it got so bad that I put myself in the hospital due to extreme exhaustion with hemoglobin levels that were recorded at 4.2. I would have to take rest breaks after walking up the stairs because I couldn’t breath. Yeah, this from a guy that has dedicated the majority of his life to getting his body, mind, and health to perform optimally.
To improve on this I’ve decided to take a 30 day sabbatical during the month of August. The idea was sparked by Mark’s article, The Attention Diet, Cal Newports book Digital Minimalism, and my personal experiences from a 10-day silent and meditation retreat a few years ago.
Some things I will be trying to do on the 30-day sabbatical.
- No social media
- Zero writing for the blog
- Checking email once per day
- Abstaining from junk information
- Removing Netflix and other forms of screen entertainment.
The idea, as Mark mentioned in his article is to:
- Correctly identify nutritious information and relationships.
- Cut out the junk information and relationships.
- Cultivate habits of deeper focus and a longer attention span.
I want to take time and reflect on what’s working for me. What’s not working. And how I can fix what’s not working for better results.
30-DAY SABBATICAL: SOCIAL MEDIA DETOX
This is something that I’ve done before and written about but I thought it would be a good time to give it a go again. No instagram, no twitter, no snapping chats, no pinteresting my ideal wedding.
However, my job requires me to be on Facebook to check-in on groups I help manage. I’ve decided to limit this to ATMOST once per day and to delete my Facebook news feed so that I am out of the loop and distraction free.
If you want to know how you can delete your Facebook newsfeed visit this link.
30-DAY SABBATICAL: COLD SHOWERS
I’ve taken cold showers before but I’ve never really done it consistently. Let’s just say I dabble. I’d like to spend the month of August strictly doing cold showers (sorry twig and berries. Get ready for some severe shrinkage).
My buddy Joel is a huge cold shower advocate and has even created a cold shower therapy app.
If you can’t do something uncomfortable and difficult for 5 minutes in the shower, how the hell are you going to do something uncomfortable or difficult in real life? – Joel Runyon
I’m not just doing cold showers for shits and giggles. There have been some real health benefits reported.
- Better sleep
- Improved tolerance to stress
- Decreases in inflammation
- Energy boost
- Relief from symptoms of depression
- Mobilization of fatty acids and fat loss
- Stronger immune system
30-DAY SABBATICAL: GOING STIMULANT FREE
Caffeine and I have a very complicated relationship. I mean shit, I even wrote and ode to the shower coffee article.
I’ve probably quit coffee (caffeine) like 1,297,000,004 times before. Sometimes it lasts a few days and other times it lasts a few months. But she always seems to slip back in there and next thing I know we’re between the sheets again.
I’ve come to realize that caffeine makes me anxious as shit. I’m also a fast metabolizer of caffeine which means I can drink cups on cups on cups per day. The same way Chinese food leaves you hungry again an hour after you eat it, caffeine leaves me needing more an hour after I drink it.
30-DAYS OF ESTABLISH A BETTER SLEEP RITUAL AND STAY IN BED FOR 8 HOURS
Notice I did not say sleeping for 8 hours. Trying to actually sleep for 8 hours is setting myself up to fail because it’s something I can’t control. I can set the temperature in my house to 68 degrees, wear a sleep mask, listen to white noise, use ear plugs, take melatonin, and all the other sleep hacks out there but that doesn’t mean I’m going to actually get 8 hours of sleep. If my body wants to wake up it’s going to and there’s not anything I can really do about that.
So instead I plan on implementing (sounds so official) a sleep ritual:
- No electronics (tv, phone, laptop, etc…) an hour before I want to get into bed
- Getting into bed at a consistent time to train my body and mind
- Reading fiction as a way to relax an hour before bed
- Laying down for 20 minutes every afternoon to “attempt” to nap. I say attempt because I’ve never been able to nap before. My goal is to just lay down and relax for 20 minutes.
30-DAY SABBATICAL: IKIGAI
In 2008 I took a trip around the world in attempt to “discover” myself. When you travel you don’t discover yourself.
After visiting more places then I can count on my fingers and toes, I know that you don’t discover yourself on these trips. Instead, you remove enough distractions from your every day life and figure out if you really like the person you are when you’re home in your daily routine.
Recent research suggests that the belief of a “core self” might not actually exist. This research is beginning to uncover how the brain might construct a sense of self and how psychedelic drugs can temporarily change the brain to dissolve our sense of self, illustrating just how transient and illusory our identities really are.
In Buddhism the term anatta refers to the idea of a “non-self.” That there is no unchanging or permanent soul in human beings. Now I don’t want to turn this into some philosophical or religious debate so I’ll leave you with this.
The tattoo on my wrist, Ikigai is an old Okinawan question that asks, “why do you wake up every day?” I don’t have a tattoo on my other wrist and this is because I’m eventually hoping to put an answer to that question on there.
My plan is to take more action and to clearly establish personal boundaries, values, and to explore more personal interests and talents. Then to find ways to implement those things so that I can positively impact not only my life but the lives of others.
What’s your Ikigai? Or as the Nicoyans say, “Plan de Vida.”
AND FINALLY: GUILT FREE PLAY
A big thank you to Charlie Hoehn and his book Play It Away. I’ve read this book many times, love it, and have conveniently never put into action any of the advice in it. This makes me feel like a complete dickhead and is extremely disrespectful to you Charlie, so consider this my way of apologizing.
It’s sad but I actually had to google guilt free play – it’s been so long since I participated that I had no idea what I could do.
- Head to the batting cage
- Play catch with a friend
- Get on the slack line
- Run around with my dogs. Maybe hike.
- Start rock climbing again
- Go to a playground and swing on the monkey bars
- Chess at the park
Dr. Stuart Brown of the National Institute of Play – yes, there is a freeakin National Institute of Play – defines play as “something done for its own sake,” he explains. “It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
He goes on to expand a bit more by saying, “so, let’s take gambling, for instance. A poker player who’s enjoying a competitive card game? That’s play, says Brown. A gambling addict whose only goal is to hit the jackpot? Not play. (1)
I’ll be dedicating 20 to 30 minutes of my day to guilt free play. I’d like to give you some examples of what I’ll be doing but I really have no idea. I might throw the football with a buddy, I may take my dogs for a hike, I may start rock climbing again, I may change all of my “adult” coffee talks to a chat while playing hop-scotch instead. Whatever social distancing allows.
Hell, I may just use that time to pursue some personal interests that I’ve been putting off like learning how to speak another language, play an instrument, or how to paint watercolor.
30-DAY SABBATICAL: IDENTITY CONFUSION
If you asked my closest friends and family to describe me they’d probably say 2 things:
- One of the nicest people you’ll meet
- A ridiculously hard worker
When people label you in ways for so long you subconsciously strive to live up to those definitions. It’s a way to confirm your identity and protect your ego. If everyone sees you as those things and all of a sudden you display traits that do not represent those definitions – who are you?
I don’t care to become a dick all of a sudden but working on setting personal boundaries is a task I’ll be focusing on during this sabbatical. And I like being a hard worker but I’m hoping that the next 30 days is a chance for me to learn the timeless art of slowing down. In all honesty the entire idea of all of this gives me a bit of anxiety.
- Is this going to affect website traffic?
- Will I lose subscribers to the blog?
- Will this change the way that you view me?
One of my favorite books is Daring Greatly: How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. In it author Brene Brown says:
Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
My entire life I’ve held myself to a standard of perfection. Like Joseph Goldstein letting go of the cat sitting on his lap, I’ll be trying to let go of that standard.
Have you ever taken a 30-day sabbatical? I’d love to hear about it.
Photo – Aaron Burden