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Feb 13

Relaxation, resentment and the art of enjoying yourself

Relaxation: you're doing it wrong.

Relaxation: you’re doing it wrong.

For those of us out who score high on the perfectionism scale, the idea of productive “me” time is alien. As society pushes us farther and farther along the education bandwagon, we find ourselves with little time to relax and unwind.  Universities are the best institutions at breeding burn-outs. The sheer volume of material that a student is exposed to in a university classroom is terrifying. If you’re a science student, you could spend an infinite amount of time learning biochemical pathways, anatomical structures, and physical equations. If you’re a humanities student, you could spend an even more infinite amount of time researching arguments related to your topic and editing your papers. There simply isn’t enough time to get through all the material in a class, so how could you take time off? How could you spend more time doing the things you want to do when you can’t even finish the things you have to do?

If you’re putting in 12-hour days 7 days a week right now, fastforward a couple years. How do you think you’re feeling? Are you still excited to get through those 12-hour days? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Did all your hard work pay off – do you finally have time for yourself? That answer is probably no. As students typically fail to realize, life doesn’t magically get easier once you’ve graduated. If you have to put in 12-hour days to get a job, chances are that job will put you through 12-hour days as well. Is that really what you want?

Most high-achieving people will never take full days off. Whether it’s worrying about an upcoming exam, adding last-minute touches to an essay, or scrambling to get your notes together for an important meeting, there simply isn’t time for a day off, right? Wrong.

I want to share a few tips that I’ve used in the past to allow myself some time to unwind and recharge.

  • Let go of unrealistic expectations. Stop telling yourself that you haven’t had a successful week if you haven’t put in 70 hours at the library. I know this is one of those hackneyed pieces of advice that you’ll hear from time to time, but honestly, it’s worth repeating. Until you accept that life goes on when you fail to reach all your pie-in-the-sky goals, you’ll never be able to relax.
  • Leave your work at the door. Make sure that there are places you can go specifically to relax. Whether its your bedroom, a particular cafe, or even just your kitchen, leave yourself at least one room where you can go without ever thinking about work. The human brain learns to associate things very quickly, and if you bring your work with you everywhere you go, you’ll learn that there is nowhere you can go to escape the hectic day-to-day stuff.
  • Be spontaneous. If your off-time is just as routine as your on-time, you will probably grow to see relaxation as just another part of your busy schedule. Every once in awhile, take a day off – get through the bare minimum (mandatory meetings, tutorials, and whatnot), and then go wild and do something you’ve been thinking about doing for awhile. Blow off your study group to go see a movie and get sushi. Take a day off working on your paper to go on a long walk around the city. Race out of work as soon as your meeting is over and drive an hour out of town to go camping with your best friends.
  • …but don’t be too spontaneous. Don’t leave your downtime to complete chance – make sure you have at least one day off a week.
  • Be aware of the effects of burnout. I won’t get too much into this (at least for now), but think of your motivation as a limited resource – once you’ve motivated yourself to do a certain amount of work, it runs out. The only way to replenish your motivation is to take some time off to relax. If you work endlessly with no time for relaxation, you may grow resentful towards your workload and begin to dread the pile of things you have to do. Growing resentful of your workload is a dangerous slippery slope – perhaps leading you to drop out or change programs at an inconvenient time.
  • Take up a hobby. Having something concrete to do that isn’t related to your workload can be a great way to escape and unwind. A hobby can be anything – volunteer at a child’s camp, learn how to cook, write a novel. If you give yourself something that registers as productive, maybe you’ll be more likely to allow yourself that time off work. Make sure it’s something that you actually enjoy and allows you to relax. If your hobby stresses you out even more than your regular workload, then maybe you should find a new one.
  • Try meditation. Meditation, or other forms of mindfulness, can be a great way to learn the art of simplicity. In a world filled with distractions, we rarely have times where we’re not attending to an electronic device or planning our days. Mindfulness is all about grounding yourself in the present and trying not to let your thoughts wander. It’s kind of like forcing your mind to get bored – which is a good thing, in moderation. Spending some time to just appreciate the present moment without worrying about anything is a great way to relax and unwind. It’s actually a lot tougher than it sounds – see if you can spend 10 minutes imagining yourself on a private cruise ship without letting your thoughts wander.

The greatest satisfaction in the world comes from a feeling of purpose. We all want a purpose, and that’s what drives most of us to our wits’ ends. Do yourself a favor and take more time to do things you enjoy. Enjoyment and relaxation are purposes themselves – as much as society would like you to believe otherwise. Give up the unrealistic expectations that you may have placed on yourself, and just take the time to enjoy life. 

How do you unwind? I would love to hear your techniques for letting go of your daily worries. Leave me a comment!

photo by: Ed Yourdon
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