My summation of the article is below but full article can be see here at hbr.org
Why can’t we be tougher, more resilient and determined in our work so we can accomplish all of our goals? The problem is partly that we often put too much on our plate for our goals. We say ‘yes’ way too much. We expect an unrealistic amount of accomplishment from ourselves (an expectation that we would in no way hold for others) and are constantly distracted from social networking and technology to move and take on the next thing from the infinite source of information. However, what is even more at play than our distracted lives and busy schedules is a misunderstanding of what it means to be tough, resilient, and overworked.
We often implement a militaristic ‘tough’ approach to resilience and grit. We believe the longer we tough it out, the tougher we are, and therefore the more successful we will be. However, this entire conception is biologically inaccurate and really only leads operating longer in depletion mode and never being free from a ‘tough’ and ‘pushing to the limits’ mentality. We often sacrifice sleep, eating well, love, etc. in the name of productivity, but ironically with our loss of such things, despite the extra hours we spend ‘working’, adds up to lots of inefficient, stressful, and wasteful hours.
The lack of recovery periods is dramatically holding back our ability to be resilient and more successful. There is a direct correlation between lack of recovery and increased health and safety problems. And just because work stops, doesn’t mean we are recovering. We very often ‘stop’ work but then spend the night wrestling with solutions to work problems, talking about our work over dinner, and falling asleep thinking about how much work we’ll do tomorrow (and by the way, ‘work’ can mean anything that’s causing one stress and anxiety and where one’s mind doesn’t ever leave from). ‘Workaholism’ is a VERY real thing as it is being overly concerned about ‘work’, driven by an uncontrollable ‘work’ motivation, and investing so much time and effort to ‘work’ that it impairs other important life areas. The majority of American workers are workaholics and they are wasting time, money, their health, and resources. Technology plays a big role in this as it has extended our ‘working/distraction/thinking about the same thing’ hours to interfere with necessary cognitive recovery, resulting in huge health care costs.
A resilient and tough person is a well-rested one. When an exhausted individual goes out into their day they risk hurting everyone on the road with impaired driving, they don’t have the cognitive resources to do as well at their jobs, they have lower self-control with friends and family, they are moody, bitter and less capable of love, affection, and connection. Overworking and exhaustion is a romanticized notion that you are actually doing a good job. In reality, it is the opposite of resilience and what I like to call ‘stupid tough.’
The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again. This conclusion is based on biology. Homeostasis is a fundamental biological concept describing the ability of the brain to continuously restore and sustain well-being. When the body is out of alignment from overworking, we waste a vast amount of mental and physical resources trying to return to balance before we can move forward.
Having too much time in the performance zone requires that you need more time in the recovery zone, otherwise burnout usually arises. Mustering your resources to ‘try hard’ requires burning energy in order to overcome your currently low arousal level. This is called ‘upregulation.’ It also exacerbates exhaustion. Thus the more imbalanced we become due to overworking, the more value there is in activities that allow us to return to a state of balance. The value of a recovery period rises in proportion to the amount of work required of us. We can feel this occurring naturally in our days at times. Those moments when you only have a few hours of free time and those hours seem like an eternity of rest or rather when you dedicated one hour to emails or tasks and you surprise yourself at the outrageous amount accomplished. That is the body really efficiently using its energy where it will be spent most wisely.
One thing to note, however, is that rest and recovery are not the same thing. Stopping does not equal recovering and internal and external recovery strategies are best applied.
Internal recovery refers to shorter periods of relaxation that take place within the workday in the form of short scheduled or unscheduled breaks that shift attention elsewhere or changes it to other work tasks when the mental or physical resources required for the initial task are temporarily depleted or exhausted. External recovery refers to actions that take place outside of work in the form of free time between the workdays, weekends, holidays or vacations. If after work you lie around on your bed and get riled up by political commentary on your phone or get stressed thinking about decisions about your relationships or about how to renovate your home, etc., your brain has not received a break from high mental arousal states. Our brains need a rest as much as our bodies do and in the modern era that is incredibly hard to do given how stimulating our phones are and how easy it is to pick it up and check out whatever and instantly be dramatically consumed.
Strategies for building effective resilience, include strategically stopping and giving yourself the resources to be tough by creating internal and external recovery periods.
Specific approaches to help people with the technology/phone problem include downloading the Instant or Moment apps to see how many times you engage on your phone each day. The average person engages with their phone 150 times every day. If every distraction took only 1 minute (which would be seriously optimistic), that would account for 2.5 hours of every day. Imagine the healing that could occur if we were to use even half that time to engage in internal or external healing recovery methods?
Also available are apps like Offtime or Unplugged to create tech free zones by strategically scheduling automatic airplane modes. In addition, take cognitive breaks every 90 minutes to recharge. Meditation apps like Headspace allow for even a five-minute mediation session that is extremely recharging (talk about efficiently using your time!). Not having lunch at your desk or workspace helps and spending more time outside or with your friends, or even random people, not talking about ‘work.’ Always take all of your paid time off and consider taking random/unplanned therapy days. Those days will go an extremely long way.
The author of the original article shared their approach. They dedicate traveling, airplane time as a work-free zone, and time to dip into the recovery phase. The results have been extremely positive. They are usually tired already by the time of getting on a plane, and the cramped space and spotty internet connection make work more energy intensive and challenging overall. Now, instead of swimming upstream and trying to be ‘tough’ they use the time to relax, meditate, sleep, watch movies, journal, or listen to entertaining podcasts. When getting off the plane, instead of being depleted, rejuvenation and an eagerness to return to the performance zone is felt.