Take a Day Off

If you feel that today is bound to be a degraded version of yesterday, and tomorrow a continuation of the same, give yourself a day off. You might worry that your skills will flee if you will, but I can assure you they won’t.

When I take time off from something, I occasionally get the sense that the skill is incubating in my subconscious mind (if that sounds silly just let me entertain you for a moment here). Because you have a subconscious, things don’t freeze when you stop consciously attending to them. Some part of your mind always is. The subconscious has been likened to a database of beliefs and mechanical abilities. But this database is more like the data centers that uphold the Internet: it is dynamic, getting updated constantly. If you’ve thought about it, you can assume that you can think about it again.

You’ve driven just fine without actually paying attention to the road, haven’t you? When you take a week off from driving you don’t return to the road like a 16 year old who can’t hold the wheel straight, do you? Of course not… Unless you’ve contributed to the thousands of car accidents that happen each year. Whoopsie.

Driving may not be as nuanced and difficult as some other tasks (e.g. creating art—painting, writing, stand-up comedy, etc.) so more time off from it can probably be afforded, but the basic principle that you can take time off applies similarly to both.

I’ve been running for six and a half years. When I take a few weeks off I may huff and puff a little more than usual at first and I probably won’t rock at racing right away, but generally I “feel like myself again” pretty quickly (maybe five minutes into run #1). I can still tackle a few good-sized hills on Day 1—and again on Day 2, immediately afterward.

I also don’t run everyday. I do indeed get concerned that each day will be a degraded version of the last if I do that. I’ve mainly cited the reason as needing to give my body a rest, but my mind could do with it, too.

While doing a certain task I’m more likely to think in a certain way each time I do that task. So if I follow the same routine each day I’m more likely to think the same thoughts and in the same ways everyday. This is dangerous in that I may come to take my thought patterns for granted when they could do with some changing and challenging.

I really do think it is useful to take a day away from those thought patterns.  This gives you a chance to use metacognition (thinking about your thoughts) on an activity, which in this case means that you look at that activity from the outside. In short, you can think and write in your sequins-covered journal about the activity without being overwhelmed by the thought patterns that it switches on and may leave on for the rest of the day.

You might want to look at where your performance is lagging and ask why that might be. Especially if this question gives you some anxiety, your body and emotions are more likely to give you an accurate answer than your mind: nyour mind might just whine and tell you a story it made up to comfort itself.

Your body’s answer will likely be briefer and harder to decipher: it could be as simple as I’m scared. But simply being scared, as you know, can do a lot to throw you off track. The fear, if thought through, will likely lead you to inaccurate, disempowering beliefs you have which you now can try working against.

Acknowledging that you’re afraid will help you to explore your thoughts better than denying your fear. You can tell yourself that you’re fearless when you really aren’t, but deep down the fear will persist and then arise to eat you up again someday. I hope you at least taste good.

Each activity is a different way of thinking, so taking on different activities on your day off might provide you with some thoughts you wouldn’t have met with or considered otherwise. Program instead of write today, and you might find that your writing could be more concise, organized, and your words better defined. I programmed far more in April than I wrote, and I’d like to think the former led to these very improvements in the latter (of course, there is always room a’plenty for improvement).

I know running doesn’t take up my whole day (well, it has a few times!) but it affects my day enough that, if I really want an outsider’s view of how I’m doing at it, I should take a day off.

Of course, I don’t know that you should expect each day to be a massive improvement upon the last anyway, unless you’re just starting out at something. Fluctuations in performance can generally be expected. There’s usually no need to freak out if you do a little worse this time than you did last time.

It’s when “worse and worse everyday in every way” that “a little worse” becomes alarming. Inserting a day off could break or at least relieve that pattern.

This doesn’t apply only to large tasks: checking social media and e-mail count, too. Even if you spend only 5 minutes doing those things each day they can make a bigger difference in your day than you might imagine—especially if your Facebook friends are the angry, whiny type.

It can be hard to know what effect something has on you until you do away with it for a while. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Thus, I think it’s important to set aside time off for all things. Don’t go inside for a day. Don’t eat meat for a day. Don’t eat at all for a day. Don’t sleep in your bed tonight. Keep your phone off all day today. Even try pushing out certain thoughts for a day (or letting other ones in). These sound so simple, yet how many things have we never spent a day without?

Sometimes more than a day away is needed to really benefit, just as more than one day of work per week is generally needed to get much done. Likewise, taking the whole day away from checking Twitter and then logging in for 2 minutes right before bed is not a day off. If you’re going to take a day off, you had better commit to it like it’s part of your job.

Workplaces actually do this quite well (yes, yes, I know some of us may have to spring into action at the sound of a phone call). Has your boss ever said to you, “Hey, tomorrow’s your day off, so we’re going to have you come in for the last 30 minutes to help close the place up”? If he has, please let me know. I suspect that, for each day, you’re either scheduled to work for at least 4 hours or you aren’t scheduled to work at all. Be a good boss to yourself and don’t work at all on your day off. Just as you wouldn’t bother visiting your office for five minutes on a Sunday, don’t put on your boxing gloves for 30 seconds on Not-Boxing Day.

So, if you’re a tad on the burned-out side today and you don’t think working at your craft will do much for you or anyone else, take the day off. You’ll probably be all the more grateful and excited to return to work tomorrow.

But please, don’t take a day off from peeing. You might explode.

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