Affirmation for the workaholics among us.

Training as rest to support our other work.

Long distance triathlon = long training hours focused solely on achieving a personal goal. Occasionally I feel selfish, or at least like I should be doing something else with my time.* I know there is a basic level of exercise that we should all be doing to keep up basic physical health. But six or seven hour workouts on a Saturday isn’t necessary to be healthy.

I just read a book that sheds a different perspective, and I think you are going to appreciate it. The book, called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, argues that rest and work are not opposites. He says that to get our best work done, we need periods of rest; but that doesn’t mean idle tv watching. Rather, rest can and should take a variety of different form. It could be quite intellectually active such as an engaging activity that puts you into a flow state, or something more mundane like a walk…or other exercise. These ‘other’ activities allow our brain to continue working subconsciously on the tasks that we want to do well at, the work that gives our life meaning whether that be a job or something else.

In the book, Mr. Pang provides examples of many people achieving amazing academic and business feats, while simultaneously competing in marathons. (He fails to use a single triathlete as an example, maybe we can help him out for future books). Novelist Haruki Murakami apparently says that he races marathons because the training helps to build the concentration and the stamina he needs to write.

He also provides many examples of great thinkers who did deep work for about 4 hours a day, while engaged in other activities the rest of the time.

Thus, as I try to enter what I hope will be a period of doing meaningful and creative work, perhaps instead of viewing my triathlon habit as a distraction or time spent away from where it could be, I can take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in finding that training can be supportive, necessary, resting periods that will help with my other goals. I have experienced myself that I have a limited capacity for deep work per day. Unfortunately our typical work environment doesn’t quite jive with the idea that we should have flexibility to do our best work, and that at times doing our best work may not look like ‘work.’ Maybe someday that will change. For now, I highly recommend the book if this sounds interesting at all. It was a quick read and my comments are not doing it justice.

*I know sometimes people race for charity and maybe there is some way to do this that is actually productive, but I have no interest in giving money to Uncle Fred so that he can race in the name of a charity. I will donate to causes I care about each year; but I don’t understand why someone else racing is a motivating reason to give.

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