Monday Musings... How to Take a 20-Minute Break Without Feeling Guilty



You can be your own worst enemy because of the things you tell yourself, to convince yourself that you can't take a break. The truth is you can't fire on all cylinders when your energy tank is on empty.


Let’s start with a definition: a perfectionist is someone who sets extraordinarily high expectations for themselves. Can you relate? These are the kinds of people who need to read the post, but tell themselves they can’t afford the time 😊


There is a difference between 'trying to do your best' and being a perfectionist. A true perfectionist applies doing their best to everything they do. They see themselves as logical and rational, organized, and goal focused. They play this mantra over and over in their minds: I must... I should... I ought... and believe that following through on those self-imposed expectations validates their self-worth. And conversely, not fulfilling those self-made promises, results in shame, doubt, and guilt.


So... if you advise a perfectionist that they really should take a break, even for just 20 minutes, they'll tell you they can't do it. Because if they do, they'll tell you, they'll be thinking the whole time about what they should be doing on their never-ending to-do list. They just can't shut their brain off and allow themselves to relax. Sound familiar?


If this is you, then guilt is the driving force in your head space - that nagging voice that makes you feel unsatisfied and upset with not meeting your personal standard. This standard began in your childhood and has blossomed in adulthood, and so it's difficult but not impossible. There's a strong emotional connection subconsciously and it's linked to self satisfaction (let's call it pride) or dissatisfaction (major disappointment).


The beginning of the cure lies in your thinking. Fight logic with logic.

Have the following conversation with yourself. This is likely how it will go:


Do I need a 20-minute break?

Your answer: Yes

Why?

Because I'm stressed out.

What do I hope to gain from a 20-minute break?

Freedom to relax and clear my mind.

What would it take for me to feel relaxed and have a clear mind?

I don't know. I don't think it's possible.

When do I feel most relaxed, content, that all is well in the world?

When I feel on top of things, got everything done, organized, and all my demands are met.

Then say to yourself: Sounds like you like to compartmentalize your time and prioritize.

Yes! But you know I can't stop thinking about the next thing that needs to be done. There's just not enough time in the day.


There is a solution: Make relaxation a priority.


Add taking a 20-minute break to your list of what you must get done. It's as essential as finishing that assignment, studying for a test, whatever are your must-do activities. Just as you carve out your time on your to-do list, and you won't stop until it's done, add relaxation to the list, and then do it!


You need to convince yourself that relaxation is as important, if not more important, than work, so you will be emotionally and mentally strong to cope when the paper is not an A, or when the test was too hard... It's fighting your logical excuses for not being able to take a break with a logical argument telling you it is necessary for your survival in school, on the job, and in life.


Working with how a perfectionist thinks provides the solution.


Relaxation then becomes one of your planned activities. It becomes part of your routine.


So, what are you going to do in your 20-minute break? Enter the nothing box! I first heard this term over a decade ago when I saw a video clip by Mark Gungor on the difference between men's brains and women's brains.


How to Get into the Nothing Box


Make sure that what you had planned prior to relaxation is complete - no unfinished business. For me, I work in one-hour blocks of time. I tell myself: this is how much time I'm giving to this activity. If I'm on a roll, I might keep going, but for the most part, when I see that clock approaching that hour, I'll do a mental count down to figure out what I can complete in 3 minutes (or whatever time is left before the hour is up). I know on the hour, it's time to switch my brain off of that activity.


Now when it is time for the 20-minute break, which I've scheduled into my day, I physically remove myself from the location of my work and go to a different space. I don't look at the list of my next thing to do. I find something I enjoy that will distract me from the cares of the day: a core workout in my home gym in the basement, meditation, sitting on my deck reading a novel, going for a run, watching a 20-minute show on Netflix. After that 20 minutes, I'm ready to shift gears and get back to the tasks at hand. I'm relaxed and have a clear mind.


But I have too much to do, you say. At the end of the day, you can do no more. Your body is tired, and your mind is exhausted from all the "what if's" or "I better do this" thoughts. You need to prioritize rest in your life.


Keys to relaxation without guilt:

Accept: that there is only so much time in a day. You did your best for that day. Tomorrow is a new day.

Acknowledge: that you will have good days and bad days, that you won't ace everything or complete everything. Then put those thoughts on the shelf.

Attitude: remember you have a choice everyday regarding your outlook and your expectations. Those are two things a perfectionist can control!


So, take the time to relax!


And for real, my clock is on the hour. I'm going to take a break 😊




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