History has been peppered with monumental, life-shaping moments we’ve seen played out on the world stage. The moon landing. The assassination of JFK. The Berlin Wall coming down. And we all remember exactly where we were when Charlie Sheen said “Winning!”
We as a human race are highly competitive people. The first recorded competition was Cain and Abel, a scant four chapters into recorded history. That one had a pretty severe outcome. It’s been said that the first car race happened 5 minutes after the second Model T rolled off the assembly line. We are, by nature, competitors. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “driven” person, I can likely guarantee that you’re a comparing person. Competition and comparing go hand in hand but are not mutually exclusive. You can be comparative without being competitive but you can’t really be competitive without being comparative.
And that has got me thinking.
I was just listening to a podcast called “All It Takes Is A Goal”, (ATG for all us insider hipsters) hosted by Jon Acuff. He was interviewing a fellow overachiever named Brendan Leonard, some schlump who ONLY ran 52 marathons in 2019. Its a great episode and I recommend it, however there was a moment in that conversation that wasn’t surprising as much as it was jarring.
From minute 25:17 to 6 seconds later at 25:23, these two behemoths of accomplishment commiserate on their shared inability to relax. Here’s how it went:
Jon: “What does it mean for you to lean into relaxing?”
Brendan: “I wish I had an answer for ya.”
Jon: “I know.”
I wouldn’t say that at the moment a lightbulb clicked on in my mind, but I would stay that a lightbulb filament kind of started flickering. Wait. Are there filaments anymore? Are we so LED lust-laden that the filament factory closed down and called it quits?
My first flicker was, “Geez, if THESE guys don’t know how to relax how can they help anyone else learn how?” Cue the ironic 1940’s radio drama pipe organ background music that indicates I’ve just fallen back into comparing and competing.
My almost immediate second flicker (flickering a teensy bit stronger) was, “Wait a second. I know how to relax.”
My third flicker which brought me to this keyboard to tap, delete, and tap some more was, “I could probably pound out a couple hundred words about how to relax, then I could post it on my blog, then people would read it, then maybe Jon and/or Brendan would catch wind of it, then they could relax, too.” Then I thought, “Nah, it shouldn’t matter if Jon Acuff or Brendan Leonard ever even see my blog post about them and their collective inability to relax. That’s not the point of my blog. When I started this blog, I clearly stated the purpose of my blog and it didn’t include the objective of helping workaholics who can’t relax.”
So, for the rest of you I want to share how to relax. You can disagree with these steps but I don’t think you will. And no that’s not a Jedi mind trick telling you that you won’t disagree with what I’m about to say. And no, these are the droids you’re looking for.
Step 1: Stop.
I don’t think you have some Messiah Complex where you think that the world will fall apart if you stop doing what you’re doing for a second. But I bet there’s a twinge of messiah complex (I went with the lower case “m” on that one) wherein you probably think YOUR world will collapse if you hop off the hamster wheel that’s connected to the string that’s powering the pulley that makes the gears turn that keeps you and your loved ones fed and clothed and sheltered. We’re like that. There’s a percentage of your brain that’s still imaging yourself as the critical piece of the puzzle. If you stop, it all falls apart. I’m telling you its not true. Are you important, unique, gifted, and a giver? Of course you are. Will that stop being true if you stop? Nope. Not a chance.
Stopping involves a consciousness that demands you to downshift on your own self perception. That’s not the easiest thing to do, is it, little m messiah? What I’m suggesting is that you simply do it. Stop. Stop what you’re doing. Unless you’re an EMT straddling an unconscious individual on a gurney and your job is to squeeze that rubber bag attached to that air mask strapped to that person’s face to keep them alive then you can likely simply stop right now and you’ll be fine. So will the rest of us. It’s okay. Go ahead.
Step 2: Stop more.
Because let’s be honest. You’re not really stopping after Step 1. You’ve maybe slowed down, but haven’t stopped. So stop more until you’ve stopped. Seriously, you’re too important to view yourself as so important that you can’t stop. See how that works?
Step 3: Walk.
I don’t give two rips where you walk. Just change the scenery. I’m not necessarily saying “go for a walk”. I’m just saying go as far as you need to to change what you see. That could be 10 steps, that could be 10 blocks, and that could be 10 cities. A change in scenery will do you good. (That’s a song, isn’t?) When my wife and I daydream about our next vacation or day trip, it invariably includes a statement like, “I don’t care, just get me out of Chesterfield County.” Relaxing is more difficult when you stay staring at the thing that’s work for you. So walk until you can’t see that thing anymore. And stay there until you start to forget what that thing even was, or is. Again, this whole step could take you 5 minutes, 5 hours, or 5 days.
Step 4: Risk.
Your veins are craving adrenaline. When was the last time you dumped some so it could course through your body, reminding you that you’re actually a living thing? Find whatever it is that gives you adrenaline–even a light dose–and do it. I’m not saying you have to go heli-skiing Alaska’s Chugach Range with your hair on fire. Someone recently gave me a slackline they were done with (which is the natural condition of most slacklines) so I strung it up between two trees in my backyard. When I need a boost, I step outside and try to walk the 10 foot span of slackline between those trees. Have I done it yet? Nope. Will I? Bet. *That’s how the kids say “Yes”. And after I can do that, I’m planning on stringing it over the small stream that runs through our property. It’s not the Flying Wallendas, but its still adrenaline.
Step 5: Never return.
This one’s tricky, but what if you came back without returning? What if you physically came back to “work” but mentally and emotionally chose not to return to where you were before you relaxed? What would happen? Is that even possible? Heck if I know. But every so often I imagine that its my first day on the job, the last guy was let go, but I have access to everything he knew. What would I do differently than I did before? I sure wouldn’t ask “What did the last guy do because I just want to do things like that.”. Have you ever wanted to see any kind of change in your life? Well, not to state the obvious but change doesn’t start without you. So start with an adjustment to what’s normal for you and embrace the new thing that happens as you do.
All this seems to be intrinsically important to a life that has some forward motion to it. Relaxing isn’t a backwards step, its a purposeful stop that ultimately propels you even further. When was the last time you actually relaxed and reaped the benefits of it?