Rest Works

You don’t always know where your next good book is going to come from. You may search for one, but sometimes it will just appear in your life with surprise and delight.

That happened to me on Valentine’s Day this year. An email sales ad graced my inbox that morning. Among the many books, there was one that caught my attention. Moments later, I knew I’d found my next good read!

Written by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the book is titled, “Rest.” Just one simple and short word. Of course, the subtitle is more informative, “Why you get more done when you work less.” After reading the synopsis on the back of the book, I was sold–especially at the low sale price of just four bucks!

Normally, I would download the free sample of a book and check out the author before committing time and money to a new chunk of reading, but this time I didn’t. I knew I wanted, maybe even needed, to read whatever was in between the digital covers. And I’m glad I got it.

Resisting A Rest

Rest” is appealing because we are so busy that we’re too busy to notice how busy we are! We know we need rest, yet we resist it.

In our culture, workaholism is like a badge of honor. Even if you’re not productive, as long as you’re busy, you must be doing something right. The idea is that if you’re not busy then you must be lazy. But there is a good difference between leisure and laziness.

I’m no workaholic, but I do get overworked and stressed. After I ‘clock-out’ from my full-time day job, I ‘clock-in’ at home. Anyone who has kids knows that parenting is a full-time job in itself; you’re ‘on-call’ 24/7. And since my family lives in an old country house on a few acres with farm animals, there’s always a project to work on.

Although life doesn’t take a break and wait for us, we need to take breaks to live. Being human, we could often use some rest. Even God rested after working on His project of creating the universe!

Rest Is For Work

Work is a necessary part of life, so it’s important to say that the book, “Rest,” is not necessarily against work; on the contrary, it’s for it. Since our society prizes being productive, note the subtitle again, “Why you get more done…” This book isn’t just about getting things done, it’s about getting more things done! And it specifically promotes both productivity and creativity. Just work less and you’ll achieve it.

A key idea within is that work and rest are two sides of the same coin. They go together like chocolate and peanut-butter. Both are good, and when put together they’re great!

It’s counter-intuitive and intriguing. We tend to reason that if we work hard, we’ll be accomplished, so if we work longer, then we will be more successful. Yet as many know from first-hand experience, there is a threshold where, once you cross it, your work output diminishes despite more hours worked. Been there, done that.

To the contrary, proper rest (demonstrated in the book) can help you work better so you can turn out more work in less time or turn out higher quality stuff. The mind and body need regular and intentional rest in order to work at their peak potential.

It’s not rocket-science, but there is a lot of neuroscience to it. Early in the book, the author talks about several specific areas of study in the field of neuroscience that shed informing light on how the brain functions with rest. And throughout the book, when citing how rest worked in the inspirational lives of very successful people (both creative and productive), specific facts from the brain-science are cited which serve as supporting evidence. What people have known for years anecdotally is now being understood scientifically. This makes the book both inspiring and encouraging.

Not Resting Doesn’t Work

What makes “Rest” stand out is that it demonstrates with clarity the counter-intuitiveness of the work-rest combo. We don’t so much need a book called “Work” in order to learn how to work better. To work well, you must rest well. And to rest well, you must work at resting. Proper rest is a lot of work because it takes practice. Despite the irony, I find it to be true in my own experience.

There have been times at my job where I worked on a problem and got to the point of beating my head against the wall trying to solve it. And seeing that I was gaining nothing, I would stop and walk away. And that’s when I would start to make progress. It’s like I was trying too hard. But when I stepped back from the problem, giving my brain a little break, my thinking was clearer and better focused.

Work To Live, Don’t Live To Work

Rest” has been a breath of fresh air for me because it brings some relief from the tendency to over-work. Yet it’s hard to find the balance between work and rest. And if you do find it, then it can be even harder to maintain. Rather than going too far in the other direction, “Rest” is work’s counter-weight to attain that elusive balance and stop the trend of diminishing productivity.

Despite the Industrial Revolution, we are not robots on an assembly line; we need breaks and rest. We don’t work like machines, but we can break down like them. We don’t multi-task like computers; we just have too many things going at once, and instead of concentrating on doing one job well to completion, we break our focus and jump between tasks. This is like putting the cart before the horse by emphasizing quantity over quality of work done. That doesn’t work!

So, “Rest.” We need it. We need to do it. We need to do it properly. And we need to do it regularly.

Update 3/17/18: I found a great review of “Rest” in the New York Times only after I’d written my post about it. Arianna Huffington wrote well; take a look!

One Bathroom Is Enough

In my house, seven people share a bathroom. My wife and I, with our five sons, made a big move last year, going from two bathrooms to just one. We had been accustomed to the higher standard of two with all its convenience. At first, my brain wouldn’t consider it feasible or even possible to lower our standard. How could we live with just one bathroom?! Yet over a year later, we learned that it’s enough.

A few week’s ago at dinner, we talked about some goals for the year. One that’s been on the back-burner is adding a second bathroom. In fact, it was a condition of our move. We had determined that we could make one bathroom work long enough until we added the 2nd bath. So we started discussing the details on how to make the addition.

I kept leaning into simplicity. My thoughts were on eliminating pipe work for the toilet and instead going with a composting commode. Keep it simple! Minimizing piping would save time, money, and hassle. Then we thought further, why not eliminate the shower? A half-bath addition would be simpler than a full-bath.

With this minimalist train of thought, we considered what we really needed versus what we wanted. This led us to a surprising yet logical conclusion: we could do away with the second bathroom altogether and…live with just one like we’d been doing for the past year! Talk about simplicity.

After proving to ourselves it was possible for 7 people to share 1 bathroom, we realized it was also feasible. It’s definitely easier to keep making one bathroom work than trying to build more bath space. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sure, it’d be more convenient to have two bathrooms, but it would also be more work in building and maintaining.

More is not always better.

We plan to stick with one bathroom for now because we’ve proven that it’s enough.

That’s the ideal. Enough.

It’s true that our one bathroom doesn’t always feel like enough. Sometimes one of us must wait in the hallway, doing that little squirming dance. My wife and I don’t get to enjoy having a Master Bath all to ourselves. Sometimes the shower runs out of hot water and you don’t want to be third in line. It might seem less than ideal in some ways, but it works well enough!

So this ‘lower standard’ is our ideal; we are learning that living with less is enough. Whether one bathroom or two (or many things versus few), maybe the right term is contentment, because in some ways, enough is immeasurable.

Living With Less Is Enough

A notion struck me about a year ago. I don’t know if it could be called an epiphany or not. But it was like the movie Inception; an idea seemed to be deeply planted into the core of my being. It moved me to make some changes in my life, including one of the biggest: moving to a new home. The idea was: “enough.”

Before the idea of enough took hold of me, I thought that moving to less of something meant…settling for less, sacrificing my current level of comfort. And who wants to lower their standard of living when you could have more!?

I thought the idea of less would mean giving up things I was holding onto. I had an aversion to loss; I just couldn’t let go of some things I had or even things I wanted to attain. The idea of owning less seemed inconvenient and impractical; it made me feel uncomfortable.

Instead of having less, I thought the opposite – I would need more!

But in the end, thinking about the idea of enough caused me to see things differently. I began to realize that fewer things, possessing older or simpler things, could still meet all my needs…sufficiently.

Fewer things and older things are not lesser things; they are enough!

What I thought was less was actually enough. Knowing that, I became able to freely let go of the many better things I was holding onto without feeling loss or fear.

With that big turn-around, I felt a calming freedom, a kind of contentment, which allowed me to make a bold move to a new home. Only it was really an old home! It wasn’t necessarily a lesser home, just an older home. Not only that, it was a smaller home, but still, not a lesser home. In fact, it was enough home for us.

My wife and I with our 5 sons moved from our 1,500 sq ft home into a 1,200 sq ft home. We went from having two bathrooms to sharing only one – without even a bathtub for our 2-year old! Scary…but it works. Although difficult sometimes, it’s enough!

Don’t let what you want get in the way of what you need.

There are other big examples too. We need mobile transportation from point A to point B. We want the newest nicest car. Because for some reason a 5 year old used car isn’t quite as shiny even though it runs great. We need mobile communication to and from others. We want the latest fanciest iPhone. Because somehow anything less just isn’t enough to make phone calls and texts.

And because the fancy car and amazing phone cost too much, suddenly we don’t have enough money! Really? So then we finance or subsidize, hoping that we somehow will have enough money in the future, month after month, year after year of payments.

If you can sort out your needs from your wants, things start getting simpler. Not lesser. Simpler isn’t lesser. In fact, simpler is usually better.

What’s better really, to get more or be content with what you already have? We can look at what we have and be thankful and content. Or we can look at what we don’t have and think we don’t have enough, which means living in discontentment. This makes the things you already own (and could be enjoying) become disregarded and then discarded.

Just because you say, “No” to more doesn’t necessarily mean your saying “Yes” to less. Rather, you’re realizing that what you already possess is enough.

In a materialistic consumer culture, contentment is hard to come by. Like happiness, you can’t buy it in a store. If that were possible, I’d order it on Amazon with next-day shipping instead of 2-day shipping!

But haven’t we consumed enough?

More Than Enough Is Not Enough

More Than Enough Versus Enough

It may seem a bit counter-intuitive at first, that “more than enough” is not enough. How can that be? I mean, if you have more than enough, then you surely have enough, plus more! That makes sense.

But my point is more…strict, for lack of a better word. In math terms, let’s say “enough” is equal to one. Then “more than enough” is equal to any number greater than one, for example two. And two is not one; it’s two!

Why strain at such a distinction? Well, hopefully to make a good point. I’m trying to distinctly ask the helpful question, “How much is enough?” The answer is classic: Enough Is Enough. So “more than enough” is not enough.

The Problem Of More Than Enough

You might be wondering, “So what’s the problem with having more than enough?” Looking at the big picture, it’s not ideal. You want to aim for the middle of the spectrum, which is just enough. On the left end, you have the problem of less than enough. And on the right end you have the problem of more than enough. In general, you want just enough because anything else is either too little or too much.

Most times, people agree that having less than enough is a problem. And the solution is to gain more until you have enough. But instead of stopping there, they extend it further, believing that if “enough” solves the problem, then “more than enough” solves the problem even more!

That sounds good on the face of it. If “enough” is good, then “more than enough” is better, right? But the problem is that “more” tends to create more problems than it solves. In a word, it becomes excess.

So what about excess? The minimalists say this about it:

“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Excess Versus Extra

There is a subtlety to the problem of “more than enough.” While you might think of it as extra, my point is that it tends to be excess. And when it comes to minimalism, extra is excessive. And excess is the enemy of enough.

“Excess is the enemy of enough.”

Of course, you might quickly say that not all extra is excess. In some cases, a little more than enough is a good thing, like putting extra money in your savings account. But I think in the majority of cases, we inadvertently succumb to the trap of excess. We tend to slip beyond having just enough and find ourselves overwhelmed by too much of something: too much food, too much time on Facebook, too much…[fill in the blank].

So even though a little extra is technically “more than enough”, it can still be an acceptable amount sometimes. You just gotta be careful about it because we live in a culture of consumerism and materialism in which gaining more and more is the trend. (Minimalism strives to reverse that trend.)

Need Versus Want

How do you be careful to avoid excess? One simple way is to ask yourself about your needs versus your wants.

I’m sure you’ve been through something like this before. You’re at the checkout line buying what you need. And then the Milky Way candy bar catches your eye. And the caramel from within calls to you. Suddenly, you need to satisfy your sweet tooth. I know. I’ve been there more than enough times! So you ask yourself in that situation, do you really need that candy or do you just want it? And you look at your groceries, realizing you’ve already got plenty of snacks you’re about to buy.

The most common scenario seems to be a closet full of clothes and shoes. Most people in America have more than enough clothing. Yet we tend to keep buying more. In fact, decluttering your closet and dresser is one of the top posts on minimalism blogs. How did all that excess sneak in there? I think this can be addressed by just getting brutally honest about what you really need instead of what you really want.

So you might need extra, but you tend to want excess (whether you realize it or not). I believe that’s a truth most folks would agree with. Yet we tend to “forget” it in our daily life until it’s too late, like when the dirty laundry is stacked up. In exasperation you sigh, “Why are there so many clothes?”

Stop The Excess Trend

The call to action in this type of case is to donate, out of your over-abundance, a portion of your wardrobe to goodwill. But has the problem of more than enough been solved? Not really. A symptom has been alleviated, but the root cause remains.

Overall, the call to action here is to be mindful of these simple truths: “more than enough” is not ideal; it tends to become excess. And we tend to not notice the subtle excess growth, so be aware! I hope this blog post is a good reminder. Remember these things as you go throughout your days and weeks, asking yourself if you really need all that you already have, and do you truly need more of what you want to buy.