Brain Food #637

Resting is not the same as quitting

Thoughts of the day

In the past year, our bodies may have been less active, but our minds have been in overdrive, and as all days merged into one, with no physical boundaries to distinguish a Sunday from a Thursday, we are now asked to untangle them, to go back to a life of less languishing.

There seems to be a misconception in the realm of productivity, that stopping is a synonym for quitting. Phone notifications remind us there is some streak we are breaking, some action we haven’t taken today. Unanswered messages soon turn into a virtual mountain, indifferent to all the other demands a day bestows on us. In a recent survey, more than a third of UK workers admitted they were afraid to ask for a two-week holiday, due to work stigma. More than half of Americans end each working year with unused vacation benefits.

The world is designed to prevent us from stopping - inevitably, it will carry on without us, both in minuscule ways like our colleagues continuing to work while we are on vacation, or grander ways, like the people around us waking up for another day, when we will not.

Yet it is often useful to remember that resting is not the same as quitting. I have been trying to follow the approach of squeezing fewer things in one day, and doing them well. Leaving space between tasks, which can act as useful processing time, or simply as room to breathe, both for the work and for oneself.

In Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, beloved author Maya Angelou wrote:

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

Her message is simple: there will be no day without problems to face, but there can be a day without problems confronted.


Sea Watchers, painted in 1952 by Edward Hopper. The appeal of Hopper’s characters may well spring from the fact that, though they rarely look free from troubles, they are always sitting or standing still.