Give Yourself The Break You Need
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I talk a lot about striving for goals, challenging your anxieties, letting go of resistance, and just about anything else regarding self-development but one thing I have not spoken about is just taking a break. You know why? Because I am awful at doing it.
See, I would like to put it down to being a growth-focused individual and trying to maximise my time, but there is a fine line between productive work and excessive overworking. I have a habit of falling into the latter. Maybe it is the fact I work a day job that requires much of my time and attention so when it comes to this work, I know I have a limited timeframe at which I can put in the work but even so, my work-play balance is so far out of equilibrium I have barely any time to play at all.
Issues of course arise because I burn myself out. A lot. In the midst of my daily-frenzy, I have very little time to actually rest and ingest all the information I have taken in. This made me think about personal development in general and where I feel like many of us slip up on this journey. I think many of us — myself included — can get caught in the trap of constantly striving to improve assuming the more we take in the more we will grow. It seems logical to assume so but just like working a muscle in the gym, without proper rest, that muscle is not going to consistently grow.
A Mental Plateau
There is a phenomenon called plateauing in fitness whereby over-working a specific muscle group — say legs for example — will lead to a point where you find it increasingly difficult — or stop completely — gaining strength in that area. Our brains are no different.
There is only so much information our brains can take in in a day before they just cease to take in any more. After all, cognitive overload is a thing. Teachers must be mindful as to how much information they are giving their students due to the fact that the brain can only take in so much content at one time. This is due to the fact that our working memory — short-term memory — has a limited capacity as Joanne Cantor, Ph.D talks about in Psychology today.
“Even though we can store virtually limitless amounts in our long-term memory, we can only keep a small amount of information in focus at any given time” -Joanne Cantor Ph.D
There will inevitably reach a point in the midst of your daily scramble for information whereby your brain will fail to make productive use of any more content. You will mentally plateau. Not only is this detrimental because we are literally wasting our time trying to take in more information, but the stress of cognitive overload will also be impacting the next stage of our learning.
It Takes Time To Truly Learn
It takes time for your short-term memory to be converted into long-term memory and that involves sleep and rest. As Alex Dimitriu M.D. talks about in Psychology Today.
“The sleeping brain, with greatly reduced exposure to external stimuli, provides optimal conditions for memory consolidation, which strengthens and integrates new memory into existing knowledge networks”-Alex Dimitriu M.D.
In the midst of our daily scramble for information; the several podcasts we listen to, the self-help book, the TED Talks, and the endless drove of self-inquiry, it is very unlikely we are giving ourselves any time at all to allow our mind to consolidate everything we have learned. It is also likely that half of the information we have been taking in will not be consolidated due to the capacity of our short-term memory being full at the time of learning.
This cognitive overload can also be detrimental because overworking our brain can lead to stress and one of the biggest factors that will affect our quality of rest, is stress.
“If it doesn’t look like delays in falling asleep, it could very well look like waking up multiple times in the middle of the night. Stress and anxiety also impact the amount of time we spend in the deeper stages of sleep, which are important for our brain and body’s repair and recovery.” -Wendy Boring-Bray, Psychology Today
Can we all relate to this? Because I most definitely can. There have been countless times where I have spent the day cramming in information only to physically feel like my brain can not possibly take another self-help mantra. That is ultimately an unhealthy state to be in and one which we must be mindful of as we will be impacting the very thing we are wanting to do, to learn.
Awareness Does Not Equal Change
One of the biggest things driving our personal development is our want to change and to better ourselves. Just one more book, one more podcast, or one more Ted-Talk. We just want to know why we do this or how we can overcome that. However, the fact is, change must move through 3 stages of learning before we can be confident we have actually learned something. These include: acquisition -taking in information -, consolidation -turning it into long-term memory during rest- and recall. Amidst our incessant need to take in information, we are not only sabotaging the consolidation phase but many of us completely ignore the recall phase.
Unless we are taking what we have learned and putting it into practice, we are not going to complete the final stage of learning. True change requires action and action takes time. I remember finding myself getting frustrated over carrying out a behaviour I had been trying to kick for a while only to realise that despite taking in all the information in the world, I was not putting any of it into action. As a result, I found myself back in the same situation I was trying to get out of. Unless we are carrying out this final phase of learning, we may as well not be learning at all.
Be aware of how much you are trying to take in and do not be hard on yourself if you feel like you need a rest. You likely need one. There is no harm in taking time out for yourself away from all the learning. I think many of us strive to constantly learn as a way to cover up underlying inadequacies we feel about ourselves but that is a post for another day. If you truly want to learn then rest is essential. I am writing this as much for myself as I am to you.
Learning is great but it should never be a frantic chase for more and it is essential we are taking the time out to enjoy our lives outside of personal development.
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