Eat, Sleep, and Work
There have been plenty of mornings in my life when I have woken up and said, “I’m still tired. I’m still hungry, and I still have to work today.”
Then, shuffling my feet out of bed, I would grab a small bite to eat, get a workout in, take a shower, and head off to work. Once the work day closed out, and it was time to return home, I would eat dinner, prep food and clothes for the next day, and head to bed.
When the alarm would ring bright and early the next day, the process would often repeat itself. The day would pass – all 24 hours – seeming to be filled with three tasks, eating, sleeping, and working.
During times of high stress and frustration, my personal experience has been that I eat more, work more, and sleep less. Sound familiar?
Over time, I’ve realized that I’m not the only person who has gone through this process, or is presently faced with this mindless routine. Recent studies show that 80% of Americans don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables, while approximately 36% of Americans are overweight and/or obese. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) just released an article that more than one-third of Americans aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep. In a 2015 study by Gallup, one-quarter of Americans reported working between 44-59 hours per week.
In piecing this information together, it’s safe to say that Americans eat too much, work too much, and sleep to little. Now, I’m going to hold off on discussing the food component of this and focus on the work and rest components.
With these statistics in mind, ask yourself these two questions:
- Do I sleep (rest) in order to work (labor)?
- Do I work (labor) in order to sleep (rest)?
If you answered yes to the first question, then your response would likely sound similar to, “Yes, I sleep so that I am able to be productive at work and do my job well.”
If you answered yes to the second question, then your response might mimic something such as, “Yes, I work long hours because it’s needed to be successful at my job – even at the expense of my sleep – and I must do it to provide;”
Working to Exhaustion
There was a period in my life when I was working to exhaustion. I remember being a year removed from college, working three jobs that accounted for 60-70 hours of work per week, and I was endurance training a couple more hours each day. I would get to bed around midnight, and the alarm would ring at 4:20AM to begin the next day. I did this for months on end.
In my mind, I was making money and I was improving in my marathon training. However, every once in a while I would hit this wall. Not just any wall. The one made of solid brick that will flat out knock you on your ass. I could barely keep focus at my jobs. I felt sluggish in my workouts. My body felt physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.
We live in a performance driven world. A world where it’s easy to compare ourselves to the person we are competing against regardless of the situation. Hell, we even compare ourselves to our own past performances (possibly even more to our demise). While it’s not a bad thing to ‘get in the zone’ and maximize our performance, it’s not healthy from a holistic standpoint when it compromises our well-being.
When we choose to continue down this path of over-working or over-training or over ‘fill in the blank’, it’s important to remember that keeping this pace is only sustainable for a certain period of time. At some point, our productivity will decrease, our focus will wain, and our functionality will suffer.
This is exhaustion. This is not healthy. This is not good.
So, in continuing with this pattern, you eventually break down and submit to the temptation to put away the computer for an evening, or take a day off from training. You rest and re-charge the batteries. And, once rested well enough (to your own standards), you get back to work – grinding it out, day in and day out – plowing through until the cycle repeats itself and it becomes a habit.
All this said, what if it didn’t reach the point of exhaustion? What if we could sustain our pace of life for a much longer period of time, possibly even infinitely, with proper rest and recovery?
What if resting well enough now, meant saving two days of needed rest in the future? Would you do it?
Resting to Work
For me, there is no better way than starting my day than by being able to wake up in the morning and say, “I slept really well last night, and I feel rested.” Sure this doesn’t happen every night, but it occurs more often than not.
Since adopting an approach to life that finds a healthy balance between work and rest, it has been easier to not only maintain the pace that I’m at, but I have actually been able to improve my performance – particularly in Ironman training.
It’s not always easy, and it can be a work in progress to find a plan of attack that works well to meet your needs.
A method I have found to be beneficial is defining specific times to chunk out the activities that need to be done each day. In chunking out these times, it forces me to be committed to a specific task for a defined period of time.
For example, I know what time I am going to go to bed each evening, and what time I will wake up in order to receive close to 8 hours of sleep. I will also chunk out a time slot for training and workouts, as well as set the parameters for the hours I will fill with work and job related requirements.
Once the time slots are defined, these areas become non-negotiable. This isn’t to say there isn’t an occasion when it requires being flexible and making adjustments, but more than 90% of the time, I’m going to be committed to the boundaries that I have set for myself.
The result is that I have felt more rested, more productive, and more actively engaged in other pursuits.
Because I have time and energy to stimulate my body in areas outside of working myself to exhaustion in any specific area of life. In the midst of adversity, life isn’t easy, but having enough energy to remain focused on the vision and maintaining the desire to change the current conditions, will require balance – proper amounts of work and proper amounts of rest.
In trying to better understand how much of something is too much, there is one question you can ask yourself.
Am I my best self every day if I continue at the pace I’m going, doing what I’m doing, with each day that passes?
Tough question. Does your answer begin with, “No, but…” or “Yes, and…”?
Do you want to be your best self every day when you wake up in the morning? Find a balance in a few areas of life (food, work, rest, etc.), and you’ll find meaning and purpose in everything else.
Now, ask yourself, “Am I working to rest, or resting to work?”