You are an ocean. You’re about 60 percent plain water, with an admixture of chemicals that approximate the sea in which your most ancient ancestors evolved. Also like the sea, you are tidal. You ebb and flow. Your heart and lungs continuously contract and expand.
Your circadian rhythms alternate between alertness and sleepiness. You also have ultradian rhythms, multiple physical systems that ebb and flow within each day. Ultradian rhythms control things like your hormonal levels, heat regulation, appetite, and nostril dilation. (Yes! Nostril dilation!)
Unfortunately, you’ve had your natural rhythms disrupted by a culture that praises you for working continuously, and makes you embarrassed or ashamed of the need to rest. But in high performing roles, from musical performance to office work, human beings function best in bursts that max out at 90 minutes. These work periods are interspersed with at least 20-minute periods of R&R (I myself find that 70 minutes on, 30 minutes off, is the best way to get things done).
Here’s my challenge for this month: Try tuning into your innate rhythms, allowing ebbs as well as flows, and see what happens. When you settle into work, or play with your children, or clean the house, set a timer for an hour. Before you start, rate your energy level from 1-10, with 1 being “I am so close to dead I can see Grandma beckoning from heaven,” and 10 being “I am on crack and plan to take over the universe.” Work with full attention until the timer rings, then check your energy levels again. If you feel like resting, even a little, do it. Lie down. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket. Read a book. Close your eyes and feel yourself descend into an ultradian peace. After 30 minutes, check your energy again. If you feel like working, set the timer and dive in again. If you don’t, rest a bit longer, then re-check. All day, follow your own rhythm.
Just paying attention to this will tune you into your own best working pace. If you can keep yourself from comparing your rhythms with others, or insisting on mechanical consistency, or panicking about everything that’s still left to be done (dear, there will always be infinite things left undone) you’ll eventually find yourself working more powerfully and resting more deliciously.
Just to reinforce the importance of ebb, as well as flow, let’s celebrate the resting times. Curl up and rest, cuddled up, eyes closed, nostrils dilated out to here, and trust that when you stop fighting the pull of the tide, the ocean in you will bring everything you need.