Dr. Caroline Leaf – In the middle of a global pandemic, the idea of rest seems so…complicated. What is it? How do you do it? How do you find peace when things seem so crazy? In this podcast (episode #253) and blog, I talk about the difference between resting to restore versus just resting, why rest alone is often not enough, and how to use a Neurocycle to effectively and sustainably restore your mind and brain.
How many of you have ever binge-watched a Netflix show because you desperately needed a break, only to feel completely unrested the minute the binge ends? How many of you went on that weekend break or holiday, and came back feeling like you are still exhausted, even though you spent hours lying on that beach and going for long walks in beautiful scenery?
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone! Indeed, finding ways to rest well can be incredibly challenging — it is a recurring challenge in my life. Although there is a ton of information out there (just look at how many social media posts are encouraging you to make self-care a routine part of your regimen!), so many people are still exhausted and burned out. It seems like almost every day I get a new article or research notification telling me how bad things are!
So, what can we do? Is there hope? Although this may sound counterintuitive, rest has so much to do with the mind. Regardless of what technique we use or thing we do to rest, if we can’t manage what is going through our heads, it can backfire on us, leaving us feeling tired and downcast.
To do this, I recommend doing a Neurocycle, the scientific mind-management process I have developed and researched over the past three decades and discuss in my upcoming book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and in my latest clinical trials. These 5 steps can help you learn how to rest well—speaking from experience.
Recently, I started using the Neurocycle daily to find out why I was still having frequent periods exhaustion and burn-out. I knew the main reason why I felt this way was because of the issues I was dealing with in my business and family—I knew the root cause and was analyzing this because I try to live a mind-managed lifestyle (I really do apply my own system in my life!). I also have an incredible relationship with my husband—we live and work well together. I do daily fasted workouts and hot yoga, I eat real food mindfully, I have daily infrared sauna sessions, and really do try to take care of my mind and body. But still I was not truly resting, and I kept saying “I am so exhausted”. I couldn’t seem to catch my “mental breath”, so I knew something else was going on as well, and that I needed to dig deeper to find the vein of that root in my life.
So, starting on Jan 1st, for around 7 minutes a day, I went through the 5 steps of the Neurocycle (gather, reflect, write, recheck and active reach—see below) to find out why I was not feeling rested even though I was taking “breaks” and living a mind-managed lifestyle. This is what I did daily:
Step 1: Gather
In this step, I gathered awareness of the rest I had that day and my physical and emotional warning signals, behaviors and perspectives.
Step 2: Reflect
I then asked, answered and discussed why I am feeling the way I do, based on what I became aware of in step 1.
Step 3: Write
I then wrote my answers down to help me organize my thinking and gain more clarity into how I felt that day and why.
To do this, I used a Metacog, a way of writing that is naturally and instinctively based on how we try to work out meaning from information. In this method, I focus on the essentials, which is usually around 15 to 35 percent of the information we are processing. For more on this, see my book Think, Learn, Succeed.
Step 4: Recheck
In this step, I did what I call a “mental autopsy”. I rechecked what I wrote on my Metacog, looking for patterns and triggers, and thought about why I felt the way I did and how I can do better.
Step 5: Active Reach
Lastly, I worked out an action for the day from my recheck, which would help me practice what I learnt about myself and my need to rest better that day.
Today is day 34—I still have 29 days of practice left to establish this thought as a habit in this 63-day cycle. However, I was so excited at what I have discovered thus far, which is helping me enormously, that I wanted to share it with you in this podcast and blog.
I noticed the obvious pretty quickly, which was that I still wasn’t taking sufficient time out, and had been swinging between a heavy workload, financial strain, and a family crisis. I addressed this through my active reaches daily by taking time alone in the sauna and having long, hot baths at night. However, I was still battling with exhaustion. So, what was going on here? What was I doing wrong?
My “ah-ha” moment came around day 14 (two weeks in): I had learned how to build rest into my routine, but I still wasn’t fully restoring! So, for the next week, days 15-21, I embraced, processed and reconceptualized this realization using the 5 steps of the Neurocycle until I worked out how to rest to restore versus just rest. And this is what I want to share with you now:
Let’s begin with the definition of restoration. Restoring is a transitive verb; it means to give back, to return, to put or bring back into existence and use…to renew. The opposite of restoration is to weaken, undermine, cripple, undo, depress, split or dull. Rest, on the other hand, is defined as ceasing of activity to relax and refresh, or to recover strength.
I recognized that, by days 19-21, I was getting the rest bit right, but I had missed the restore element. I wasn’t watching what my chaotic mind was doing while I was resting! So, for example, when I binged watched Netflix in my infrared sauna or with my family, or went to an exercise class, or had fun with my family, I was resting physically, but not restoring. Deep down, I was still worrying about a family member, the work I had to do, how this person was going to react to that person and how could I prevent it and all these things! Instead of allowing my mind and brain to renew and return to baseline, thus bringing coherence back into my mind, I was weakening, undermining and undoing my rest, which was impacting me mentally and physically.
After realizing this, I came up with four active reaches I have been doing daily to rest to restore:
1. Taking more thinker moments
Research shows that we spend half to ¾ of our day in our minds and time-traveling through our thoughts and memories. How we do this can either help or harm our ability to rest well, which is why it is important that we take what I call “thinker moments” throughout the day. These are periods where we let our minds wander and daydream, which help us rest and restore because they give our brains the downtime they need to function optimally. When we let our minds wander, we internally reboot our thinking, giving our internal dialogue some quality “me time”.
I have found that the best way to have a thinker moment is to close your eyes and allow your mind to release a free flow of thoughts creatively for 5 minutes. I find that having pen and paper at hand is useful during this process, so you can write down the thoughts that are flowing freely and their direction, as well as the thoughts you keep coming back to that are stealing your peace, which you can then work on in a separate Neurocycle.
2. Avoiding “milkshake” multi-tasking
Multi-tasking is really not good for the brain. Even though we can do it, our minds aren’t good at this kind of scattered, jumpy thinking. It draws energy from our brain and creates something akin to a dust storm in our minds, which can affect our mental and physical health.
When we multitask, we end up with what I call “milkshake thinking”, which is the opposite of mindfulness. Every rapid, incomplete, and low quality shift of thought makes a “milkshake” with our brain cells and neurochemicals, which is the opposite of how the brain is designed to function. When we consciously try to jump rapidly from one task to another, we essentially cloud our ability to concentrate and think deeply, which impacts our ability to do a task well, leading to unnecessary levels of anxiety and stress in our life.
If you are anything like me, sometimes it is hard to resist the temptation to multi-task when resting. However, I realized that when I consciously made an effort not to multi-task (I did a Neurocycle on this too!), I really did feel more restored and renewed.
3. Making my rest periods about myself, not other people.
I came to the realization that I need to make my rest periods about my rest, and stop letting other people pull on my energy reserves. Indeed, you can’t help someone or deal with them if they are on your mind all the time, because it will wear you down. I also realized that being around negative people resulted in poor restoration. I needed to balance my time with healthy people and healthy, happy conversations, and I needed to enforce my own boundaries.
4. Practicing self-regulation.
I realized that I felt more restored if I prepared myself mentally before whatever rest activity I was going to do, and self-regulated my thinking during my periods of rest to make sure I appreciated every moment. I would ask myself questions like “what am I thinking of now?”, “Is this bringing me mental peace?” and “Can I solve it now? If yes, then solve it and move on, and if no, then set a later time to deal with it”.