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Guilt Free Rest in 3 Steps

guilt free rest hustle culture intentions productivity self-compassion work/life balance Apr 10, 2022

I stopped doing this. You should too. And here’s why….

I stopped having productive rest days. 

If you reflect on the past month, how many times did you comment on how tired you felt? It is a collective feeling and a way to connect by talking about who feels more exhausted. But, unfortunately, the conversation usually moves toward a long list of activities and responsibilities as the culprit. This is unhealthy and traditionally misdirected to the trustworthy source of the problem.

Today, I’m telling you that the culprit isn’t your full calendar but PRODUCTIVE rest days.

There are tons of articles and books about how rest can help improve your productivity. And even more pieces for leaders and businesses on why they should allow employees to rest for a higher efficiency rate.   Improved productivity may be true, but it flies in the face of the entire point of rest. Productivity and high efficiency are benefits, but they’ll backfire when set as the goal. 

Productive rest days are just hustling in disguise. It means you continue to over-extend, but more detrimental is that you overthink and harbor guilt. That’s not rest! Let’s call it what it is - productivity. 

Rest comes from the word restoration. The restoration we seek is for our body, mind, and heart. When we are genuinely restored, all three parts of ourselves are in balance and rest. If we seek productivity certainty, one of these areas is not getting the needed restoration. Most often, it’s our mind that suffers because even when true clean rest is reached, guilt creeps in. 

The dreamy concept of Guilt-Free Rest isn’t an urban legend. It’s possible and attainable, so before I give you the secret sauce, I want to make sure we are on the same page regarding guilt-free. 

By definition, guilt equals culpability and wrongdoing. Guilt-free rest is not doing something wrong. It is doing something right. As it may sound like polarized thinking, this is a situation where it is that clear; either you experience proper rest, or you don’t. Productive, guilt-ridden rest will not help you reach the desired result of restoration. Guilt-free rest doesn’t mean you have to sit still and do nothing. Restoration can come in many different forms, both active and still. 

Here are the three steps to reach guilt-free rest:


Step 1:  Set your intention. 

Why are you resting? Your employer may want you to rest, so you have enhanced performance. But does this match your goal for rest?   Asking this question if you have a single afternoon or a two-week vacation helps put the desired result in focus.   The intention will be personal.   Some examples of intention might be 

Step 2: Check-in 

Once you know the intention for your rest, you can check in with yourself throughout the time to see if you are staying the course. Asking yourself,  “Is this prioritizing my needs?” will help bring into focus the intention you named.   If you have choices to make during your rest period, checking in with how the options align with your purpose can feel very empowering. 


Step 3: Self-compassion

If your days of rest have had the goal of productive rest until now, it’ll take a bit before your brain understands you are trying to do something different.   Thoughts of emails, unfinished reports, unloaded dishwashers, full laundry baskets, and disorganized garages may be intrusive on your rest. It isn’t that these tasks aren’t essential or that you never need to do them, but experiencing true guilt-free rest is as crucial, in fact, MORE critical for your wellbeing.   When these thoughts intrude on your rest, there is no need to punish or ridicule yourself but instead respond with self-compassion.   You can reflect on how work is vital in that it provides a salary to live, and therefore you want to make sure you do the best possible to be a valuable employee. And thank your brain for helping you remember this, and then go back to step one and place your intention for rest.   Now is the time for rest, and work is the time for emails.  

Repetition is the way to help your brain understand you want to do something different. If you continue to struggle with guilt, it may be time to examine your values to understand your life expectations better. Values come from our families, but as we become adults, we get to choose the values we live by intentionally. Values are personal and chosen. If a family value were focused on HARD work and sacrifice, for example, it would take some additional time in step 1 to not only set your intention but name the value you want to align with while resting. The new value may be BALANCED work or EQUITABLE work. 

When you can name the intention for your rest, check in regularly with yourself during the rest period, and express self-compassion when your brain tries to revert to the old way of thinking, guilt-free rest is attainable. Of course, the benefits of proper rest expand enjoying time off, but we can regulate our emotions, reduce stress, and function better in our day-to-day lives. 

What would you say if I told you that spending 5 minutes per day supporting your mental wellness could improve your gut health? And 5 minutes per day helping your gut health could improve your mental health?


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