I’m a tough cookie.
I’ve always had the brush-yourself-off-and-carry-on mentality. I’m pretty sure I learned it from being the youngest of five children and growing up with a mother from England.
That soldier-on mentality has taken me far.
But for a long time, I had all the toughness with none of the compassion for myself. I was confused about what it looked like to “give myself a break.” I would often call myself lazy or unfocused instead.
If I needed breaks during the workday I felt like I had to sneak them in like they were some sort of mental contraband. And I didn’t dare tell anyone. Instead of simply deciding that I would take a few minutes to myself, I had to give a good reason for doing it.
I would get a massage because I needed to de-stress. I would sleep in because I needed to make up for staying up late. Walks and going to the gym were always justified because it was good for my body or I needed to think. Even travel, something I live for, was always justified by experiencing new things or to de-stress (de-stressing was a common justification).
Relaxing always had to have an agenda.
The kicker was that I wasn’t creating these reasons for anyone other than myself. Taking a break —or worse, quitting —without justification would send me into a shame spiral.
Once a friend challenged me to take a break for no reason at all. At first, I thought, “No problem! Why don’t you challenge me to eat a piece of cheesecake while you’re at it?”
But then I saw it. My strong need to declare to myself that I was taking a break because I was challenged by someone. I couldn’t just…take a break.
I wasn’t comfortable with letting myself rest, stop, or even quit something without a “good reason.”
Nope — I was way too tough for that.
It’s important to note that I rarely stopped myself from taking breaks or even quitting things. But I always had a thick layer of discomfort, self-doubt, or even paranoia when I did. I would question myself, “Is this okay?” Compare myself, “No one else needs to take time out.” I would even ask horrible questions like, “Why am I afraid of success?” and, “Why am I hiding?” (Self-help can be used for evil if not careful.)
It was so hard for me to rest without “an agenda.” Meditation, napping, eating — there had to be a reason. Because any attempt to simply, compassionately, take a break for no reason other than “I feel like it” was super uncomfortable.
Because showing myself compassion didn’t fit into the “brush yourself off” model that I excelled at.
To me, compassion showed weakness.
Never did I dare think, “Love – you should just walk away and do nothing for a while.” That was unthinkable — because it contradicted my toughness.
Receiving compassion wasn’t my strong point, either. People showed me plenty – but I deflected it by second-guessing if I deserved it rather than let it sink in.
Failing my “take a break for no reason” challenge rattled me a bit.
So I did something super uncomfortable – I let myself do nothing. This time there really was no agenda, no excuses, no reason.
And I squirmed.
But after practicing moments of doing nothing for a few weeks, I finally felt myself relax.
Quite possibly for the first time with no agenda.
In those moments I relaxed for no reason at all that I found my compassion for myself.
Compassion was nothing to question or measure myself by. It was simply there for me as I needed it. And it didn’t take away from my tough points one bit.
So now I make it a point to take breaks – lots of them – for no reason at all. The beauty of it is my “doing nothing” practice can look like anything – a lot of the time it’s me starting out my office window at the beautiful mountains and daydreaming about nothing at all. It’s getting caught up in text chains with my friends in the middle of the day and taking pictures of my dog. I love a walk with a podcast. The point isn’t what I do – it’s that I do it for joy and absolutely no other reason.
I find it refreshing – more so than relaxing with an agenda. I feel a bigger recharge when I don’t assertively rest.
If you like what you read, check out these other articles by Andrea Hanson:
3. The Quickest Way to Change Your World
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