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The Art of Relaxing: How Doing Nothing Can Lead to More Happiness and Success

“Sometimes it’s important to work for that pot of gold. But other times it’s essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.”~Douglas Pagels

 December 29th 2012, 5:45am, Panama City airport.

My mom, my sister and I are on vacation in Panama. We’re waiting to board a plane to San Blas, a little piece of heaven in the middle of the ocean.

I’m sitting there, deep in thought…

But I’m not thinking about the sandy beaches, palm trees and hammocks that are waiting for me.

Not at all.

Instead, I’m furiously writing down blog post ideas and jotting down notes about different concepts that are going through my mind.

I’m in the zone.

My sister looks at me suspiciously and asks (in French): “So… while we’re there, do you think you’re going to be able to do nothing and actually relax?”

I look up.

Uh? What do you mean? I’ll do whatever I want!” I reply, slightly irritated.

A few minutes later, I start wondering why her question got on my nerves like that.

Part of it is due to the fact that it’s damn early… but the real reason is that deep down, I know she has a valid point.

For the last 1.5 years, since I’ve created this website and started really going for it and pursuing my passions… I’ve had some weird disability: I struggle to really relax.

I have this almost constant urge to do something that moves me closer to my dreams (either taking action or learning)… or to do something wild and exciting.

But relaxing and doing nothing… Not so much.

This super-productive hyperactivity helps me gets stuff done and reach my goals… But is it really the best way to live my life?

Is this almost obsessive pursuit of excellence a good thing, or would dialing it down a bit actually be beneficial?

Is Relaxing a Waste of Time?

Over the next few days, I kept pondering this…

One voice in my head kept saying:

Life is short, why waste it relaxing and doing nothing?

While another kept repeating the exact opposite:

Life is short, might as well relax a little bit and enjoy the ride…

I came up with good arguments from both sides, and I couldn’t figure it out.

Until one day I did a journaling exercise called ‘The 110 Year Old You’.

It’s quite simple…  Imagine that the 110-year-old version of yourself came from the future to see you, and had only 2 minutes to share some wisdom with your current self…

What would he/she say to you? What kind of advice would he/she give you?

As I did the exercise, the answer became crystal clear… My 110 Year Old Self told me:

Phil…life isn’t a race, or a competition… It’s an experience to be savored.

Enjoy every moment as much as you can, and don’t worry, it’s all going to work out just fine.

Don’t go too fast. Don’t rush to “get there”… There is no “there”.

All you have is now. Right now. That’s it. So lighten up a little!

When it’s time to work, roll up your sleeves, get focused and get busy. And when you’re done, kick up your feet and relax. You’ve earned it.

You’re doing a mighty fine job son. You should be proud of yourself.

Breathe. Smile. Enjoy.

I believe in you.”

Thanks, Old Phil!

From that point on, I devoted the rest of my trip to relaxing and living la dolce vita.

I looked at the Panameans living on those small islands, they who lived much slower than I did, and tried to learn from their ways…

(Travelling is a great way to realize that us North Americans are INTENSE. In most parts of the world, people live way slower than we do… and they also smile a lot more. Coincidence? I think not.)

The hammock became my second home, I read some awesome books, had some great long conversations with my mom…

I chilled out.

It was wonderful.

Why Relaxing is Good For Us

As I started to relax, I felt a lightness in my soul, and I started to notice the little things around me more.

A pretty flower. A fragrant smell. A majestic tree. The smile of a beautiful girl. A contagious laugh. The feel of the fresh grass beneath my feet.

My senses became amplified. I felt good, real good.

When we’re living at 100miles/hour, it’s kinda hard to enjoy the scenery, isn’t it?

Then, I started to realize that only by slowing down we can really hear the whispers of the Universe and open ourselves up to divine insights.

As Deepak Chopa writes in The 7 Laws of Spiritual Success, “Silence is the great teacher and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence.

Moreover, it’s in those moments that we can recharge our batteries, so that when it’s time to shine, we can do so as brightly as possible.

If we want to be able to bring 100% intensity to our work, we have to be willing to dial it down to 0% intensity sometimes.

It’s the Yin and Yang. They’re not opposites. They’re complements. One cannot exist without the other.

yin-yang-symbol-large

Let’s Fight Back the “Busyness”

We live in a society that’s addicted to stimuli, to action, to always doing something (or checking our phone)…

Along the way, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to just be. To just be content right here and now, doing nothing, enjoying the experience of being alive.
Tim Kreider wrote a wonderful article in the NY Times called “The Busy Trap” that talks more about that phenomenon…

As he writes, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

Powerful words…

***

My friend, as you know, I’m all for pursuing big dreams and creating the life we really want.

I value discipline, commitment and hard work.

I believe we can achieve anything we want so long as we’re willing to go for it and put in the necessary efforts.

But achievement is only one part of this big adventure called life, one dish in a large buffet of experiences.

Relaxing is another one. And it tastes just as good.

Here’s a delightful poem that captures the idea perfectly.

It’s called Slow Dance and it’s by David L. Weatherford.

Have you ever watched kids
On a merry-go-round?

Or listened to the rain
Slapping on the ground?

Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.
The music won’t last.

Do you run through each day
On the fly?

When you ask: How are you?
Do you hear the reply?

When the day is done,
Do you lie in your bed 

With the next hundred chores
Running through your head?

You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.
The music won’t last. 

Ever told your child,
We’ll do it tomorrow?

And in your haste,
Not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die 

Cause you never had time
To call and say, “Hi”?

You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.

Time is short.
The music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.

When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift thrown away.

Life is not a race.
Do take it slower.

Hear the music
Before the song is over.

Take a deep breath, and let those beautiful sink into your soul. Take a another deep breath. Smile. Ahhhh. :)

Relaxing In Everyday Life

So now that I’m back home and this holiday is over, I’m committing to making relaxation a bigger part of my life this year.

How?

  • Taking a yoga class each week
  • Meditating every morning for 30 minutes
  • Having one long dinner with friends each week
  • Going hiking every weekend
  • Making Saturday a “No-Work Day”
  • Watching more movies
  • Taking baths
  • Journaling more
  • Cuddling more

As Sir John Lubbock (a man who reached great heights in the fields of finance, politics, archeology, biology and ethnography) once wrote, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

Amen brother!

So how about you?  How do you relax? How do you balance pursuing your goals and chilling out?

Let me know in comment section below!

Here’s to dancing slow,

Choose Greatness,
Phil

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22 Comments

  • Read more books, don’t watch more movies!

    • Good point.. I’ll definitely keep on reading a lot, but I only watched like 5 movies in all of 2012.. and sometimes it’s good to just lay down on the couch and be entertained with minimum effort :)

      • I’m with you, Phil. I am a literature fiend, and don’t even have cable. But, I still love to cuddle up on the couch under a blanket and watch a good movie. Or take myself to the theatre every now and then to just be entertained. But, one of my favorite ways to relax is with a book in my bed.

  • I like to read books, but mostly I love playing and coddling
    with my dog! Seeing her being so happy simply because my dad just got back from work reminds me that joy comes from the small things in life :)

    • That’s awesome :) I feel the same way with children, in a perfect world I’d love to get a chance to play with kids for a few minutes each day.. totally uplifts me and reminds me that life ain’t so complicated after all!

  • It’s about what kind of movies you watch.You can also learn a lot in movies.Watching a movie is not a waste of time.Cinema is art as literature.

  • My boyfriend and I sit in his bed and read books side by side. We usually incorporate either tea, wine, or coffee, and the only interruptions come when one of us wants to share a part of our book that we like. Mostly, it’s cozy and quiet. And snuggly :)

  • I try to “get in the moment” every day and just observe and enjoy what is.

    Plus you know me… Nothing beats laying on a beach getting some sweet vitamin D. Going for bike rides ( which PS you pretty much got me into in Perth ) is something I try to do a lot of. You get some exercise, relax, as see new things.

    I walk Duks every day too – forces you to stop what your doing and go outside

  • Phil, self-care is so important, and yet most of us really suck at it. We put everyone else, and everything else, ahead of ourselves, and relegate our enjoyment to the ‘someday’ pile. There are only seven days in a week and Someday is not one of them. My challenge to myself is to spend time with friends or family at least one day a week, either in person or by telephone.

  • Your the man Phil. Much love

  • Great post! I really liked it :D.
    It really makes me understand how important is to live in the present, in the now, and not to make your free time a work-stress routine.
    I want to make a lot of things, but will not forget the art of relaxing and living in the now.
    Thanks again for the post!
    Julián

  • Hi Phil,

    This article came to me at a really good time. One part was especially bang-on – being unable to relax for the past 1.5 years since you’ve been really pursuing your dream, and feeling like every moment should be dedicated to learning or action. Funny, even the timing was right – I work as a personal trainer and nutrition coach, and about 1.5 years ago is when I started getting more involved with coaching side of things and pursuing my own personal and professional learning/development more actively.

    I also wanted to thank you for your article about making a good start to 2013. I used it as the framework for a team meeting on expanding our business, and we ended up having a really productive, honest and interactive discussion.

    You’ve probably been told this before but I think you have a great energy – there’s a lot of lightness and positivity that comes through in your writing, a really joyful and pro-active simplicity even when you’re talking about challenging ideas. Really lovely to see.

    Looking forward to your next post,

    Martina

  • Excelent article!!! Some how gave me hope to relax without any guilt feeling.

  • What do I think? I think this is an excellent article and that more people should take the time to relax. I feel like so many people are so into their jobs that they forget about their friends, family, and the little time we have left here on Earth to enjoy what has been given to us. It’s okay to relax without any guilt because we work so hard. It’s okay to take a day for ourselves because we do deserve to lay around and do nothing for at least one day.

    That’s the one thing I loved about Europe when I went on a cruise a few years ago. People on that side of the world take their time and businesses just open whenever they feel like it. They just enjoyed life. When I came home, I realized that America is all about “Go! Go! Go! Hurry!” It was a huge eye-opener forme. I think we need to take a few pointers from our European friends. :)

    You have a new reader! :)

    • Thanks for the great comment Huong! I totally agree, and I still catch myself often. It’s especially hard when we have big goals we’re really pumped about reaching..but the irony is that RESTING more will help us get there faster (it’s all about finding that magic ratio). Cheers for lazy Sundays :)

  • Well said, it’s exactly what I have to be reminded of w/ such perfect timing on how I feel at the moment…. Coincidence, I think not. Namaste.

  • My favourite poem: Leisure by WH Davis.
    It’s a beautiful read.

  • My favourite poem: Leisure by WH Davies.
    It’s a beautiful read.

  • “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~ Lao Tzu

    i enjoy your website :) im going through a yang busy time at the moment yet I have found that the yin is the most powerful force underneath it all… while yang movement and achievement is all good as it needs to move and be expressed… there is something that is already complete and needs nothing….

    sometimes there is nothing to do and nowhere to be… let the randomness of thoughts just come and go, give them no importance… its already perfect… you are already perfect… i have found when you can really sit in this place, inspiration comes from there in its own time… it only takes a second or two to connect with this place… the more you do it the easier it is and the more powerful it is…

    if you keep burning the yang without cultivating the yin you can burn out…ive seen many who have… it manifests as chronic fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, anxiety issues, insomnia, heart attacks etc… depending on age and constitution you can burn the yang for a number of years (around 5 or so, more if you’ve got a good constitution) before it will manifest as illness… and then it can take a lot of effort to bring the yin back in… but if you keep tapping into yin every day, week etc. you can keep cranking for many years without illness, adrenal exhaustion or heart problems.

    “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.:” ~Chinese Proverb.

  • That’s what I love so much about my time in Mexico. http://adventurezinmexico.blogspot.mx/ It is slower and well nature just presents it’s self in such a way you just want to stop and take it all in. My child helps me see things that I would take for granted. Like ants for example…it’s only because she gets down there and really looks at them and then tells me about them, that I do it too and see how amazing they are. Simple things like that. Being at the ocean and in the sun and the breezes and no tv all really help. Still I worked on my blog a lot while I was there and on videos..it wasn’t until my computer broke I sat back and realized the universe was really trying to tell me to watch those sunrises and start painting again. So I really loved what you wrote here. I know the meditation thing is the part I want to work on most. It seems the hardest to settle into but it’s the most rewarding. Anyways thanks for sharing your wise words. I really enjoyed this post. :D

  • Phil, great article. Once we learn how to slow down, we still relearn how to slow down but at differing depths for different times and thresholds in our lives. If we realize the sacredness of our work, no matter what we do, the warmth of the light and love from our souls can be a blessing to others. John O’Donohue puts it best in his “The Blessing of Your Work”. I hope while you were at the San Blas Islands you had the chance to eat chicken eggs which tasted like fish, slept on a bed planted in the sand under a hut by the water, heard the birth of a baby under the full moon with its island celebration (not mine!) , met a wonderful albino woman midwife from their culture (worshiped by them too), purchased a hand made, freshly washed mola off the clothes line of one of the woman from one of the islands, rode in a dug out boat with your pilot catching your dinner using a fish line in his bare hands! San Blas people taught me 30 years ago how to slow down! Thanks for the posting and have a fruitful 2014 in the way its needed for you.

  • I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger
    if you aren’t already ;) Cheers!

So, what do you think?