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Discipline or Rest – Which is Best?

Many gazing out on beautiful mountain valley wondering, "Discipline or Rest - which is best?"

We could feel our bodies relax as we stepped under the canopy of the ancient forest, weaving our way past green ferns and carpets of moss. It was day 1 of a 2-day get away seeking the solitude of the mountains. But just as we stepped into the forest, I could hear another car pull into the pullout.  I knew we had to hurry… Or did we? Hmm. Discipline or Rest – which is best?

Part of me wondered if we should ‘pick up the pace’ – you know, we have to ‘pack in as much rest as we can’.  After all, we only had 2 days.

My wife sensed my inner struggle; “relax, we’re on vacation, take a rest”. She was right.  As I vowed to ‘relax’, I worried whether we’d be too late to get just the right campsite.

In a life full of commitments, deadlines, and a discipline of ‘more is better’, it can be challenging to give ourselves permission to take a rest.

High alpine mountain pass with a soft bank of fog rolling in early morning
Matt MacEachern – early morning alpine mist – from ‘just the right’ campsite. BC wilderness

Early the next morning as we watched the sun rise, there was a part of me thinking, ‘we’ve got to get going if we’re going to summit the peak’.  My ‘in the moment zen’ switched to an antsy, ‘better get going’ vibe as I packed for the climb. I thought ‘dude, relax, enjoy the moment’.  But this mental struggle continued – should I be disciplined, move fast, do what needs to be done, or chill out, take some photos, and just relax.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”


There’s no doubt that disciplined practice improves performance: whether managing new protocols, developing sales skills, or honing our fitness. In his book the ‘Power of Habit’, Charles Duhigg shows that it’s the habits that lead to long term success for organizations like Starbucks or individuals like LeBron James. Malcolm Gladwell‘s book Outliers reveals how the best athletes or musicians put in some 10,000 hours on the road to greatness.  In his book PEAK, Anders Ericson’s research shows that the best chess players, musicians, athletes, put in hours and hours of disciplined practice. 

There’s just one thing. Everyone needs to rest.

Elite athletes train hard, refuel, then rest – that’s when the growth occurs. Trees grow in the summer then rest in the winter. Ask any body builder or cross fit athlete, the muscle growth happens between the work outs.  Want to climb Mt Everest? You better plan to come down and sleep, before climbing to the next higher camp.   The most successful organizations in the world encourage their employees to actually take their vacation – not bank them.  

Here are 4 ways to revitalize your life

1/ Take a Rest 

If you’re a leader, chances are you start your day before everyone else. You’ve got your own deliverable’s, you coach, solve problems, talk with clients, and you’re often the last one to leave. Then you rush home to take care of your family, do chores, work out, then late night emails. If you really want to serve others? You need to rest. Whether that’s taking your vacation, leaving work on time, or going for a walk in nature at lunch. Take a rest. 

Feels too selfish? Well, your team members are taking their lead from you. If you don’t take your days off, they’re less likely to take theirs. Do it for them. No scratch that. Do it for you – you’ve earned it. 

2/ Rest often

Are you saying slack off? No. Most people I know are so dedicated that they work too much – there’s no way they’re going to suddenly turn lazy.

What good is your annual 2 week vacation if you’re so burnt out that when it’s finally time to take it – you’re sick? Let me answer that for you – it’s not good.

You’re better to take frequent or regular breaks. This could be formal days off where you actually unplug and trust all those folks you’ve mentored and developed, to take the reigns.

But it can also mean:

  • Scheduling a run or walk at lunch 2 to 3 times a week – yes – put it in Outlook!
  • Planning to have brunch with the family on Sundays – put it in the calendar!
  • Proactively asking a colleague or team member to fill in for you for that meeting, or maybe a whole afternoon.   
  • Or how about asking someone else to cook one night a week? 😉

3/ Be present 

Sometimes just being present – or mindful of where we are can be a break.  I know…the whole mindfulness thing can seem like a trend (even though it’s been around since time began).  But it doesn’t have to mean sitting in the lotus position and meditating for 20 minutes (although it can be).  

For example, on our hike, my wife was stopping to smell the roses – well, there were no actual roses, but stopping to admire a glimmering tarn or jaw dropping view, or to take a playful photo, rather than ‘rushing’ to the summit.

beautiful high mountain tarn with sun reflecting off the translucent surface.
Matt MacEachern – Tarn in Squamish high country

What’s that look like in a more urban setting? Walking the dog without talking on the cell phone, going for a run without earbuds and listening to the sounds, or sitting in the back yard and noticing your own, natural, cleansing ability to breathe in deep, and breath out relaxed.  Or say to your spouse or friend “I’m so grateful to be here, right now, with you.”

Whether at work, home, or play, taking opportunities to be more present will be like a rest.

My colleague and gifted massage therapist Dana Smith says it’s not about finding more time to be present, its finding those moments that are already there . Here are just a few of ideas.

  • When you first wake up in the morning – before you get up – ask yourself:
    • how would i like to feel, as I go through the day?
  • As you drink a glass of water – feel it flow into your body as it hydrates you.
  • At a stop light in the car on the way to work – practice breathing easily and deeply
  • In a conversation – ask the other person what they think (you don’t have to solve it all)
    • Listen for the ‘tone’ in their voice, the pace of their words, their facial expressions
  • At lunch, step outside and feel the sun or a breeze on your face. 
  • When you get home, tell someone you missed them (even if its the neighbor) and notice their expression
  • As you lay down to sleep, ask yourself,
    • what’s one thing I’m grateful for today?

4/ Make rest a routine 

How ironic is that? On one hand I’m saying take a rest from your routines, on the other I’m saying create one. Too funny I know. But here is the thing. Most people are so busy doing things and serving others – that when they finally realize they could use a break – there’s no time! – So schedule it in. Make it a routine.

So what’s the answer – discipline or rest? Be disciplined about your rest.  You’ll be more successful getting the rest you need so you can come back feeling stronger, more refreshed, and ready to really bring it.

distant green valley as seen from a high mountain pass with whispy white clouds near by.

Here are a couple of other articles on how to recharge your resilience.

on vitality

on gratitude

on trusting others 

If you’re looking for some strategies and support on how to build more resilience back into your life, give me a call. 604 324-5900.


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