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Picture of Maui beach

Discipline or Rest – Which is better?

Beautiful beach of golden sand with ocean waves curling in. Which is better discipline or rest?
Maui 2015 discipline or rest which is better?

We could feel our bodies relax under the soothing warmth of Maui’s golden sun. It was day 1 of our vacation and the jaw dropping views of white sandy beaches and endless ocean was relaxing yet inspiring.

A runner doggedly drudging down the street, a cyclist eyes front hammering up a hill, a lone crossfitter cranking out sets eyes fixed on his timer. I admired their discipline and adherence to their fitness regimes.

Part of me thought ‘I should go for a run so I don’t get out of shape’. Another part thought; ‘dude, relax, you’re on vacation. Take a rest!’.

My wife sensed my inner struggle; “relax, we’re on vacation, take a rest”. She was right. As I vowed to ‘relax’, I wondered where I might find a chin up bar or a secret spot for pushups back at the resort.

Next day as we frolicked up a ridge through the rain forest, I wondered if we should ‘pick up the pace’, you know, get in the zone.  Then I thought: ‘dude, relax, you’re on vacation. Take a rest.’

This mental struggle continued – should I stick to my workout routine or take a rest.

There’s no doubt that discplined practice improves performance: whether developing sales skills or honing our fitness. In his book the ‘Power of Habit’, Charles Duhigg shows it’s the habits that lead to long term success for organizaitons like Starbucks. Malcolm Gladwells book Outliers reveals how the best athletes or musicians put in some 10,000 hours on the road to greatness. 

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


There’s just one thing. Everyone needs to rest. Elite athletes train hard, refuel, then rest. Trees grow in the summer then rest in the winter. The most successful organizations in the world encourage their employees to actually take their vacation – not bank it.

4 Things You can do 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 deliverables, you coach, solve problems, talk with clients. 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.

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 ‘accidentally’ turn lazy.

What good is your 2 week vacation if you’re so burnt out that when it’s finally time to take it – you’re sick.

You’re better to take frequent or regular breaks. This could be formal days off, 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 go out for brunch with the family on Sundays – put it in the calendar
  • 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.

For example, maybe for the runner I mentioned – running in Maui is her break – a rest.  Or for the cyclist spinning through the beautiful country side – and what a spectacular setting to do cross fit.  Well then, try removing the ear phones and hear the sound of the pounding surf, look up from the pavement to see the sweeping view, or turn off the Timex and just feel your pulse.  Or say to your spouse or friend “I’m so grateful to be here, with you, right now.”

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 her ideas.

  • When you first wake up in the morning – before you get up – ask yourself:
    • How do I feel? What would you like to have happen today?
  • As you drink a glass of water first thing – 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 cool air on your face, breathe, smile,
  • 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 or happy about or even glad is over?

4/ Make it 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 successful getting the rest you need so you can come back to stronger, refreshed, and ready to bring it.


  • Hey Matt,

    This is a great message, thanks. Next time I am on vacation and wrestling with this problem, I will just think back to your blog and give myself license to chill out. Good advice as always. Cheers, Pat

  • Great article and insights Matt. This is something I think many of us wrestle with constantly and it’s wonderful to get a fresh perspective here.

    • Thanks Dale! ‘Wrestle’ is a great way to describe too – it’s got that back and forth feel to it.

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