Stop Delaying Your Need for Rest and Joy

7 min read

First I have to meet this deadline at work.

First I need to make sure everyone at home is OK.

I can’t start planning a vacation until….

These are words I’ve heard from my clients when it comes to reasons for not taking time off. I’ll be the first to raise my hand and name how hard it can be to commit to taking a break from your obligations. I, too, have struggled to allow myself much-needed breaks. For example, it took me more than three years to take time off from my own business for a two-week-long vacation. What took me so long?

Reasons We Delay Fulfilling Our Need for Rest and Pleasure

I had to get honest with myself and acknowledge the beliefs I had that were delaying my taking a much-needed break. Research has been done looking at the merits of “delayed gratification,” or the act of putting off the fulfillment of a desire, whether that is for food, experiences, or money. In certain contexts, they have been seen as a predictor of success and a sign of self-control. However, delaying one’s need for rest and engaging in activities that bring one joy can be problematic. By overlooking your need for rest and pleasure, you put yourself at risk of burnout and related physical and mental health and relationship issues. With my clients who so desire rest but are having a hard time allowing this for themselves, we explore underlying beliefs they have about what is considered a priority and why they are resisting the gratification of their needs despite having a sneaky suspicion it could really do them some good.

Common Reasons for Delaying Fulfillment of Rest and Pleasure

  1. A sense of obligation to others: I had a sense of duty to other people that felt more important than my sense of personal pleasure or rest. Others’ needs and perceptions of me trumped my own needs and internal desires to have some time away.
  2. A lack of personal entitlement to rest or experience pleasure: I felt like a break “just for me” was self-indulgent and selfish. If it was time off for someone else such as a wedding or a family gathering, then I’d be more willing to change my schedule. But “just because” seemed unnecessary.
  3. A fear of the time and resources it will require: I thought taking time off would entail my having to make dramatic changes to my routines and schedule. I did not want to experience these disruptions. It seemed easier to just keep doing the same thing than to go through the effort of changing my schedule, telling people in my life what I needed, and making plans for a trip.

I’ve heard similar concerns from countless clients. While all of the above reasons are valid and very common concerns, I argue these are not enough to put a halt to any and all plans for a break, no matter how big or small. To combat the internal barriers to making changes in our lives, it is important to acknowledge what those thoughts and beliefs are and then practice shifting our mindsets toward the benefits of taking breaks and pursuing pleasure

One of these mental shifts we need to have is about our relationship to time.

Source: Windows/Unsplash

Journal and iPad with Calendar

Source: Windows/Unsplash

Get Honest About Your Relationship to Time

We delay plans because we assume we can always do them in some distant future. The “I don’t have enough time” or “I can do this later” are versions of an illusion we have about possessing less time or more time than we actually do. The fact of the matter is that we cannot control the amount of time we have now or later. We can only make the most of the attention and resources we have now. Part of making the most of the time you do have now is paying attention to your own well-being and prioritizing the things you need to be well.

How to Prioritize Our Well-Being: The Benefits of Rest and Breaks

  • Count the small to large periods of time off. When we’re talking about taking care of your need for rest and leisure, you need to be generous in your definition of what “counts” as rest. Research shows that brief “brain breaks” from work can benefit your physical health, mood, and productivity in the long run. Movement breaks are helpful for relieving stress, mental fatigue, and physical pain. A little can go a long way. If the thought of taking a couple of days off is too daunting, then start small and see how 10 to 15 minutes away from tasks throughout your day can feel.
  • Gain perspective by stepping away. Taking time away from your day-to-day routines and obligations can help you regain perspective about the current state of your life. It can be hard to assess how you’re really feeling about a situation when you’re constantly in the weeds. Therefore, a break allows you to see things a little differently and with more clarity. For example, seeing life from a different vantage point can lead to a greater appreciation for things in your life that you may be taking for granted.
  • Experience new things. When I was on this long overdue vacation, I had the opportunity to take an open-water scuba diving certification course. To be honest, this is not something I would’ve signed up for on my own, but because it was my friend’s idea, I agreed to do it with them. Going through this challenging but rewarding experience gave me a glimpse into a window of what else in my life was possible. I learned that I could do risky, new things, so I walked away asking myself, what else did I want to try once I returned to my life back at home?

These are not an exhaustive list of the benefits of resting and enjoying pleasure, but they are a good starting point to help pivot your attention toward new activities and prioritizing your well-being. Next are steps you can follow to guide you toward putting this into action.

5 Steps to Help You Implement Rest and Leisure in Your Life Today

  1. Choose one activity you’ve been putting off.
  2. List three reasons why you’ve been delaying this activity.
  3. List three benefits you can gain by doing this activity.
  4. Decide on one concrete action you will complete in the next 24 hours (ideally in the next hour) that will move you in the direction of completing this activity.
  5. Now go do that one action!
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Sitting on a balcony overlooking woods

Source: Artem Beliaikin/Unsplash

You Deserve Rest and Joy: It’s Not Too Late to Change

By delaying vacation time for myself for years, I chose not to pay attention to my own well-being. This was a form of procrastination and delayed gratification of my own emotional, physical, and mental needs. It’s easy to assume these things aren’t urgent and therefore can easily be put off without much consequence. But, as you can see, we are missing out on hugely beneficial things when we delay these experiences.

In that overdue vacation I finally took, I learned more about myself in those two weeks in ways I did not expect, and this led me to take new steps in my life when I got back. It really inspired me to make other changes, and this is not something I would’ve been able to do or even think to do had I not finally made a commitment to myself to step away and do something for myself.

It’s not too late to start taking action. If you’re struggling to identify what the first step is, reach out for support. It’s normal to have anxieties about what may happen if you try something new. Talk about it out loud or process it through writing. These supports can help you overcome internal and external obstacles. By starting something you’ve been delaying, you will gain more perspective, momentum, and confidence to keep doing more things in life.

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