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What do you do to relax? When you disconnect from work, what helps refresh your mind, renew your spirit, and refocus your attitude?  Do you engage in certain relaxation exercises? Do you participate in specific activities? How do you relax?

When I was asked that question recently, I thought of a long-time friend who says, “I work hard, and I play hard.” I have often compared myself to him when it comes to rest, relaxation, and play. He has been an effective leader and fruitful pastor, as well as an avid golfer and successful hunter. I have admired both his work and his play. Although I believe I have worked as hard as he has, I confess I have not played as hard. What I have learned is what my friend says is true for him but not necessarily for me.  

What do you do to relax?

As I thought of the question, I responded to the person asking, “I don’t have a hobby. I don’t hunt, fish, or golf. I really don’t do anything to relax.” Then the person challenged me by saying, “When you think about it, you might find you do more than you realize to rest and relax.”

At that point, I began to take a little inventory. I discovered that even though I don’t engage in some of the activities enjoyed by others, I do have several relaxation practices that work well for me. 

What does time off look like?

As I write this blog, I am preparing for a vacation. When I am asked where I’m going or what I’m doing on my vacation, I usually respond by saying, “I’m not going anywhere, and I hope to do nothing.” Again, I have compared myself to colleagues and friends when it comes to vacations. I know that there are places to go and monuments to see, but when I disconnect from work, I don’t want to replace work activities with another set of activities. Unless I am going to a beach or sitting by a pool, I am satisfied to sit on my patio. For me, I don’t have to have an elaborate itinerary to be on vacation and to relax. 

Questions to consider

So, when I was taking my rest and relaxation inventory, I asked myself this question, “Where have I experienced joy and peace in my life?” This is what I discovered: 

Memorable Experiences

One of my most memorable experiences of joy and peace was on, of all places, a golf course. Although I grew up golfing, it is not a relaxing activity for me. But on one occasion, I was golfing with my mother. It was one of the last times I was totally present with her before she became ill. Through that experience, I discovered that what brought me joy and peace was being present with someone I loved and not an activity in which I participated.  

Another memorable experience of joy and peace was on a lake, fishing with my son. Although I grew up fishing, it is not a relaxing activity for me. Yet, on this occasion, I experienced deep joy and peace watching and listening to him. I marveled at how he maneuvered his boat, his reasoning regarding where we should fish, the number of fish he caught as I listened to his dreams and hopes. I have not been fishing since that Father’s Day fifteen years ago, but I would go with him again just for the joy and peace I experienced that day. Again, I discovered that what brought me joy was not the activity in which I was engaged, but the person with whom I shared the experience.

What brings you joy?

I love baseball. l grew up listening and watching the Cincinnati Reds. As a young boy, I dreamed of going to Crosley Field, and later Riverfront Stadium. You can imagine how excited I was when I moved to Cincinnati and lived within 6 miles of Great American Ballpark. Although I could attend a ballgame any time I wanted, I did not go to many games. What I discovered, even though I loved the activity, it was not the activity that brought joy or peace. The games I enjoyed the most were games I attended with family or friends. Regardless of whether the Reds won or lost, what brought joy and peace was the interaction I had with the people I enjoyed and appreciated.  Even today, when I am watching a game on television or listening to a game on the radio, I enjoy the activity so much more when I am in a texting conversation with a friend, who is also watching or listening to the game. What I have discovered is, even with activities I like, it is the relationship with people I love and appreciate that brings joy and peace.

It is not so much the activities that bring me joy and peace as it is the people with whom I interact. I learned I find joy, peace, and relaxation with people who are special to me. Persons for whom I am grateful, who bring depth and richness to me as a person.  I discovered that there are individuals who bring an “at oneness” into my life. When I am with them, regardless of the activity, I experience wholeness and joy. 

What provides peace and relaxation?

But that is not all I discovered.  I do participate in some activities that provide peace and relaxation. Activities like: (Below are three)

Reading

Up until recently, I read books and material to help with sermon preparation, leadership development, or some other professional task or goal.  It was all good but did little to bring a sense of peace, joy, or relaxation.  Most recently, I started reading more for enjoyment as opposed to work. I have discovered a sense of excitement and renewal when I read for pleasure.  

Listening to music

I have always enjoyed music, but I have discovered that certain types of music at times provide relaxation and rest. Sometimes I find relaxation in listening to vocal music, whether it be hymns, show tunes, opera, or pop. At other times, I find relaxation in listening to instrumental music like the piano, the violin, or the orchestra. I wish I could tell you what works best for me. At this point, what I know is listening to music brings relaxation and rest. 

Walking

Eighteen months ago, I began to walk every day. I started walking to lose weight. When I reached my goal, I continued to walk because it helped me reflect and focus. What I especially enjoy is walking with a friend or a colleague. It is that “at oneness” again. I am refreshed and renewed when I walk, and I am enriched when I walk with those whom I enjoy. 

By taking a few minutes to focus and reflect upon what I do to rest and relax, I discovered I am most relaxed when I am at one with myself and when I am interacting with people whom I love and appreciate. The activities are good and necessary, but they are a means to my relaxation and not the cause of my relaxation.

Your Turn

So, what do you do to relax? When you disconnect from work, what helps refresh your mind, renew your spirit, and refocus your attitude?

I’m guessing you already have an idea. But, this week, I want you to take a few minutes to reflect and focus upon what you do to relax. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Where have I experienced joy and peace in my life?

2. Who are the people with whom I experience wholeness and joy?

3. When am I my most relaxed?  

4. With what I am learning, what will I do this week to relax? 

Now, in whatever form it takes for you, relax. You will become a more courageous and effective leader. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. This week, 9 leaders are sharing their wisdom on rest, relaxation, and play. This is part 2 of a 2 part series. Tune in and listen to Episode 185: Best Wisdom on Rest, Relaxation, and Play. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

What are you doing to relax this week? 

I am not asking about your day off or your vacation. I am asking about what you are doing to reduce the stress and tension you experience off and on each day? Have you built in time for rest and relaxation? Have you taken time to breathe deeply and to refocus?

We all want to be the best we can be, but we cannot be our best if we do not take time to rest and relax. Research from the National Institute of Health links relaxation to healthy benefits like greater focus and concentration as well as improved problem-solving and memory. There is even evidence that relaxation leads to deeper and more meaningful relationships. As a leader, it is important to build rest and relaxation into your everyday living. 

Stress and Anxiety

You already know that being stressed out and anxious is not good for your health and that checking out of meetings is not helpful in leading people toward your ultimate goal. How many times have you heard that you should get a good night’s rest so you can face the next day? My guess is you know these things and being reminded of them is not always helpful. So, why not build in a few moments of relaxation into your day? 

As you think about whether you can or will add a little relaxation to your everyday living, here a few things to consider:

Leading effectively is hard work.

To do it well requires that you be alert, present, and thinking clearly. It requires energy and stamina. Stress and tension will not get there. Relaxation will.

You want to be the best leader you can be. The people entrusted to your care need and deserve your best leadership. Ask yourself, “I’m the best leader I can be without rest and relaxation? 

Navigating Stress and Tension

There is always going to be some stress and tension, but the right amounts at the right times can and will help you develop as a leader. You will grow and benefit more when you are relaxed, present in the moment, focused, and thinking clearly.

Find Potential

Leading effectively means you are finding the potential in people and helping them to develop that potential. Your job is to help them be who God has created them to be, so why would you put all the pressure and stress on yourself? It is not only about you. You are surrounded by people who want to learn and grow. Your stress will not help develop their potential. So, relax and enjoy the people God has put in your path. 

Your Work & Your Health

Your work is important, but not as important as your health. There are unhealthy physical conditions brought about by stress and tension. Conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension). It is a medical fact that a lack of relaxation can and does lead to heart, stomach, muscle, and emotional problems. Stress and tension have even led to dental problems. Time for rest and relaxation keeps you physically fit for the work you are created to do.

Observations of Leaders

People are watching you and how you lead. They are watching to see what they should be doing. Do they see a stressed-out overworked leader or a relaxed clear-thinking fun to be around leader? Are you stressing them out or are you leading the way to healthy and effective leadership?

I know this will sound strange and counterintuitive, but have you considered that slowing down so you can be the leader who is needed now? Who you are is how you lead. Below are five activities to help you slow down. Any one of these will help you rest and relax as well assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. 

1. Pray and Reflect

A pattern of prayer and reflection, with a focus on stillness and breathing, creates a sense of calm, peace, and balance that impacts your emotional well-being and overall health. Even if it is five minutes a day, it is one way that leads to relaxation. 

There is no “right” time to practice prayer and reflection but taking time in the morning to center your thoughts in prayer or making time in the evening for reflection, has worked well for me over most of my ministry.

2. Get outside

Being in nature helps to clear your head and improve your outlook on specific situations and on life in general. In a study conducted by the University of Essex, it was found that adults could lower their stress levels by simply looking at pictures of nature. Imagine how helpful it can be to experience nature firsthand by simply walking outside. 

Next time you are having difficulty staying present or hit a wall with a project, get outside and take a walk. Become aware of the air. Feel the breeze. Soak in the sunshine. Take notice of the colors. Listen to the sounds. Just a few minutes outside has rejuvenating benefits and boosts your mental energy. 

3. Exercise

Exercise helps control weight, improves mental health, boosts your mood, and increases your chances of living longer, while also building the strength of your bones and muscles. You experience a more restful sleep at night and less nervous energy during the day. To say it another way, physical activity makes you healthier and helps you release stress. It helps you become the best version of yourself. 

I know some of you have gym memberships and you exercise regularly. I know others of you feel like you do not have the time to exercise. Just know, a short walk three or four times a week has significant health and attitude benefits. The more exercise you add, and the time you permit yourself to exercise, the healthier you will be.

4. Take a break

Well-planned breaks can help you relax, lower blood pressure, and assist you in becoming a more effective leader. Just a 10-minute break when you step away from your computer, set down your phone, step outside, take a walk, talk with a friend, or get a drink of water helps your brain rest, switch gears, and restore your concentration and focus. 

I know it sounds simplistic, but a short break is a form of relaxation that provides renewed focus and greater energy, especially if you are having difficulty staying awake when you need to focus and be present in the moment. 

5. Focus on what brings you joy

Joy-filled activity helps to slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and decrease your stress level. When you focus upon your joy you are giving your senses a chance to rest and recharge.

Your Health & Multitasking

Too often, without thinking about it, you engage multiple senses in multimedia formats. Sometimes multitasking is not a healthy exercise, because before you realize it, you are on visual and information overload. There is power in simply slowing down to experience and enjoy the moment, especially if you are focusing upon what brings you joy. 

Whether it be listening to music, reading a book, interacting with your children, or in conversation with your spouse or a good friend, the focus upon what brings you joy brings a sense of peace and relaxation. 

Intentionally scheduling moments of relaxation could be the very thing that frees you to become the leader you are created to be. Schedule one relaxation exercise this week and add another next week and another the next week. Try each one and discover what a difference they can make in your living and in your leadership. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

What Will You Do to Relax This Week?

So, relax and become a more courageous and effective leader. The questions are: what are you doing to relax this week? Which of the above activities will you incorporate in your leadership? 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. This week, 7 leaders are sharing their wisdom on rest, relaxation, and play. You’ll hear from 9 more next week. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.