clench and relax

If you think about how a muscle works, you will tense the muscle, then you relax the muscle. It seems pretty intuitive that that is the right way for a muscle to work. If someone were to clench their fist, then try and clench it even tighter, and then keep on clenching it... You just know they would end up with a very sore hand or possibly even a damaged one.

But while it seems obvious how to treat a single muscle, it is not so obvious that perhaps just clenching tighter is not the way that we ought to behave towards ourselves. If you read up on time-management and all that sort of thing, often it just seems to be telling you, try really hard, then try a bit harder, then keep on trying, ...

I suppose that you either give up on this approach, because it is stupid, but you end up feeling like you have failed.

Alternatively, you attempt to carry on with this approach, but eventually your body starts giving up. Minor health niggles start to turn into major health niggles.

Basically, we can always push ourselves a bit harder, and squeeze in a bit more, but it does come at a cost, and you either repay that cost by giving yourself a break, or your body will start to stop working properly.

But giving yourself a break is not just having a kip on the train on the way home, or vegging out in front of the television. A break is making time for something that you enjoy and find worthwhile, and giving yourself enough of a break, with a clean enough conscience that you can actually enjoy it. Because, basically, if it is not fun, then you are not doing it properly.

Your body will have certain physical limits, often successful people have incredibly robust constitutions, so the fact that your boss never has sick leave, does not mean that you shouldn't either. You have to work within the limits of your own physical capabilities. Just like driving a car, you also have to listen to your body. If it is starting to flag, then ease up a little.

Learning to listen to your body is a vast art, that few of us ever trouble to master.

Much of it comes down to energy levels, when you are doing something enjoyable and worthwhile, you have more energy, when you are doing something dull and pointless, you have less energy.

Over the Christmas break, I have been trying to keep my daughters (two) busy, I have been doing this through allocating them tasks to do. I have found a few principles that seem to work
apply some structure - so chores in the morning, something creative in the afternoon
don't leave them doing something for more than an hour
check in regularly to see how they are getting on, and be very positive about what they are doing
support rather than criticise
mix up physical stuff with quieter activities, so if they are getting a little too boisterous, it might be time to settle down with something quieter.
if they are not happy, don't force it, but think about alternatives, perhaps they need to do something apart from each other
use opportunities to get them helping or interacting with other people, for example helping my wife in the kitchen
sit down and discuss possible things that they might do, to work out a bit of a list to last a few days
listen more than you tell
set an example of how you would like them to behave


This approach seems to be working well, sometimes I have great ideas, sometimes I have lousy ones, but by seeing what they enjoy, and always letting them shape the task to suit themselves, and giving them ownership of it, it is possible to steer them gently and keep them amused without being too prescriptive.

Like everything, if you are doing something well, it will often look effortless. So I stick a smile on my face, I am self deprecating, and really enthusiastic about what they do.

This approach is working well. I am sure that I would respond well to this sort of approach myself, either in a work environment or in a home environment.

And yet, I read these books, and they tell me that I need to be more organised, that I need to work harder, and smarter and try harder, and try smarter. These books suck the fun and meaning out of everything by reducing everything down to tasks. Like a man with a hammer, who sees every issue as a nail, task management sees everything as a task.

Are tasks so lovely, so much fun and so meaningful that we really want to see everything we do in the world as a series of tasks.

I have been writing about energy levels,
aligning the sort of work you do, to your prevailing energy level,
putting fun and recognition into what you do,
about interacting with people being what gives life meaning. In this moment, or the next one, can we make a positive difference to the people in our lives.

That is the sort of technique that we should be thinking about, something in bright colours that makes us smile and laugh. People do die, but it is not the worst that can happen, they might live a whole life without being happy first.