You know you’ve seen the posts on Instagram, and clicked on the article links flying around on Twitter: “Hustle Every Day!” “Productivity at 100!” “Be a Goal Digger!” The message is that everything you do, from food, to sleep, to work, to fitness needs to be “hacked” apart, and put back together with only the highest-yield bits remaining.
When you take all that advice, though, you’re left feeling like you’re sprinting on a treadmill that stays on 24/7. And if you ever have to stop, slow down, and rest? You are a failure.
But, if you notice the world around you, you’ll find that nature doesn’t ascribe to the same hustle-every-day ethos that our modern society demands. We’re in the fall season now, and the days are getting shorter. The trees are dropping their “productive” leaves and settling in for a fallow period. Animals are tending to their dens, and storing up food. Their priorities aren’t new growth, or “producing” in this season. Instead they’re intent on nourishing themselves and preparing for a long rest.
The cycle of the year follows a clear path. In the spring, new things are planted and sprout up to new life. In the summer, what has sprouted grows into full bloom. In the fall, what has bloomed ripens and is gathered. And in the winter what has been gathered sustains us until new we are ready to plant again.
In ancient times, our entire human society followed the seasons. But today, most of us are completely detached from those cycles. We’re expected to put the same amount of work in every week, whether it’s June or January. Our social lives are often jam-packed regardless of the weather. And the gifting and parties of the holiday season? For some of us it might actually be the most stressful time of the year.
But what if you allowed yourself to listen to the cyclical wisdom of nature? What if you acknowledged that you—like the trees and the squirrels—need a period of rest and darkness before you could burst forward and bloom into new endeavors?
Of course, your period of rest might not look exactly like a bear’s or a chipmunk’s. It’s pretty certain that your boss won’t be keen on the idea of you taking a hibernation sabbatical once the first frost comes in. But what if you could find a middle ground and honor the seasons, and your body’s cyclical nature, while still staying present in the modern world?
Think about what that would look like, if you allowed yourself to tune into the seasons a little bit more, and forgave yourself if you weren’t always at peak productivity. Imagine if this fall and winter, you turned your focus inwards, and instead of keeping up with the holiday Joneses, you focused on rest and renewal in the places you are able to.
If you’re not sure where to start this fall season, consider some of the following options:
Modern society always has another new diet plan, pill, or powder to sell us. Women are constantly being encouraged to make themselves smaller, thinner. Men are often encouraged to show constant muscle “gains” from strenuous workouts and tightly controlled eating.
What if, instead, you tossed the scale in the back of the closet (or even the trash) and focused on eating things that felt nourishing? Slow-cooked soups full of root veggies. Hearty roasts. Maybe even a slice of pie. The goal is not to binge on everything you denied yourself when working towards your “summer bod” but instead to begin listening to what your body needs (hint: it’s not endless donuts and ice cream, but it’s also not endless salads). Think of fall and winter as a time to put away messages about what you “should” eat that come from society, and tune in to the wisdom of your body.
Say “No” more often
How many Christmas parties can you go to? How many winter festivals, tree lightings, turkey trots, leaf peeping trips, New Year’s bashes? The options can seem endless, but during fall and winter your body craves more rest. The sun rises later and sets earlier, it might even be hard to get out when there’s snow and ice. Your body wants to respond to those cues from nature. That means that if you don’t slow down during the dark parts of the year, you could be in danger of burnout.
When you learn to say “no” to overscheduling, particularly in this time of year, you can learn so much about yourself. You will strengthen your boundaries, and your ability to put your well-being first. And when you know you won’t say yes to everything, you’ll be able to get perspective on your real priorities. You’ll be sure you don’t miss out on the things you really love, and you’ll let go of things that don’t resonate with you.
Don’t start new projects.
The darkest parts of winter are meant to be a time of rest and recovery. So, the rush to the gym on January 1 to start a punishing new workout program is actually at odds with your body’s instincts. Maybe it’s no wonder that so few New Year’s resolutions make it past February.
Instead of setting audacious resolutions for January first, spend the winter reviewing the past year, noting what worked and what didn’t, and creating a plan (not a resolution) to begin when the snow melts and the leaves begin budding. The gym will be less crowded then, anyway.
Rest and reflect
Don’t allow the idea of slowing down during winter to become an excuse, rather than a strategy. If you spend the whole winter playing games on your phone, or bingeing Netflix late into the night, then you probably won’t be ready for growth come spring.
The key is in understanding that rest and reflection can be as purposeful as growth. At work, look deeper into processes and practices within your company so that when you’re ready to take on that new project, it’s with a deeper layer of understanding and competency than ever before. Work on deepening your relationships with individuals rather then showing out at the party scene. Sleep in some weekends. Take care of yourself. Deepen your understanding of your own self—your goals, your desires, your strengths and weaknesses. And when spring comes again, don’t be afraid to bloom bigger and bolder than ever before.
About the writer: Bethany Barrow is a writer with a background in journalism. She writes tackling balance, growth, creativity and personal spirituality in the modern age. She is currently writing her first book, an anthology of myths, and resides outside Atlanta, GA with her family.