The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The discipline to relax

It’s one of these strange paradoxes. Performance requires the ability to relax. At the same time, the idea to relax leads to the anxiety that performance will not be at its best.

How to find the sweet spot? That is the spot where stepping out of the necessity to perform enables sustainable performance and doesn’t become procrastination.

A way to give up on this endeavor is by remaining focused on performance and search for ways to discipline oneself into it. And most environments support these efforts, for example by pushing reminders to perform or by becoming worried when someone doesn’t seem to be working. It makes “sorry I don’t time now” a preferred and widely accepted excuse.

And when nobody else is available, one’s expectations to perform can help. That’s when the idea to be doing something else than work can only be overcome by transforming everything that isn’t work into an obligation. It releases from the work as such, but not from the expectation to perform. That’s when people have to go to the next networking event or when they have to do the dishes.

To be able to do something else, they have to find a way to transform the other activity into one that fulfills the expectations they live by. It’s a way to find coherence in what one does and in the story, one tells oneself about it.

In a 2007 study, Ellen Langer hypothesized that one’s mindset mediates the connection between exercise and one’s health. The idea was that increasing perceived exercise was expected to result in subsequent health benefits independently from the actual exercise. The study observed chamber maids, half of the group was asked to continue doing their work as they had until then, and the other half was shown how their work fulfills the requirements of good exercise and corresponds to an active lifestyle. After a few weeks, those in the latter group perceived themselves as getting significantly more exercise than before. Even more interesting was the fact, that their health conditions had changed too, as described in the study “they showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio, and body mass index.”

The new information helped them change their mindset. Without it, they didn’t see what they could see afterward. The change in mindset meant that they had changed the story they were telling themselves.

Going back to the way doing the dishes or other non-work related activities became an obligation it is now possible to see these in a different light. They are tied to a story and a mindset. Taking the obligation away may allow seeing, for example, doing the dishes as a way to relax.

That is if relaxing isn’t restricted to doing nothing. And if simply doing the dishes is possible!

Doing them to relax brings the expectation back, and thus also the idea to perform.


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