The Art of Active Rest: recharge your communication skills

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The dog days of mid-August are upon us in New York City.  An invisible alarm goes off signaling everyone to leave town, lay low, recharge.

It’s now commonly known that studies show modern-day professionals feel the need to keep pace with their work responsibilities day and night.  Given this constant pressure there’s something deeply satisfying about taking a break when the entire city you live in gives you the proverbial permission to do so.  

In honor of summer and taking time to recharge, this post is dedicated to the benefits of rest and letting go.  But not just any kind of rest. A special kind of rest. Active rest.

Taking a break works wonders for improving communication skills.

How could this be, you say?  Strengthening your communication skill is like building up a muscle.  And just like a muscle it needs time to stretch and strengthen--as well as rest, in equal measure.

“Humans are not machines.  Computers don’t care if it’s 4 a.m. or 4 p.m., and generally don’t care if they’ve been working ten minutes or ten days." -- Rest for Success Psychology Today, 5/21/17

When it comes to physical muscles active rest in between workouts allows them to repair, making you stronger and fitter than you were before.  The same holds true for your communication muscle.

If you’ve been hyper-focused on honing your communication skills use a valuable break from the daily grind to let your mental muscle relax and repair itself. Take time to reflect on the progress you’ve made and any areas you still want to improve. Allow the communication techniques you’ve been practicing to marinate.  Doing so will help them take root and strengthen much like a computer program installing in the background.

Let go of the work.

Conceptually akin to active rest is, “let go of the work,” or similarly, “trust the work.” Both are phrases frequently used in theater that I often reference with Bespoken clients.  When it’s finally showtime, a performer --or public speaker-- must be fully present and focused in the moment in order to successfully connect with their audience.

Let’s take olympic swimmer, Katie Ledecky.  Stay with me here. I think it’s fair to assume Katie’s training may consist of running, strength training, and maybe even yoga.  Obviously none of these activities involve swimming. But in utilizing the wide variety of muscles necessary to engage in these other physical activities she’s cultivating a holistically strong body.  

However, now picture Katie on the starting block for the 200 meter backstroke.  It might really throw her off her game if she’s thinking about her warrior II pose instead of concentrating on her backstroke.  Katie needs to “let go of the work” and trust that all her training will support her in winning the race.

The same thing applies when it comes to public speaking.  During rehearsal was the time to practice leveraging the power of your breath, vocal tone, and physicality.  When the big day arrives, if you put the work in to preparing, trust that it will support you in the moment.

Give yourself permission to reap the benefit of active rest.

Changing your communication habits, especially deeply ingrained habits such as letting go of using fillers and qualifiers, takes time.  It’s helpful to think of your journey as a marathon instead of a race.

Even though it’s hard, give yourself permission as best you can to take a break.  Not a peak-at -email-once-a-day kind of break. A real break.  If you give your mind the space to repair and recharge you’ll be a better employee, colleague, and communicator in the long-run.