By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 10, 2014
Today, Lynn Barrett asks us …
How do you know when you need a break?
Steve: Are you asking me or yourself?
Shawn: I’m asking you, and then I want to follow up because I have an idea, too.
Steve: Okay. I come from this school of “I never need a break”. In fact, I think that when I hear that . . . I have a maxim, which is if you’re trying to decide if the voice in your head is Resistance or it’s not Resistance—is it Resistance or is it legitimate—the maxim is:
When in doubt, it’s Resistance.
So, when you hear that voice in your head saying “Man, I need a break,” that’s Resistance in my opinion. Now, that being said, here’s when I take breaks:
I only take breaks when I’ve got real momentum going in a project. When I’ve got a bunch of pages in a row, a bunch of things accomplished so that I know I can coast for a week or so, or something like that, and I’ve got so much momentum that I can pick it up after that. The one time I never take a break, and I’ve advised—I can’t tell you how many people over the years about this, and no one has listened to me yet and they all come to grief. You never take a break at the end of a project. The only thing that’s worse—because that you fall into the abyss of Resistance and you can’t get started again. It’s like taking a break after the NBA finals. You just can’t do it. You’ve got to get into the gym the next day. Take a break a month later than that. But the only thing worse than that . . . I know I’m kind of swerving off topic here . . . The only thing worse than taking a break at the end of a project is when you end a project and you submit it to somebody for judgment, like a screenplay or a novel that you’re “turning in,” and then you stop and wait to hear back what people are going to say about it. That is the worst possible thing you can do to yourself because you must be your own judge of how good something is. When you do something like that, and particularly when you stop working . . . Forget about it. Okay Shawn, take it away. What did you want to say?
Shawn: I agree with you for the most part, especially the thing on once you’re giving it away for judgment. I mean . . . That’s a recipe for disaster. If you’re sitting around waiting for somebody to pass judgment on work that you’ve done, you might as well just check into a mental institution because all you’re going to do is think about, “Oh boy, I wonder if I’m good enough,” and that’s just a recipe for disaster.
The only thing I would sort of, and I know you do this every day Steve, but I think a lot of people don’t, and that is: You know you need a break when you physically need a break. Meaning if you get into the habit of sitting for nine hours a day and you’re not going outside and you’re not walking and you’re not exercising. I don’t mean you have to go to the gym and lift weights until you’re blue in the face, but you need to get outside. I know so many people who spend so much time indoors in front of a screen that they lose their mojo. They just sort of become zombie-like and they don’t really enjoy it.
So, the one thing I would advise everyone, every day is get outside. Move around because if you move around, it really allows all of those things that have been floating around in your mind for eight hours to sort of get inside of your brain and circulate and actually metabolize. So, that’s kind of like daily break situation.
In terms of project breaks, you and I are different in that I work on multiple projects at the same time by necessity, and even Steve is a one-project-at-a-time kind of guy. But I need to because I do four different jobs, really five; I’m an editor, I’m a publisher, I’m an agent, I’m a writer and I’m also a dad and a husband, so that’s six. I can’t take a day off on any one of those jobs. When I need a break, I just move to another job. So if I’m editing and I’m grinding and I’m ready to jump out a window, I’ll move over and I’ll take my kid out and play basketball with him. If I’m tired of playing basketball, I’ll come in and make a phone call as an agent. We all have different hats that we wear, so the way to take a break is to try in find in every day a time period that you can wear one of those hats so that you have a nice sort of mix of different things in your life at the same time.
Steve: That’s a good answer. Let me add another to thing to just kind of soften what I said before. A friend of mine who was a lawyer in an independent practice once gave me a piece of advice when I had just kind of a one-man business of my own. When you’re doing that kind of thing and you’re serving clients, it’s like you can never take time off, right? He said to me “Here’s what you do Steve,”—this is good for thinking in terms of next year. . . “At the start of the year, block out the vacations that you want to take. Maybe you want to take a week in July and a week in September and then a week around the holidays or whatever, or something like that, and tell all your clients that you’re going to be gone for that period of time, and they will absolutely accept it with no problem. Then when that time comes up, go.” And that actually is a good way to do it, because, even if you’re obsessive like me, as the date of that vacation is approaching, you’re going to start working harder, harder and harder to kind of build up a little bit of momentum and get over it. So that is a good way to take a break because you can’t just keep going forever. What happens with me sometimes is I just get sick and then I’m just forced . . . But, I’m demented, and . . .