I’m not religious but I’ve always liked the idea of the Sabbath. One day a week of rest and reflection. I spent the weekend with Amy in San Diego and in addition to a Digital Sabbath (no electronic devices from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) I took off all day Sunday off from electronic devices, only opening up my laptop on Sunday night to start editing the latest draft of Matt Blumberg’s book Startup CEO.
It’s been 145 days since I first acknowledged my lastest struggle with depression in my post Depression and Entrepreneurs. This has been my longest depressive episode since my mid-20’s when I had an extremely difficult two year depression. I’ve thought several times that it had ended, most recently mid-February, only to have it be back in it within a week or so.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a functional depressive, so I’m able to get through the day, but it takes an enormous amount of energy. And I know that simply makes the cycle longer – rather than restore myself, I’m draining myself, which just makes it harder to get out of the depression cycle. Resting and sleeping is key for me, but so far this year my schedule has been packed, so it’s been hard to get ahead of what has become a negative spiral.
Digital Sabbath is a new thing I’m going to try to help break the cycle of what has been going on. The value that comes from having a day of rest each week is universal regardless of one’s religious beliefs. So I thought I’d try it, starting this weekend.
It was really difficult. I slept late Saturday, although it was a turbulent sleep. I then played tennis for an hour and went for a 70 minute run. My brain continued to churn during my run – whenever I realized I was obsessing over something I just sped up a little and listened to my breathing. Amy and I had lunch and then I realized the afternoon was stretching out endlessly in front of me. For some people this is wonderful; when I am depressed this is awful. So I asked Amy what she thought of me just doing a quick check of my email.
“I think that’s an awful idea,” said Amy. We then had a 15 minute conversation about what was going on in my brain. By this point the cruft of all the stuff that was bothering me was floating to the surface and I was having to either think about it or let it go. Amy encouraged me to acknowledge it, and then let it go. Then she suggested I just listen to my breath – a classic meditation technique. So I did. Eventually I got in bed and took a nap for several hours.
We had dinner with Howard and Ellen Lindzon on Saturday night. We had a great time – I love Howard and Ellen – and they are good for me. They let me be me, we talked quietly about a bunch of different things, and enjoyed a calm meal at the nice restaurant at the place we are staying.
On Sunday, I again slept in. I didn’t know whether I’d do another day off the grid, but I knew I’d start my day off with a run. My sleep was less turbulent except for the few hours where I tossed and turned. Amy and I had breakfast together, although I wasn’t hungry so I only had a few bites of pancake, and then went for an 80 minute run. The drill was the same – whenever my brain started obsessing on stuff I sped up and listened to my breath.
I decided to maintain my Digital Sabbath for another day. I didn’t turn on my computer until after dinner and then it was only to start working on Matt’s book. Throughout the day, I noticed that my brain continued to spiral around the same things, over and over again. Whenever it got out of control, I just sat, focused on my breath, and let it go. But it made for a very long day.
I woke up this morning feeling about the same as I did on Friday. I’m a little more rested feeling and have a pleasant soreness in my legs from my running, but my overall mood is unchanged. I know I’ve got a full week of stuff to do and my next task will be to tackle the 300 emails that have shown up since Friday night. But first, breakfast.
I love summer – it’s by far my favorite season of the year. While the summer solstice (6/21) is the official beginning of summer, I always view summer as being bookended by Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend. So – for me, summer has begun.
As I was walking Brooks this morning for his early morning poop, I pondered the dynamic of “abstainer” vs. “moderator” which Amy pointed out to me comes from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. I’ve never known how to moderate particularly well, in any aspect of my life, so I’ve always been an abstainer. For example, I’m afraid of drugs, so I simply don’t do them – I abstain, since I’m concerned that if I started I wouldn’t know how to moderate.
Another example is my struggle with eating. I’ll use sushi as an example. If I’m part of a group sushi experience, I don’t know how to moderate. I’ll eat whatever is in front of me until it’s gone – sometimes a legendary amount of sushi. So – the only way for me to control myself is either to have a separate order to myself (e.g. abstain from the group plate) or use extreme effort to moderate and only have a reasonable amount. Same with bread or tortilla chips – if they are on the table I eat them all. My only way of not doing this is to abstain completely.
This applies to my work. I’ve always struggled to moderate – that’s part of why I chronically have gone through my annual boom / bust cycle where I completely wear myself out by the end of the year and have to abstain for a while. My Qx vacations – quarterly weeks off the grid – are a version of abstaining. My daily schedule is another example of this – and something that I’ve recently started approaching very differently as I’ve grown weary of being schedule from early morning to the end of the day.
Most recently, Digital Sabbath is another example of this for me. I’m now shutting down completely from Friday night at sundown to Sunday morning. I’ve been doing this for few months and think it will become a rest-of-the-life habit. It’s been fantastic for me and Amy. No phone, no email, no work. Just living for a day a week. Yesterday we slept late, wandered around Boulder a little, had brunch at Snooze, binge watched the rest of Season 1 of Revenge, had dinner with friends, and just lived.
I know that I don’t know how to moderate, whether it’s food, work, relationships, sports, communication, or something new. I’m all in and the only way for me to manage the total load is to abstain from some things and create specific times where I abstain from most everything.
Are you an abstainer or a moderator? How do you think about this?
I’m doing a little better than I was on Friday morning when I wrote the post Generosity Burnout. Just writing the post put me in an appropriate frame of mind to reflect on things on Saturday. I took a digital sabbath, something I’ve been doing on 90% of the Saturdays since I first tried it in March, 2013 in the middle of a deep depressive episode.
I’m not religious but I know many successful people who take a full day off once a week. I’m most familiar with the Jewish traditions, so I decided to emulate sabbath in spirit. No phone. No computer. No email. After almost four years, it’s a weekly touchpoint that has become a central part of my life.
On Friday, when I wrote Generosity Burnout, I was exhausted from three weeks of travel. On Tuesday in San Francisco, in the midst of an endless downpour, I acknowledged to myself that I had started to feel “down”, which is a euphemism for “feeling depressed” for many of us. I hadn’t tipped to a dark place, but I realized that I had given myself a total lack of self-care since the beginning of the year. While I had a normal amount of work stress, with something new fucked up every day, I was feeling the emotional impact more and carrying around extra anxiety that was bordering on obsessive thoughts.
Yesterday, I had a typical digital sabbath. I slept 12 hours, meditated, and then went running. Amy and I had lunch and talked. I then retreated to the couch and a read a book with her and the dogs. We took an afternoon nap, showered, and then went into Boulder for dinner with friends. We went to bed when we got home.
I took action on the self-care front. I haven’t been drinking any booze since my birthday (@bfeld v51). I decided to stop drinking coffee, cancel all of my Q2 travel, spent two nights a week at home with Amy for dinner in Q2, and start saying no to everything new until I feel like saying yes again. I’ve got plenty to work on – there’s no need to add more to it. And I know I get a lot of satisfaction and energy from working on what is on my plate.
I feel a little better today. I’m still tired and anxious. Meditation this morning was calming, as is writing this. After I hit post, I’m heading out for a run with the dogs.
Amy and I had another wonderful digital sabbath yesterday.
It started Friday at sundown when I put my computer to sleep. I’m using Inbox When Ready and have locked my inbox from Friday at 6pm to Saturday at 11:59pm. I also put my phone in Do Not Disturb mode for this same time period. While I’m not committed to doing this every weekend in 2018, I’m going to do it most of the time.
I woke up Saturday morning and meditated for 30 minutes. Amy and I then had breakfast and then we retired to the couch to read. I’ve decided that in 2018 when I’m at home I’ll read physical books, since I have an infinite pile of those along with my infinite pile of Kindle books. I scanned my shelves of unread books, picked four that I thought varied widely, and dug in.
I started with Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang. North Korea has been on my mind lately (fathom that), although I had bought this book a few years ago after Eric Schmidt’s trip to in North Korea. It was mentioned in one of the articles I read at the time, but it had been sitting on my shelf since then. It was a fascinating and beautifully done book (well – pair of books). The first was a detailed architectural overview of Pyongyang with official descriptions of all the buildings. The second was a series of essays on different aspects of the architectural and historical dynamics of modern Pyongyang. Everything was otherworldly and mysterious.
I then moved on to If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young-The Graduation Speeches – a short volume of nine graduation speeches by Kurt Vonnegut. It turns out there is a second – expanded – edition, but I didn’t notice that until after I’d finished and logged the book in Goodreads. I love Vonnegut. One summer over a decade ago I bought all of his books in hardcover, ordered them by publication date, and started working my way through them. In addition to being a delightful writer, Vonnegut was an in-demand and excellent public speaker. Each graduation speech was unique even though there were some lines and jokes repeated. What stuck with me was the contrast between the Beatitudes and the Code of Hammurabi and how Vonnegut applied them to our modern world.
Amy and I had lunch and then took a nap. I went for a run as I’m starting to ramp up again, although I still have some issues with my left calf.
After a shower, I settled into Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope by John Saunders. I’m not a sports fan and never watch ESPN (unless I’m at a Ruby Tuesday or other place where it’s playing on the TV during a meal) so I didn’t know who John Saunders was. I can’t remember who recommended the book to me, but it was in the context of a well-known person’s memoir where they reveal – in depth – their struggles with depression. In a cruel twist, Saunders died before the book was published, but his family bravely supported publishing it posthumously. The book is incredibly intimate, linearly told, but with Saunders going deep on his life. He struggled with depression. sexual and physical assault as a child. continuous racism. endless suicidal ideation, health issues including diabetes, a major brain injury in 2011 from a fall on the ESPN set, and a heart attack in 2014. Through it all, he rose to the top of his field as a sports journalist, with a 30-year career at ESPN / ABC.
After I finished it, I reshelved the fourth, unread book and went to bed. When I woke up this morning, there was snow everywhere.
I had Digital Sabbath #3 yesterday. I turned off my phone and computer Friday at sundown and didn’t turn them back on until Sunday morning. I’m starting to enjoy the pattern and had a lot of relief yesterday from the complete disconnect. We had dinner at our house with friends Friday night, Amy and I did some stuff in the morning together, I went for a 9 mile run, took a nap in the afternoon, and we had dinner last night with friends and then watched some comedy on tv afterwards. My brain was less chaotic yesterday and I was able to settle into a calmer state over the course of the day than I had been the previous two weekends.
Last weekend a read a book by Wayne Muller called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. I was a little apprehensive about the book, but it was recommended by a few people including Amy. It was extraordinary and just what I needed to begin to understand the need for a real day of rest out of every seven days.
While I’m not religious, I’ve got a strong jewish identity. I’ve also lived in Boulder for 17.5 years so it’s hard not to be spiritual. I found as I read the book that I was able to abstract away all the religious references, especially since Muller provides a nice mix of jewish, christian, and buddhist quotes and thoughts. He isn’t bashful about tying the idea of a day of rest back to religion, but he isn’t dogmatic about it, nor is it the dominant thought. Instead, it’s just additional support for the idea from many different cultures and times.
Muller broke the book up into six sections – rest, rhythm, time, happiness, wisdom, and consecration. He then ends with a chapter on the actual sabbath day. Each section has examples and exercises – it’s an easy book to read in one sitting as the tempo of the book is consistent, and the rhythm of each section is enjoyable.
The bonus so far from starting on Friday night is that when I wake up on Sunday I feel rested and in a totally different mode for the “rest of the weekend” than I normally do. And I have no real “I need a weekend” feeling on Sunday as it’s still a relatively chill day, although one that has some work and all the other stimuli of my world woven into it.
I’m going to keep doing digital sabbath for a while and see how it goes. Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives helped me understand it a little better.
I usually do a digital sabbath from Friday sundown to Sunday morning. No email. No meetings (except urgent ones). I used to do no phone, but the text dynamic to coordinate getting together has made that difficult (even in the world of Covid) so I check the lock screen on my phone a few times a day and deal with anything important.
Until yesterday, I hadn’t had a digital sabbath since 3/14. I also hadn’t had a day off since 3/14.
Friday night I crashed. My last call ended around 6:20 pm. My inbox was still full of stuff, but I had no energy to even look at it. We had a Zoom dinner with Ryan and Katherine, although it didn’t involve food since they eat late and I blew it by not being ready for dinner until three minutes before dinner was supposed to start … After dinner, Amy and I went downstairs and watched a little more Hunters, which I think we’ve decided to stop watching after episode two.
We went to bed around 10 pm. When we crawled into bed, I committed to Amy to have a digital sabbath. I knew she was worried about me and I hit a self-aware point that I was on the edge of good vs. not good emotionally and physically.
I woke up around 10 am. I had a strong green recovery score on my Whoop for the first time in a while (I’ve had plenty of red, some yellow, and an occasional green, but never very strong …). I went to the bathroom, meditated, and had a cup of coffee on the couch with Amy.
I then went for a run. I’m very out of shape relative to my norm because of a January back injury (muscle) combined with no consistency in exercise the last month. That ended a week ago as I started running again with some swimming tossed in.
I then ate a little and finished reading Facebook: The Inside Story by Stephen Levy which I had started on March 8th. I hadn’t opened a book since mid-March and as I read the second half of it, I realized I wasn’t very interested in it.
I then broke digital sabbath and did a Zoom call that I noticed showed up on my Zoom Room calendar. I’m glad I did it as it helped resolve some outstanding issues on a project that is launching this upcoming week.
I read a little more (Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different by Chuck Palahniuk), had some leftovers (thanks Amy for cooking so much!) and then went downstairs and watched 93 Days.
I was in bed by 9:30 pm. When I woke up this morning, I felt very refreshed.
Digital sabbath will simply begin again for me.
Aaron Edelheit recently came out with a great book titled The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle.
He interviewed me as he was writing it so I show up a few times, along with a few friends that I sent his way. The subtitle is a good hint – instead of a 24/7 life (where you are always on, especially in a work context), Aaron suggests 24/6, where there is a full 24 hour “hard break” each week.
Long-time readers and friends will know that I generally take a digital sabbath for 24 hours starting Friday night and ending Saturday night (and often Sunday morning.) I’m off my phone, email, text, vox, and other digital channels. I read hard copy books or on my Kindle, but try to stay completely off the web. I’m not religious, nor am I religious about doing this, but I’m pretty consistent. And I have a good
enforcer encourager in Amy, who I’d rather spend Friday night and Saturday with instead of my computer.
Aaron does a great job challenging the conventional entrepreneurial mythology around how you have to work all the time, burn the midnight oil, grind it out, and be comfortable with the idea that great entrepreneurs work all the time. Is burnout really a right of passage as an entrepreneur? Do you actually have to push yourself to the absolute physical and emotional limit to be successful?
I believe the answer to this is no, as does Aaron. He asserts that each of us needs time away from work and technology and makes a compelling case that time away from work can actually make us more successful and productive in the long term.
Aaron weaves his own personal story into the book, which, rather than reading like a memoir, supports the points he’s making and reinforces the stories and examples of others. His own journey is one, like many, of a series of key moments of personal and professional success and failure that generates his current viewpoint. In addition to being a provocative book, it’s a personal book.
Aaron, thanks for putting your energy into advocating the benefits of taking some downtime on a regular basis. If you are an entrepreneur, feeling exhausted by the pressure of always being on, or feeling external pressure to never take a break, I recommend you grab this book, curl up on the couch tomorrow, and turn off your phone.