mental muscle


Yes, extended periods of time off can impact performance and motivation - BY ANNE HARDY


The benefits of time-off are clear to everyone. Unsurprisingly, we need time-off and research confirm common sense.

We need time off to recharge physically and mentally. But can too much time off also affect us negatively? I am not trying to be contrarian — but I believe that the question is worth asking. Well, the answer is not simple; it depends on the job and more specifically what the job demands.    

For physically demanding jobs, the body needs regular periods of rest to protect from accident or injury caused by fatigue. Like athletes, bodies need regular rest and recovery periods. So, shouldn’t you treat your body as an athlete would? Athletes are consistent in their physical activity during any given week to ensure muscles stay strong. They also incorporate regular periods of rest to allow muscles to rebuild after strenuous activity.

For jobs that are mentally demanding but perhaps less physically demanding, you still need regular periods of rest. While you may not need to rest your physical muscles, you will most certainly need to re-energize your mind and heart, almost like if they were muscles.   

Throughout my career in software engineering,  I have spent many hour/day sitting at my desk in front of a computer. For a few years, I worked in France for a company that granted its employees almost eight weeks of vacation time per year. Although I could never take all of it in a year, I tried to take advantage of this benefit when possible, by taking three or four weeks at a time. Every time, returning to work after the long break was excruciating for me. It felt like my brain had been atrophied and needed to relearn to get back in the thick of things and be effective again. My brain almost felt like a muscle that I had not used for too long…

In short, we rarely treat our mental muscles the same way as athletes treat their physical muscles. But shouldn’t we?