Taking Breaks Guilt Free

For solo entrepreneurs and self-employed folk, breaks can be one of the most challenging concepts to wrap our heads around. And I mean any and all types of breaks. Everything from remembering to eat, stopping work at the end of your "work day," to vacations and even subtle things like not trying so hard all the time. 

When you have to work for your supper, it's natural for your business to have an overwhelming urgency to it. It can be easy to trick yourself into believing that work tasks are far more urgent and important than non-work tasks.  Equally so, if we're having a low-energy day, it can be alarming and possibly panic inducing that we might not do *enough* today (or this week or month.)

There are three concepts I turn to when I need to take a break guilt free. I learned these from yoga, so I'll reference the Sanskrit where I know it. 

Truthfulness (Satya)

The first tactic is to zero in on what's true. Here are some things that are true:

  • You deserve and need breaks and vacations. 
  • You didn't get into business for yourself because you wanted less free time or worse work-life balance. (In fact many of us get into this work for precisely the opposite reasons.) 
  • Your business will not disintegrate because you take off one hour/day/week/month. 
  • Humans are not machines and sometimes need time-off that wasn't planned.

Do you agree with all of those? If not, why not? These facts are true, so what evidence do you have for the opposite, or is it just fear talking? 

If we can agree that my above points are true, the we have no reason not to take breaks or go on vacation and truly enjoy our time there. If you're not yet convinced, then read on...

Pain vs. Suffering

You didn't expect that heading in a piece about taking breaks, did you? ...hang on a minute and I'll make it make sense:

When it comes to time-off there are two ways to do it: put your work in the back of your brain and commit fully to being where you are enjoying it fully, or be spending time off but keep thinking about work and trying to sneak work things in or worrying about all that's not getting done.  

In my mind, this is a very similar mental process as the difference between pain and suffering. To be in pain is an inescapable fact. To be in suffering is an experience the human mind makes around the pain that typically exacerbates the pain experience.

For example, let's say you went on a hike and you find yourself with a dozen mosquito bites. There is pain and irritation associated with the bites, and it's likely from time to time that you'll be made very aware of the physical sensation of the bites and their itchiness. Separate from the pain or physical experience is what our brains are thinking or feeling about the pain. You might find yourself mad at the mosquitoes, or mad at the person who invited you on the hike, or irritated at yourself for forgetting to put on bug spray, or a myriad of other thoughts and feelings about the bug bites. None of these thoughts or feelings change anything about the itchiness of the mosquito bites themselves, and the thoughts themselves can take up energy and cause unnecessary suffering. The human mind is going to create suffering, and we can hold that with compassion and see it as not the whole truth.

We can experience suffering around pain, but we can also experience it around seemingly positive things like taking time off. The person who's on vacation but is still thinking about work or worried about not getting enough done, is adding suffering to their experience. The base experience is that you're taking time off and not working. Any anxiety around that fact is suffering. 

The thing to investigate here is, what is the plain truth of the situation (satya), and what is the piece I'm adding in? Once we've found what we're adding in, and we hold that with compassion? can we let it go?

Non-Stealing (Asteya)

In yoga the notion of non-stealing (asteya) has far-reaching implications. It's not just, "don't commit crimes." But more broadly, how are you taking things that you don't need away from yourself or others? 

As an example, we've embarked in this adventure of self-employment. One of the joys of self-employment is the freedom it brings. You don't report to any boss and you can get your work done in a way that's far more flexible than having an employer. So don't rob yourself of that! When you're feeling tired, maybe sleep in a morning here or there. Plan vacations and time off, even before your business is really off the ground. Live your whole life now and don't steal the present from yourself; don't rob yourself of the journey by thinking you need to hurry up and "do something" now. Take the time to shift into "low gear" for a while, ride on your laurels and take in the scenery! 

Many Paths

These ideas (truthfulness/satya, pain vs. suffering, and non-stealing/asteya) are only three ways to thinking about taking breaks and how to reduce the guilt around them. You may find others that also speak to you. It can also be difficult to keep all these ideas in mind. You can practice these concepts by noticing them or asking yourself what is true? what is pain or what is suffering? and what might I be stealing? You can also incorporate your positive truths or desires for your life into a vision board, background image on your computer, or a strategically placed post-it note. These things can prompt you to remember that starting a business is enough hard work (pain) as it is (satya), don't steal (asteya) the joy of the journey (suffering.)