Rest

Rest

We considered how stress and self-discipline result in growth and strength, whether that is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. However, an important corollary of this is that intervals of rest are needed so that we are able to recover stronger instead of ending up progressively worn down.

From nature and our own experience we can see that this rest needs to happen on several cycles. There is a daily rest (1/3 of our time is spent sleeping), a wise principle of weekly rest (one day out of seven), and a yearly rest (winter, vacations). We could even consider the wisdom of longer cycles of rest (e.g., taking sabbatical every 7 to 11 years as many universities practice for their faculty, and as Intel has done).

These principles apply not only to organic life but also to organizations. While agile principles and techniques do increase team efficiency and productivity, it is a mistake to think that agile’s goal is continuous apparent productivity. There are a number of shatterings of continuous apparent productivity that are necessary to healthy agile product development. It is important to brainstorm, learn, conduct retrospectives, take time to refactor, experiment and evaluate alternatives . . . and also to rest. Paradoxically, all of these ways of taking time to slow down often help to improve your team’s long-term productivity.

Obviously our individual daily, weekly, and annual cycles of rest help with the health of our agile team. But the team itself should also be engaging in rest. There are many possibilities here, including team outings and shared meals, team training, and planning for gap sprints or gap weeks to focus on lighthearted or experimental work (what if I rewrote this in Clojure, Haskell, or Racket). In keeping with the spirit of agile, the team should evaluate its own need for rest and plan appropriate kinds of rest.

Crossposted to I gotta have my orange juice.

Difficulty

Mark Horne writes of strength training:

The rule seems to be that your body adapts so that the most difficult thing you do eventually feels hard to do. As you age this process accelerates. When you give up an activity because it feels hard another one starts to feel hard to do. As your body loses strength you start to avoid tasks and chores that were once easier. You accumulate weakness. In the words of Seneca, “Soft living imposes on us the penalty of debility; we cease to be able to do the things we have long been grudging about doing.”

But this is true not only of your body but also your mind and will and spirit: the hardest thing you do feels hard. This leads us to several helpful insights:

First, it helps us sympathize with others who are experiencing difficulty. It is tempting to despise others who have greater difficulty with smaller challenges compared to yourself. However, this principle allows you to sympathize, since you know that difficulty is relative rather than absolute.

Second, this teaches us that contentment, peace, and joy are not primarily related to our circumstances but to our philosophy and outlook on life. Excluding obvious exceptions such as injustice and extreme hardship, this principle reveals that if you are complaining or anxious in one difficulty, you will still be complaining or anxious in other and even lighter difficulties. Therefore, your work to cultivate contentment, peace, and joy cannot wait; you must find deep roots unrelated to your circumstances. And even in cases of injustice and extreme hardship, this reveals that there is a possible path to contentment, peace, and joy even while you wait on, plead for, and pray for relief.

Third, this also indicates a way to grow in our capacity for work and difficulty. It is helpful simply to recognize that difficulty is relative, since you can cultivate gratitude that you are not experiencing greater difficulty. But this also gives you a tool to expand your capacity: you can periodically subject yourself to greater or artificial difficulty, combined with periods of rest and recovery, in order for your current difficulties to become lighter. In the physical sphere, you increase your capacity with sprint exercises, intervals, and progressive loading. Furthermore, growth in self-discipline and capacity in one sphere of life tends to have a side effect benefit across all of life. It is strangely easier to wake up early and to eat well if you are working hard at strength training; there is a kind of snowball effect to growing in health and strength and capacity.

Finally, all this applies not only to yourself but also to how you can lead others to grow in joy and capacity. As Edwin Friedman writes, “increasing one’s pain threshold for others helps them mature.”

Crossposted to I gotta have my orange juice.

Leadership and success

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy says of leadership that:

[T]he one thing you must know is that you have been exalted into a position, you see, of privilege, because of an historical chain of events, which dignifies you beyond your own merits. . . . [Y]ou know that you are not up to the occasion. You are less than the quality history bestows on you. . . . Ceremonies warn all men that they are less than the office that has fallen upon [them]. . . .

He goes on to caution that success is necessarily connected to and builds upon (even if it transforms or transcends) that which comes before.