Take the break before you need it

By July 1, 2014 38 Comments

The other day, my husband and I were out walking with the baby. I had been carrying our little guy in the carrier (one of his favorite places on earth) for quite some time. And we live in a very hilly neighborhood.

“Do you need a break? I can take him,” my husband said.

I thought about it for a sec. I didn’t need a break. I was doing okay.

“No, I’m okay.” I said.

So we kept walking. And then, maybe twenty minutes later, suddenly I really, really needed a break. And I was also exhausted and cranky.

Now I’m telling you, it has honestly taken me decades to finally have the thought I had next, which was this: “You can take the break before you need it.” You can take the break, replenish, stop whatever you are doing – when you still have fuel in the tank.


A few days later, we were out with the baby again, this time on the train. We were exploring, hanging out, and everyone was having a fine old time. I decided that was so fabulous that instead of getting off at our intended destination a few stops away from our home, we should ride the train out to the end of the line.

It was really great for the first 15 minutes or so. And then we all started to get tired, bored, and fussy. It was too much.

It’s hard for me to end anything – a work session, a conversation, an outing – while still energized and up for more. It’s hard for me to take a break before a break is non-negotiable.

It has something to do with my passion and exuberance for life, yes, and I appreciate that in myself. But it also has something to do with how exhaustion numbs me from the present. If I stop doing whatever while I’m still alert, energized, then, by definition, I continue being alertly-present to my moment-to-moment experience. And sometimes I want to run from that.

Last week some friends were visiting us, with their toddler son. The little guy loved to watch our dog eat and would yell “more! more!” when our dog was done with his food. My friend, his wise mama, would explain, “He’s all done. He had enough. It was enough.” I got to watch his two year old mind contemplate this abstract concept and try to take it in: enough. And I wanted to teach myself, just like that, with a patient, loving, maternal voice, “Tara, that is enough honey. It’s enough.”

I think I am still learning what enough is, and that it is. That you can declare yourself having worked hard enough for the day before your brain has slowed to a total halt due to exhaustion. That you can declare it enough hours doing childcare and take a break even while you are still enjoying yourself and have the stamina to do more. That you can declare it enough of a lovely evening with friends before all your energy for conversation expires. That you can quit while well-resourced, still alert, still enjoying, eager for it all to happen again.

So I’m going to try this for a while, and I invite you to try it with me: to take the break before you need it. To quit while you are ahead, in a sense. To experience the mysterious side of life I know little about – doing things lightly, in moderation, with buffer.

Right now, I have twenty minutes before I have to pack up the computer and head home from this cafe. The old way? Spend the next twenty minutes polishing this post or doing a couple more tasks. After all – I have a teeny bit of stamina left. I can.

The new way? Pack up now. Stroll for a bit, and give myself some extra buffer time for getting home before my next appointment.

I like it.

Do you take the break before you need it? Do you want to? Tell us in the comments.



Join the discussion 38 Comments

  • cheryl childs says:

    Radical indeed. I’m not even sure I recognize the warning signs that tell me I need a break until after the break down!

  • Paula says:

    Brilliant. Look forward to giving this a try as I tend to wait until I’m running on fumes too … thanks for sharing this, Tara!

  • What a wonderful lesson for all of us. I have learned with five kids, two dogs, a husband and a six-figure coaching career to take that break before I need it. You are so right when you say that when you push further you can become cranky, tired, frustrated and feeling as if you have to do it all. Stop and take that break before, especially when someone offers. It’s absolutely ok to say yes to the offers of help! Thank you, Tara.

  • Paula Ruffy says:

    This morning this thought ascended top of mind – “faster than the speed of life”. I have been witnessing this frenetic pace with many friends and family as they live their lives. In a moment of self-reflection you paused long enough to see that “the break” before “the break is needed” is a matter of choice. Thanks for reminding us Tara.

  • This is such a radical idea but I really love it. I will definitely experiment with this concept in the coming weeks. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Chara says:

    What a good point, Tara, illustrated by stories that sound so familiar. I am working on learning this. Not being good at it has led to some health disasters. Why is this so hard for women? Thanks for the mentoring! May we all learn to be good to ourselves and take the break before we’re desperate for it.

  • Pat says:

    Brilliant. My new assignment is to practice recognizing “enough.” A much needed lesson right now. Thank you.

  • Patti says:

    Love this. You always inspire me, but this one really hit home. I get the issue of breaking before exhaustion, but what spoke to me was your reference to exhaustion numbing you from the present. Enough. That’s what I need to practice on so many levels. Thank you for seeing this and sharing.

  • Tara – I so appreciate this story and sentiment.Working to the point of exhaustion fortunately is “mostly” my Old Story. As part of my creative work flow – that I also try to train other biz artists in – is to heed those moments when focus falters pre-exhaustion and take deliberate diversions. Time your focus flows. Let the Zen gong sound. Close shop. Walk. Recline. Swim. The break is really not a break. It’s just the right kind of punctuation in the day’s sentence.

    And wait until the little guy is a toddler asking you to take a break. That’s a sweet thing.

  • Deanette says:

    OMG! Tara I loved this post! I have an issue with everything never being enough. I work with myself on this issue daily. Thank you for this wonderful post. I love the updates about your family as well. Thank you for sharing your life experiences with us to help us all be better. 🙂 Take care Hugs Deanette
    PS I am going to take a break today before I need one! I promise!

  • Rachel says:

    The perfect way to explore eating as well. Stopping before we are stuffed, enjoying the last bite as much as the first…love it, thank you Tara.

  • Rebecca says:

    Very important stuff! I was conditioned from a young age to rise at dawn and do valuable things until sundown. Then I was a teacher and mother of children with special needs and still “did it all” ~ with no support. I broke down, all right. After some major life changes I now allow myself to rest, to veg out, to skip things altogether. It’s awesome. I still fight the judgmental voice on a sunny day when I’m inside, or eating at an odd time, or leaving an unfinished project on the table; its influence is history, though! Thanks for this great article. ENOUGH, indeed!

  • I needed to read this today! This morning, I realized I’ve adopted a pattern of my mother’s: I work myself past the point of exhaustion, at which point I’m of no use to anyone – kids, husband, employer – until I recover. It comes from a sort of puritanical belief in hard work, but it’s self-defeating. I’m going to try to internalize this advice and see if I can break the pattern!

  • A says:

    *It is* a radical idea! I never stopped to realize how guilty I am of this!
    I love the concept and I am ready to apply it in my life!

  • Laura says:

    Oh, Tara. Right on the money, as always. I have been working this month on my own tendency to use every last minute, thereby adding unnecessary stress and hassle to what comes next. If I have 6 hours to work on a presentation before I need to leave, I’ll spend 6 hours and 5 minutes. Why do I do that? I have been searching all month. And you have identified the key: somehow my brain does not pause to say “this is enough.” You DESERVE a moment to recharge, to proceed calmly, to be early. Your client or audience or recipient will have to be satisfied with this work as it is. It is enough.

  • Lady H says:

    So simple, the concept eluded me. I am usually one of the last to go to bed, leave the party, quit work for the day… for exactly the reasons you mention – I leave work 20 minutes after I become a zombie and then I have to catch a second wind to be remotely human for my husband and son, only to not feel tired at bedtime especially because I am into reading my book and wham next thing you know it is midnight on a work night and I am too tired to take off my makeup. I am very much like #15 Laura. I will bet neither she nor her audience ever thought the 5 minutes overtime made a bit of difference. Why we do this is less important than recognizing the tendency and consciously saying, “Enough, already”. Thank you, Tara! Another aha moment courtesy of you!

  • Jill says:

    Wow, you really have my number–in a way I had never really thought of before. This is me! And I think it connects to my own issue with often being late–because I’m always trying to fit in “one more thing”–never leaving early, or allowing a buffer zone, as you put it. And as Rachel points out, this helps explain overeating also–the concept of understanding and making peace with “enough” instead of overdoing it and always wanting to have more, do more, fit in more. Thank you for this really insightful post!

  • MJ says:

    I’ve been practicing this with some regularity for a while, but then feeling guilty about, as if I haven’t ‘done enough’ unless I’ve reached the point of exhaustion. So my practice is to stop without guilt. Sometimes I’ve actually managed it, and am hoping get much better at it.

  • Karen Maestas says:

    If we listen and allow her to come forth, we can hear the loving maternal voice from within. It becomes even stronger when you have your own children. This voice should treat you with the same tenderness and love that you show your children. It is the opposite of the voice that scolds and judges. I love your story and that you are seeking her from within. Part of it is instinctive and the other part learned. Thanks so much for sharing and bless you on your journey.

  • Dawn says:

    Yep as a matter a fact my body and mind taught me many years ago to tune in, listen, rest, refresh, and pace yourself. This allows me to complete my day and have some energy for the evening hours with family. Children and health issues force you to re-evaluate each day. We were created for balance if we just listen to our Maker! The world and its pressure will make you feel like you must live in “over-ride” mode all of the time. No way! I am not buying into that lie. Our creator is wise. Listen! :o)

  • Dawn says:

    This is one of the many blessings of breastfeeding. Not sure if you chose to Breastfeed Tara, but it calls for much quiet reflective time. Time that feels like a chore some days, but looking back, you can see the beauty in those quiet moments. Enjoy these feeding times and don’t rush those night feedings Sis! :o)

  • My daughter is a young mother of two and we keep the kids from time to time. This post rang so very true, and especially enjoyable was the attempt to explain “enough” to the toddler, about the dog! I will surely share your blog post with my daughter who has the same observations as you on the “stages” of energy levels! Thank you very much.

  • Sandra Hart says:

    Thank you for clarifying exactly what I do so much of the time and for suggesting a kinder, gentler way to treat myself. I often am unsure when I’m close to my exhaustion point – best way to know that is to be present, just to begin noticing.
    Thank you again for sharing your experience.

  • Maggie says:

    Hi..to everyone….sometimes I take the break before I need one, because I am anticipating my timing needs. In those cases I fill my remaining time with another special need, desire or I want to do thing..before the rest period…in the case where there is two people, than there can be more of break time opportunity because it’s systematically planned. Timing on Planet Earth is systematic..we just navigate around the timing of the events. Most imp. is giving yourself time to recognize you need a break..then it’s simple, enjoyable and comfortable…adjustment is easy..we just do it!

  • Maggie says:

    Here’s another little nugget on what I call, “the Me time potentiality”…learning to recognize the need for more personal time which gives you a little nugget for yourself because we need this down time in our busy schedules…it’s where we rejuvenate..we take a breath, we come up for air and we learn to breathe…and this is where life get’s exciting. We’re renewed and can take on more or just settle back in the routine. Awakening each day, sensing the creativity we share as women who nuture our families and friends.

  • Lisa Myers says:

    Tara, what a great and inspiring article! While this might be a “radical” idea for most of us, for people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it’s even more vital, and yet equally hard to do. When energy and stamina are so limited by chronic illness, the reduced amount that we can do NEVER feels like enough…and so we push farther until we crash. But what would it be like to stop sooner, and let that be enough? Then perhaps whatever little bit we can do might become a joyful experience rather than a punishing one. I’m going to try to focus on this, like you, for a while and will definitely share this on my community page. Thank you!

  • Jane says:

    very interesting post. I suffer from chronic pain and have struggled with stopping before I hit the wall. But if I battle on it takes longer to recover. I learnt on a pain management programme the 3 P’s, plan, prioritise, pace. I still have a long way to go with this, but pacing and leaving a bit in the tank is such good advice, it ensures a better quality of life rather than the longer recovery from crash and burn. Good luck with your experiment, all new ways of working need to become a habit, so give it time

  • Linda Cappa says:

    Great thought, great plan! I will and need to join you on this one .
    Thanks Tara

  • Heidi says:

    All of the above! As an adult with ADD/ADHD, once I finally get into a focused mode, I SO hate to stop, for fear I’ll never get back into that flow again. Keep trying to do the One More Thing or get it JUST RIGHT (perfectionistic tendency!). Next thing I know, 2 hrs have gone by and I’m falling asleep standing up and really haven’t gotten that much more done. I will take this to heart. Thanks for your wisdom, Tara and Everyone!

  • Deb Cameron says:

    So timely! I am just learning this 🙂 in fact if you go to my blog right now you’ll see a post I wrote just after releasing my first pattern and in the midst of a two week pattern tour saying I’d had to abort it. Mainly because I had not read the signs of needing to slow down, to pace myself and all my other priorities, to ‘take the break before I needed it!’ – timely, well said, thank you!

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  • Melea says:

    This totally resonates with me. It’s the whole ‘we can do it all’ … ‘but not all at once’….

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  • Meryl Cook says:

    This post resonated with me, as this spring I had the ultimate experience of waiting too long to take a break. I had been exhausted for many months in my practice as a homeopath, but had resisted taking time away from my patients. I had recently returned to driving a motorcycle, and was having so much fun that I ignored my husband’s suggestion we take a break. I had an accident which forced me to take 2 months away from my practice and return to work part time.
    I’m working on listening to my self more, have changed the hours and the way I work and have resolved to take a break before I need it and never to get into that exhausted state again.
    There was a silver lining. The accident changed my perspective on self care and I fell in love with my husband of 32 years all over again!

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