All athletes strive to gain every inch of an advantage possible to get ahead of the competition. The same can be said for young adults hungry for opportunity in the workplace. 

That concept is often interpreted as extra hours in the gym, offseason filled with camps and travel teams, and workdays that extend long beyond day’s end. 

Hard work is certainly a key driver of peak performance. Yet at what expense?

Peak Performance doesn’t take place without rest. In fact, rest is a competitive advantage. 

Sleep…and More
With many athletes turning the corner to their offseason, there’s no better time to recalibrate an emphasis on rest…specifically sleep. 

“Rest is a competitive advantage because the more restful sleep you get, the faster your reaction time will be,” Dr. Kirbi Kidd (Dr. K) says. “In return, less sleep can be attributed to slower reaction time.”

Dr. K adds that the benefits of sleep aren’t just physical, but biologically as well, as quality sleep promotes a human’s ability to consolidate information into their long-term memory. 

“It’s important to be intentional about it; develop a sleep routine, and notice the nights where you’re getting 8-9 hours of sleep,” Kidd says. “By getting into a routine, you’ll have high-quality REM Sleep, restful sleep, and the additional benefits that come from developing a good pattern.” 

Yet rest is so much more than sleep, and can look different for everyone. 

“Rest is truly defined by you, it’s individualized,” Kidd says. “Rest for some people is actually playing (their sport) without the confines of structured competition, going hiking, or swimming 20 laps. For others it’s reading or cooking.”

Regardless of activity, rest is grounded in being mindful and intentional. 

“Rest to me is mindful cooking and mindful meal prep, because that takes a little bit of stress off of me each day during the lunch period so I can eat during that time instead of looking for food,” Kidd says. 

Rest and nutrition/hydration can go hand in hand as well. Dr. K takes mindful water breaks throughout the day as an opportunity to reset and of course…stay hydrated. 

“Water is so important so I put everything else aside and set water breaks just to get hydrated, to get oxygen to my brain.” Kidd says. “That helps me rest because feeling fatigued and dehydrated worsens everything.” 

Mindful rest transcends relationships as well; and while it’s important to be mindful when communicating with peers, it’s also important to be mindful of when you need a break from friends and family. 

“Rest is all about allowing your mind some time not to think…giving it a break from performing.”

Minding the Grind
Dr. K has been at Premier Sport Psychology since the summer of 2022. In her time, she’s worked with athletes of all levels and ages on how to incorporate mindful rest into their lives. 

Yet as a former athlete and aspiring professional, Dr. K also experienced the grind…and has seen what a lifestyle that includes rest can do. 

“If I had to talk to a 20-year-old me, I’d say that reality is, there are a lot of benefits that go into grinding and cranking stuff out, doing a lot of work. There’s a ‘pick me’ pressure to benefit from all the hard work and projects done. 

Yet there will be a time five years from then that you’ll realize, I did do all those things, but was I present during them? What was the quality of my relationships? Was my fitness and health in order? Grinding has its benefits, but also comes with a price. I’d tell young adults and athletes to ask themself the question, are you willing to grind at the expense of other important aspects of life? And are you willing to deal with the stuff that comes as a product of that?”

That isn’t to say that moments of the grind won’t periodically pop up in sport and life. Yet incorporating periodic rest during these times is a must as well as being observant. 

Do I have to grind at times? Absolutely. But it’s not sustainable for multiple months without time for intentional rest,” Kidd says. “Make time to reset, be mindful, take a weekend off. If you’re grinding to get into a system or organization that is constantly grinding, look at the retention rates and ask if you truly want to be a part of that. People’s choices are valid, but it’s important to note your values and critically observe.”

Dr. K’s Three Tips for Mindful Rest

  1. Find ways to turn your brain off….that looks different for everyone. Yet the common denominator is finding activities where you don’t have to be on, perform, or participate. One simple way that I like to do this is observe the setting around me, or even people-watch. People are intriguing and it’s fascinating to observe body language, facial expressions. It’s also a great opportunity to observe different cultures, fashion, and colors. 
  2. To find time to rest, you’ll need to say “No” at times. Let your yes be your yes and your no be your no. The importance of saying no is to protect yourself and to protect what you are saying no to. Saying no is twofold: first it’s a sign that a boundary is being set and the second is that an awareness of self has been met and is actively being maintained. Being a “Yes” person with no thought or consideration to self will lead to burnout, irritation, high-functioning anxiety, or being asked to do more because you say yes to everything. It’s ok to not do everything, to set boundaries with a “No” or even a “No, but thank you for the consideration at this time.” Saying “No” is the simplest form of self-care and it is ok to care about self and take care of your wellbeing.
  3. (Laughs) My ‘hanger’ is real… but in all seriousness, mindful eating is a great way to practice rest. As I mentioned earlier, I do this by bringing my own lunch each day. By doing so you’re not only erasing the stress/worry of what will I eat? or where will I get food?, but you’re also creating a space for rest. You’ve set your attention and intention to something, you’ve prepared your food, set aside time to eat it, and will savor it (and that time) much more.