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Source: Nerves And Common Sense
ONCE met a man who had to do an important piece of scientific work
in a given time. He worked from Saturday afternoon at 2 o'clock
until Monday morning at 10 o'clock without interruption, except for
one hour's sleep and the necessary time it took for nourishment.
After he had finished he was, of course, intensely tired, but
instead of going right to bed and to sleep, and taking all that
brain strain to sleep with him he took his dog and his gun and went
hunting for several hours.
Turning his attention to something so entirely different gave the
other part of his brain a chance to recover itself a little. The
fresh air revived him, and the gentle exercise started up his
circulation, If he had gone directly to sleep after his work, the
chances are that it would have taken him days to recover from the
fatigue, for nature would have had too much against her to have
reacted quickly from so abnormal a strain--getting an entire change
of attention and starting up his circulation in the fresh air gave
nature just the start she needed. After that she could work steadily
while he slept, and he awakened rested and refreshed.
To write from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning seems a stupid
thing to do--no matter what the pressure is. To work for an abnormal
time or at an abnormal rate is almost always stupid and short
There are exceptions, however, and it would be good if for those
exceptions people knew how to take the best care of themselves. But
it is not only after such abnormal work that we need to know how to
react most restfully. It is important after all work, and especially
for those who have some steady labor for the whole day.
Every one is more or less tired at the end of the day and the
temptation is to drop into a chair or lie down on the sofa or to go
right to bed and go to sleep. Don't do it.
Get some entire, active change for your brain, if it is only for
fifteen minutes or half an hour. If you live in the city, even to go
to walk and look into the shop windows is better than nothing. In
that way you get fresh air, and if one knows how to look into shop
windows without wanting anything or everything they see there, then
it is very entertaining.
It is a good game to look into a shop window for two or three
minutes and then look away and see how well you can remember
everything in it. It is important always to take shop windows that
are out of one's own line of work.
If you live in the country, a little walk out of doors is pleasanter
than in the city, for the air is better; and there is much that is
interesting, in the way of trees and sky, and stars, at night.
As you walk, make a conscious effort to look out and about you.
Forget the work of the day, and take good long breaths.
When you do not feel like going out of doors, take a story book--or
some other reading, if you prefer--and put your mind right on it for
half an hour. The use of a really good novel cannot be
overestimated. It not only serves as recreation, but it introduces
us to phases of human nature that otherwise we would know nothing
whatever about. A very great change from the day's work can be found
in a good novel and a very happy change.
If the air in the theaters were fresher and good seats did not cost
so much a good play, well acted, would be better than a good novel.
Sometimes it freshens us up to play a game after the day's work is
over, and for those who love music there is of course the greatest
rest in that. But there again comes in the question of cost.
Why does not some kind soul start concerts for the people where, for
a nominal admission, the best music can be heard? And why does not
some other kind soul start a theater for the people where, for a
very small price of admission, they can see the best plays and see
them well acted?
We have public libraries in all our cities and towns, and a
librarian in one large city loves to tell the tale of a poor woman
in the slums with her door barred with furniture for fear of the
drunken raiders in the house, quietly reading a book from the public
There are many similar stories to go with that. If we had really
good theaters and really good concerts to be reached as simply and
as easily as the books in our public libraries, the healthy
influence throughout the cities would be proportionately increased.
The trouble is that people cater as much to the rich with their
ideas of a national theater as the theatrical syndicate itself.
I could not pretend to suggest amusements that would appeal to any
or every reader, but I can make my point clear that when one is
tired it is healthy to have a change of activity before going to
"Oh," I hear, "I can't! I can't! I am too tired."
I know the feeling.
I have no doubt the man who wrote for nearly two days had a very
strong tendency to go right to bed, but he had common sense behind
it, and he knew the result would be better if he followed his common
sense rather than his inclination. And so it proved.
It seems very hard to realize that it is not the best thing to go
right to bed or to sit and do nothing when one is so tired as to
make it seem impossible to do anything else.
It would be wrong to take vigorous physical exercise after great
brain or body fatigue, but entire change of attention and gentle
exercise is just what is needed, although care should always be
taken not to keep at it too long. Any readers who make up their
minds to try this process of resting will soon prove its happy
A quotation from a recent daily paper reads, "'Rest while you work,'
says Annie Payson Call,"--and then the editor adds, "and get fired,"
and although the opportunity for the joke was probably thought too
good to lose, it was a natural misinterpretation of a very practical
I can easily imagine a woman--especially a tired out and bitter
woman--reading directions telling how to work restfully and
exclaiming with all the vehemence of her bitterness: "That is all
very well to write about. It sounds well, but let any one take hold
of my work and try to do it restfully.
"If my employer should come along and see me working in a lazy way
like that, he would very soon discharge me. No, no. I am tired out;
I must keep at it as long as I can, and when I cannot keep at it any
longer, I will die--and there is the end."
"It is nothing but drudge, drudge for your bread and butter--and
what does your bread and butter amount to when you get it?"
There are thousands of women working to-day with bodies and minds so
steeped in their fatigue that they cannot or will not take an idea
outside of their rut of work. The rut has grown so deep, and they
have sunken in so far that they cannot look over the edge.
It is true that it is easier to do good hard work in the lines to
which one has been accustomed than to do easy work which is strange.
Nerves will go on in old accustomed habits--even habits of tiresome
strain--more easily than they will be changed into new habits of
working without strain.
The mind, too, gets saturated with a sense of fatigue until the
fatigue seems normal, and to feel well rested would--at first--seem
abnormal. This being a fact, it is a logical result that an
habitually tired and strained mind will indignantly refuse the idea
that it can do more work and do it better without the strain.
There is a sharp corner to be turned to learn to work without
strain, when one has had the habit of working with it. After the
corner is turned, it requires steady, careful study to understand
the new normal habit of working restfully, and to get the new habit
When once it is established, this normal habit of work develops its
own requirements, and the working without strain becomes to us an
essential part of the work itself.
For taken as a whole, more work is done and the work is done better
when we avoid strain than when we do not. What is required to find
this out is common sense and strength of character.
Character grows with practice; it builds and builds on itself when
once it has a fair start, and a very little intelligence is needed
if once the will is used to direct the body and mind in the lines of
Intelligence grows, too, as we use it. Everything good in the soul
grows with use; everything bad, destroys.
Let us make a distinction to begin with between "rest while you
work" and "working restfully."
"Rest while you work" might imply laziness. There is a time for rest
and there is a time for work. When we work we should work entirely.
When we rest we should rest entirely.
If we try to mix rest and work, we do neither well. That is true.
But if we work restfully, we work then with the greatest amount of
power and the least amount of effort.
That means more work and work better done after the right habit is
established than we did before, when the wrong habit was
established. The difficulty comes, and the danger of "getting
fired," when we are changing our habit.
To obviate that difficulty, we must be content to change our habit
more slowly. Suppose we come home Saturday night all tired out; go
to bed and go to sleep, and wake Sunday almost more tired than when
we went to bed. On Sunday we do not have to go to work.
Let us take a little time for the sole purpose of thinking our work
over, and trying to find where the unnecessary strain is.
"But," I hear some one say, "I am too tired to think." Now it is a
scientific fact that when our brains are all tired out in one
direction, if we use our wills to start them working in another
direction, they will get rested.
"But," again I hear, "if I think about my work, why isn't that
using my brain in the same direction?" Because in thinking to apply
new principles to work, of which you have never thought before, you
are thinking in a new direction.
Not only that, but in applying new and true principles to your work
you are bringing new life into the work itself.
On this Sunday morning, when you take an hour to devote yourself to
the study of how you can work without getting overtired ask yourself
the following questions:--
(1) "What do I resist in or about my work?" Find out each thing that
you do resist, and drop the contractions that come in your body,
with the intention of dropping the resistances in your mind.
(2) "Do I drop my work at meals and eat quietly?"
(3) "Do I take every opportunity that I can to get fresh air, and
take good, full breaths of it?"
(4) "Do I feel hurried and pushed in my work? Do I realize that no
matter how much of a hurry there may be, I can hurry more
effectively if I drop the strain of the hurry?"
(5) "How much superfluous strain do I use in my work? Do I work with
a feeling of strain? How can I observe better in order to become
conscious of the strain and drop it?"
These are enough questions for one time! If you concentrate on these
questions and on finding the answers, and do it diligently, you will
be surprised to see how the true answers will come to you, and how
much clearer they will become as you put them into daily practice.
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