Rest Like LeBron James

Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.

I’ll acknowledge up front that I’m not a sports fan. I’m not a sports fan to such an extent that I would barely know the difference between a 5-iron and a cricket bat. However, I appreciate that athletics have a lot in common with the creative arts. Success is often not about inspiration so much as persistence, an openness to learning, patience, and overall dedication to one’s craft.

Many runners in half-marathon event
Run when you need to and rest when you can

That’s part of what drew my attention to a recent article on ESPN’s web site about LeBron James and “the art of resting.” For high-performance athletes, how they perform is partially determined by how they manage their energy levels. That means not charging forward at full speed all the time and, instead, distinguishing between full-speed and partial-speed (or no-speed) situations. And that means resting at every opportunity. To quote ESPN:

James moved slower than just about any rotation player in the league. And since the playoffs started, James has gotten even slower. His average has slipped to 3.69 mph. Here’s why: James walks a lot. During the regular season, about 74.4 percent of James’ time on the court was spent walking. Again, this was in the top 10 in the league. Almost no one walked up and down the floor more than James. And in the playoffs, he’s walking even more — 78.7 percent of the time. It’s a data-backed way of saying James calculates when he can take plays off. Or more appropriately, when he needs to take them off.

The best player isn’t the fastest all the time, only when they need to be. And one way to be the fastest (or the strongest, or the most agile) is to take advantage of quiet moments to rest and recover. It’s an understanding that comes from experience, something James himself is quoted as saying: “It’s just about growing, maturing and understanding that you play smarter.”

It’s a strategy a lot of us apply informally, sometimes without even being aware we’re doing it. I used to do a fair amount of bicycling through the foothills of northern California. Cycling teaches you pretty quickly that you shouldn’t pedal all the time. You coast when the landscape allows so that you have the energy to pedal when you go uphill.

Photograph of Bradley Bravard carrying bicycle, 1999
Not LeBron James

I see this as an “anti-multitasking” approach that’s relevant to anything you’re trying to excel at. The myth of multitasking has been fairly well demonstrated. As a former co-worker phrased it, “You’re not really doing many things at once. It still takes the same amount of time.” In fact, trying to fill every instant with “productive” activity can actually make you slower. For example, communication tools like e-mail, texting, etc., have become an incredible burden on productivity. It’s easy to tell yourself, “I have a spare minute, I should check e-mail or do something else ‘productive.'” It’s the workplace equivalent of constantly running up and down the court when you don’t need to.

Maybe that spare minute is exactly the time to apply the LeBron James rest strategy. Instead of filling every minute with activity, take a few seconds, close your eyes, and take some deep breaths. Reflect on gratitude or simply clear your mind of the busy-ness of the day. Stand up and stretch. Grab a cup of tea. If you have five or ten spare minutes, consider meditation – even brief periods of meditation have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Have more than ten minutes? Consider a power nap. There is research indicating that a post-lunch nap can improve memory and mental performance.

Managing your energy level and productivity, over the course of a day or the length of a career, can make the difference between good and great. Something to think about during your own creative work. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best option.

I do know the difference between a 5-iron and a cricket bat.

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