Based on a comment I made on this EA Forum Post on Burnout.

Related links: Sabbath hard and go home, Bring Back the Sabbath

That comment I made generated more positive feedback than usual (in that people seemed to find it helpful to read and found themselves thinking about it months after reading it), so I'm elevating it to a LW post of its own. Consider this an update to the original comment.

Like Ben Hoffman, I stumbled upon and rediscovered the Sabbath (although my implementation seems different from both Ben and Zvi). I was experiencing burnout at CFAR, and while I wasn't able to escape the effects entirely, I found some refuge in the following distinction between Rest Days and Recovery Days.

Recovery Days

A Recovery Day is where you're so tired or under-resourced that you can't do much of anything with yourself other than: stay in bed / sleep a lot, binge on Netflix or video games, stay in your room all day, play with your phone, use social media, and feel unmotivated to do much except easy, stimulating, and/or mind-numbing things. This is a Recovery Day and does not count as a Rest Day, but it is fine to take the time for them. However you aren't going to be refreshed from them. In order to really refresh, you need to take another day that counts as a Rest Day.

Another way a person might take time off is to do things that are like work but easier. Video games are a prime example. I play a lot of video games that involve optimizing systems, and I find these really motivating and fun. But I notice that this is a kind of "work"—my mind is trying to solve problems and implement solutions. The difference is that because it's easy and doable, I get addicted to them, and it's a way for me to escape the "real" problems at work, which tend to be harder to solve. This also doesn't count as Resting.

Rest Days

Rest Days are days where I have enough energy and resources that I feel motivated and able to get out and about. (One way I can tell I have energy is that sometimes I spontaneously feel like cooking, a rare occurrence.) On a Rest Day, your prime directive is to just "follow your gut" for the entire day and just do "what you feel like doing" in the moment.

There can be no obligations on a Rest Day. No scheduled calls or meetings. No promises to show up to a party. You can go to the party if you actually feel like going to the party, but you won't be able to know until last-minute. You cannot be "on-call" for anything. No one should depend on you unless it's someone you actively like being depended on for things, like a person you care about.

There can be exceptions to these, but I like to make Rest Days "sacred"—aka protected from influences like work pressure, social pressure, pressure from society, incentive gradients created by video games and my phone, incentive gradients created by money, the pressure to be different or better, the pressure to achieve, the pressure to always be going somewhere else, the pressure to "always be closing."

Rest Days are for being in the Now. The Now needs to be protected from influences from both the past (obligations) and the future (anxieties).

Rest Days will actually refresh and reset you. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to take Rest Days. They instead use weekends and vacation days as Recovery Days or days where their mind is still in "working" mode. But Recovery Days alone are not sufficient for refreshing your energy levels and motivation. You risk burnout if you consistently fail to get any true Rest over a long period of time.

Things my gut wants to do on Rest Days:

  • be in the present moment
  • meditate (in a natural, spontaneous way)
  • eat tasty things
  • have a picnic in a park / take walks / enjoy nature
  • chill at a cafe I like
  • go to a museum or an aquarium
  • draw, dance, sing, improvise poems
  • read a book, listen to music
  • cook
  • spend meaningful social time with friends or family
  • useful, engaging errands or home-improvement stuff (not because I have to, because I want to)
  • Things my gut rarely wants to do on Rest Days:

  • spend a lot of time on Facebook or social media
  • binge TV
  • play video games
  • be in front of a screen in general
  • do my job / work stuff
  • lie in bed for hours
  • eat microwaved food or junk food
  • go to social functions, networking events, or any social event where I feel like I "should" go but don't really feel like going
  • do anything with an addictive quality
  • Bottom-Up Implementation

    My implementation of Rest Days / Sabbaths is very bottom-up. I pay attention to the sensations and signals from my stomach and use them as my guide for what to do and what not to do. It's basically using Focusing to play a game of warmer-colder on various actions I could take.

    E.g.: I use this method all the time for deciding what to eat. I go through a list of possible foods I could eat, and I check each one by placing the image or felt sense of the food "next to" my stomach. The responses are usually like, "nah" or "not quite but closer" or "yes that." And if I check them against my mouth instead, the answers are sometimes different. My stomach tends to want "real food" (filling, satisfying, variety of nutrients) whereas my mouth will wants things based on their flavor (sweet, spicy, familiar, etc.).

    I use the same method to decide what I want to do: go to the park? do some sketching? hang out with friends?

    This kind of decision-making process doesn't work as well for complicated things. I'm not going to try to buy a house this way. Or plan a party. Or do any work. But it's a great way to know how to spend a Rest Day.

    Top-Down Implementation

    Another totally valid way to implement Rest Days is a top-down method, where you pre-determine some rules and guidelines for yourself.

    Zvi has a set of simple rules he outlined in his post:

    Start here. Adjust as needed.

    Light candles before sundown Friday to begin.

    No outside inputs except in person.

    No choices impacting post-Sabbath.

    Light and extinguish no fires. Do no work or business. Spend no money.

    Only preselected and spontaneously motivated actions are allowed. No browsing. No lists.

    Light another candle after sundown Saturday to end.

    Some other pick-and-choose options for rules that I think would work for many people:

  • No social media, email, news, or mindless phone games
  • No obligations or prior commitments (only optional activities)
  • No driving
  • No online shopping / no buying anything that costs more than $50 unless it's a spontaneous gift for someone else
  • (If EA) Try to make this day one where you permit yourself to seek out warm fuzzies and set aside questions of utility / doing the most good
  • No planning for the future
  • Give yourself "Get Out of Jail Free" cards for things like social obligations, community drama/issues, work-related problems
  • Fair warning #1: If you go overboard on the rules, you may never discover what truly resting is like for you, as I believe it is different for each person AND I don't think you can know what resting is for you without checking in that exact moment in time. Resting is about NOW. Trying to "get your future self to rest" by outlining a bunch of rules may cause you to miss some important things about what you're really wanting in the moment.

    True Rest is one where, in the moment, you do what you want to do and don't do what you don't want to do. That's it.

    Fair warning #2: If you give yourself too much room to maneuver, you may end up slipping back into old habits and just treating Rest Days like any other day. Maybe you say to yourself, well I really actually feel like doing this work right now. So you do some work. And then the next time, it happens again. And again. Until it spirals into becoming normal to work on Rest Days—to pick up work calls, to schedule meetings, to check email, etc.

    Rest Days deserve sacred levels of protection. Otherwise you will just lose them.

    I don't expect anyone to be able to have perfect Rest Days.

    I still check email and Facebook on my Rest Days, just less often. If a work emergency came up, I'd probably get pulled in.


    But I think it makes a significant difference even just to a) hold it as your intention to Rest for the day and b) let others know that this is important to you and that they would be impinging by making requests of you on a Rest Day. This is your time. You are allowed to set boundaries on your time, your attention, and your energy.

    Even if you can't pull it off every week, it seems good to at least try for once a month. Twelve days out of the year are for you. And hopefully it's closer to fifty.

    The Sabbath was trivial to enforce when everyone was doing it. We've more or less lost that as a shared norm. As such, you will be fighting an upstream battle to hold onto your sacred Rest Days. This is unfortunate.

    But it is worth it.

    In my culture, you are allowed to stand up for your ability to Rest. To say "Fuck you" to outside forces trying to take that away from you. To get angry, to dig your heels in, to be stubborn, to get indignant. To say no. You are allowed to protect the sacredness of your Rest Day.

    Society has mostly given up on sacred Rest Days. The least I can do is make it openly permissible and defensible for you to protect your ability to have Rest Days. I hope we can do the same for each other.

    New Comment
    35 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:48 AM

    This distinction seems super valuable. What I find most interesting is that I would have labeled what OP calls Rest as Recovery, and what it calls Recovery as Rest...

    I'll try my hand at Tabooing and analyzing the words. Epistemic status: modeling other people's models.

    Type A days are for changing from a damaged/low-energy state into a functioning state, while Type B days are for maintaining that functioning state by allowing periodic breaks from stressors/time to satisfy needs/?.

    I think Unreal means Recovery as in "recovering from a problematic state into a better one". I'm not sure what's up with Rest - I think we lack a good word for Type B. "Rest" is peaceful/slackful, which is right, but it also seems inactive/passive which doesn't match the intended meaning. If you emphasize the inactivity/passivity of Rest then it fits better with Type A. (I think this partly explains the reversal.)

    Connotations of Rest that I find relevant:

    • lack of anxiety
    • PSNS activation
    • relaxed body (while not necessarily inactive or passive body)
    • a state that you can be in indefinitely, in theory (whereas Recover suggests temporary)
    • meditative (vs medicative)
    • not trying to do anything / not needing anything (whereas Recover suggests goal orientation)
    • Rest feels more sacred than Recovery

    Concept that I want access to that "Recover" doesn't fit as well with:

    After browsing dictionaries and thesauri for about half an hour trying to come up with clear names for the two types of days you defined, I concluded that the best option is to call Recovery Days "Rest Days in which you're tired", and Rest Days "Rest Days in which you're not tired". I'm curious to hear if that works for other people.

    Note: the best eliminated candidates for Recovery Day were "Chill Day", "Sloth Day", "Lazy Day" and "Slow Day"; the best for Rest Day were "Free Day" and "Aimless Day". These candidates wouldn't remove ambiguity.

    "Free Day", while perhaps not the best option overall, has the merit that these days involving freeing the part of you that communicatess through your gut (and through what you feel like doing). During much of our working (and non-working) week, that part is overridden by our mind's sense of what we have to do. 

    By contrast, in OP's Recovery Days this part is either:

    (a) doing the most basic recharging before it can do things it positively feels like and enjoys, or

    (b) overridden or hijacked by addictive behaviours that it doesn't find as roundly rewarding as Free Day activities.

    Addiction can also be seen as a lack of freedom. 

    Promoted to curated: I've found this post personally quite useful. Not necessarily because it said new things, but because it gave a handle to a bunch of stuff that I already had vague intuitions about.

    I've actually generally benefited a lot from the whole Sabbath stuff, and have adopted a habit of spending my Sundays away from any internet-connected devices (except in emergencies). In that practice, I also noticed that when I didn't successfully take a recovery day on Saturday, I would have a lot of trouble properly resting on Sunday, in a way that pretty closely resembled the ideas in this post.

    Besides that, I appreciate that this post isn't much longer than it needs to be, properly links to related articles and generally makes its point in a clear and concise way.

    The biggest criticism I have of this post is that the two words for the two days just sound too similar in my head. When referring to this post I repeatedly had to do a double-take where I rederive the meaning of the two words, and often forgot one of them since they didn't obviously derive from one another. I also have some personal distaste for the call-to-actiony things right at the end, though this one was basically fine and I expect it will have made the post better for other people.

    Something that I didn't get the first time I read this concept (but which Qiaochu explained differently to me), is the specific thing of "check in with my stomach." (Unreal, I'm interested in feedback on whether this is accurate)

    It's not that you're just doing whatever you "feel" like, in a generic sense. You're doing something like Focusing on your stomach in particular, which several people have reported useful for getting introspective access into parts of themselves that they aren't normally in tune with.

    Part of the idea, I think, is that many people by default do things that are in tune with some particular part of their body/mind, and there's a cluster of wants/needs drives that get more ignored by default.

    So, in response to the other thread about videogames vs books (which seem a priori like they should be similar), is... well, yeah they are. But in Unreal's case it the stomach found some of them yummy and some not.

    (I'd guess the meta-level principle isn't to Listen To Your Stomach in particular, just to make sure to listen to yourself generally and see which parts of you aren't getting attended to and make sure you are free to do them. But there may be systematic reasons to hypothesize that the stomach is a more useful-than-average way to do that for most people)

    I assume this is where a "gut-check" came from.

    It's not that you're just doing whatever you "feel" like, in a generic sense. You're doing something like Focusing on your stomach in particular

    Yes, this is right.

    I also do predict the stomach is where most people should be Focusing on, for getting proper Rest. I think there's some kind of ongoing battle between the head and the stomach, and people/society tends to favor the head.

    But I get mileage out of doing Focusing on all kinds of areas.

    Clearly one of the most useful posts I read on LW in 2019. I’m constantly using this distinction in my thinking about how I want to spend my time, and it’s helped a lot.

    If this gets published in some way, it might be worth changing the name of these concepts. I think I did a bad job in naming them. 

    Some suggestions for "Recovery Days" = Zombie Days, Junk Days, Tired Days

    I think "Rest Days" is a good name for this concept, and I'd prefer keeping it. 

    Elizabeth calls them Slug Days (or at least, I think it's the same concept? you could ask her) on the logic that she feels like oozing around like a slug instead of being a person

    I actually find zombie days resonate more than slug days (zombie captures the "I can't think" thing), but do think either of them is an improvement over status quo. (My review of this post was definitely going to be "good concept. needs a better name.")

    aww i like this :) 

    +1 for Slug Days instead of Recovery Days

    Rest Days strikes me as the better of the two, resonates with me on those days. Also fits with Nate's "Rest in Motion" idea. 

    I like zombie days. On Rest Days I'm very alive with strong preferences that I act out, on zombie days I can often barely answer questions.

    I've had the recovery vs. rest day distinction in my head ever since reading this post. Sometimes when I take a day off and then end up feeling not-very-rested at the end of it, rather than being frustrated I remember this post and think "well it's not that I failed to rest, it's that this was a recovery day and the next one will be more restful"; and this has often been true.

    It has also helped me consciously focus more on rest rather than recovery activities, on days when this has been feasible.

    I also have one more category of this type: "alternative work days".

    There are two types of work I do: either I sit all day at home alone working on texts about immortality or global risks or something like this.

    Or I develop my art collection which requires visits to artists, museums, a lot of photography and conversation with people.

    These two works mostly use different parts of my brain: one is working and the other one is resting meanwhile.

    Wow, you've laid out the benefits very nicely. I'd like to try it this Sunday. But I have some personal projects that are very fun and take up most of my free time. Should I stay away from those too?

    I would experiment with that in the following ways:

    • Try not doing any projects and see how that is (This seems good for what Zvi / Ben describe as an emergency check / Sabbath as alarm.)
    • When you feel like working on a project, do so but periodically check "Do I still feel good about doing this right now? Is this yummy? Do I want to be doing this?" Do the check and then follow what seems good in the moment.

    Very interesting dichotomy! Definitely seems worth trying. I'm confused about the reading/screen time/video games distinction though. Why would reading seem appealing but being in front of a screen not? Watching TV is essentially identical to reading right? You're taking in a preset story either way. Admittedly you can read faster than TV characters can talk, so maybe that makes it more rewarding?

    Also, while playing more video games while recovering and fewer while resting makes sense (they're an easy activity while low on energy, and thus will take up much of a recovery day, but less of a rest day), "just following my gut" can still lead to plenty of gaming. Does this mean that I should still play some on a rest day, just less? That I almost never have enough energy to rest instead of recover? That I'm too into gaming and this is skewing my gut such that a good rest day rule would be "follow your gut, except playing fewer/no games today"?

    I think that "video games" is too broad of a category here; I think there are both games which feel Resty and games which feel more Recovery-y.

    I think Kaj is right. But in general, video games / TV feel like they help me escape the present moment, avoid thinking about something or feeling my body, and keep me in my head. Video games also have that feeling of fake productivity which makes them feel like a compulsive "pretend work." (Aka pica.)

    I guess I also should have distinguished "reading for pleasure" and "productive reading." I was advocating for the former and not so much the latter.

    Once, I did a spontaneous picnic where I put a blanket outside somewhere nice and brought a basket of food and a book. And I just lounged outside, reading [Annihilation] and eating and looking at nature. If I imagine having TV instead, I feel like I lose the ability to choose where my attention goes freely. With a book, I can pause or daydream and take my time with it more easily.

    But really it's up to you what counts as Restful. I can imagine watching video interviews Restful for some reason. Or listening to podcasts. I'm less sure what Restful video games for me would be.

    That make a fair bit of sense. And what are your thoughts on work days? I get my work for my job done, but advice on improving productivity on chores and future planning would be appreciated. Also good point on pica!

    So some very general links (since 'improving productivity on chores and future planning' sounds like it could mean a lot of things):

    Overall, I've gotten large gains out of designing my life such that work feels like water flowing downhill rather than me trying to trudge uphill.

    I use Policy-Based Intentions a fair amount, as a way to save willpower. I'm like a game designer trying to design the maze that my mouse is running in, if that makes sense. And I try to make it easy for the mouse to make the correct decisions depending on the situation.

    I have way more to say on this subject now. It's actually a huge topic, with many parts. 

    If I were going to teach a curriculum about this, that curriculum would include:

    1. Why do I not want to get out of bed in the mornings?
    2. Shoulding vs Serving
    3. Eros vs Ego
    4. What am I identifying with? How does that affect my life?
    5. Blue pill vs Red pill moment - continuity break
    6. Initiation into the unknown
    7. What am I here to serve? What am I here to live according to? Personal life missions
    8. Vow work
    9. Resting vs Collapsing
    10. Places where I don't honor myself 
    11. What's a boundary? 
    12. Forgiveness
    13. Internal vs External (Spiritual orientation vs material orientation)
    14. Am I willing to change my life? - continuity break
    15. "Having a practice" - My life as Training
    16. Possible paths forward - intro to different spiritual lineages and paths 
    17. Finding a teacher, if you want
    18. Using everyone and everything as a teacher 
    19. Creating the new vow

    I am probably not fully qualified to teach this curriculum, but if you are interested, let me know. I think I could do one-on-one work with a few people. Everyone's gotta start somewhere. 

    Has anyone else run into the issue where they don't really want to rest - they just want to do different work?

    When I try a rest day, I immediately just want to play a strategy video game. I have an urge to study, improve, learn, etc. That's literally what my mind always goes to. I don't really want to rest, I want to work, it just seems clear that, deep down, I don't think the work I do on normal days is worthwhile.

    Rest/Recovery days is a wonderful framework, one that will replace my current system of designated “autonomy days” and “obligation days”. For me I categorized days around agency, how much control did I have to choose tasks and which order I did them in. Which worked wonderfully when I chose wholesome tasks, but would go poorly when I chose too many insubstantial activities.

    I've made these comments previously, but for purposes of having at least one official review:

    1. I think the names aren't optimal. Zombie days or Slug days or some-such seem like an improvement for "recovery days." I think it's also possible that Rest day might be more unambiguous if it were called a "Restorative day" or somethjing.
    2. I think the post doesn't quite call enough attention to "this is specifically about listening to your gut. Your gut is a specific part of your body. Listening to it is a skill you might not have. Listening to it is a useful source of information that you might not otherwise be in tune with." I missed that the first time around and had to have it explained to me by Qiaochu. . 

    Followup work:

    As I told Val in a similarly meta-genre'd post last year, I think it's fine for individual posts to not be super rigorous. But, it's good for ideas to go through a longterm process where eventually we check in on them more thoroughly. So, some things I'd like to see someone look at someday:

    How many people actually tried "aiming for true Rest days"? How many of those people actually found something valuable out of it? This post makes intuitive sense to me, but it seems like the sort of domain I expect people to overgeneralize and confuse themselves over. I'd like at least some sense of the strength of the anecdata. 

    I've tried to do Restorative days sometimes. I got some value from it, and I've seen enough people claim value from various Sabbath-activities that there's probably something there. But, how often and how long do the Rest days actually need to be? (Obviously one size may not fit all. But I suspect we can get a lot more/better data on what the typical use case actually is like and what works best as a starting point.

    I'd also like to see the "listen to your gut?" concept fleshed out into a more concrete hypothesis.

    I agree about the names. 'Rest' days are particularly confusing, since recovery days involve a lot of rest. A main characteristic of 'rest' days instead seems to doing what you feel like and following your gut.

    In my experience, a day off is most likely to improve energy levels and motivation if it is spent doing outdoor exercise.

    On the other hand, spending one hour a day on outdoor exercise is more effective than spending one day a week on exercise.

    This shortform reminded me that "restorative" is a word, which might be appropriate for the title here. (i.e. "restorative days")

    I want my whole life to be a long series of Rest days. Enjoying each moment as it passes by.

    To live in the moment and not bound by what does Capitalism want me to do to get my bed and butter. One day, hopefully, when Technology an take care of everything, we will be able to live our fullest wholesome lives.

    Do you think this is likely more effective to implement on Saturdays or Sundays?

    Saturday seems to be the canonical answer, but opinions vary.

    Sunday is usually church and rest day for most christian countries, so that seems more canonical to me.