Why you need a true Sabbath each week
Do you know how many times the average person touches their phone in a day? 2,617 times. A day!
The American Psychological Association calls these people “constant checkers.” Is that you? Are you of the “rise and grind” mindset, day in and day out? If so, you’d better listen up.
Aaron Edelheit recently appeared on the Do Gooders Podcast to share why we need a hard break in our lives each week. And he’ll be the first to tell you, he didn’t come up with the idea—it’s biblical, a Sabbath.
The CEO and Founder of Mindset Capital, a private investment firm, Edelheit is also the author of “The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle.”
In it, he makes the case for taking one day a week off from work, email and our phones for a more productive, healthier and creative life.
Doing so vastly changed his own life for the better, he said, and so he’s out to share why we need a hard break, the benefits taking a Sabbath can have and the simple steps to doing so.
You’ve written a little bit about a “magic potion” to an improved life. Can you tell us more about what that is?
Yes. So my magic potion is actually a very, very old tradition and it’s the Sabbath. So I’ve written a book called “The Hard Break: The Case For A 24/6 Lifestyle” that basically says that taking 24 hours where you turn off from technology and you do not do work and instead focus on yourself, your family and your friends, will not only make you more healthy, will be fantastic for your mental health, will be wonderful for your marriage, for your family and friends, but it will also, and more importantly, make you more successful in business and in your work life.
When you say take a Sabbath, what exactly does that look like in an average week? What does that entail for you?
I’m Jewish. So my tradition is that our Sabbath goes from Friday night to Saturday night. So, Friday night I turn my phone off, my computer off, and from Friday night to Saturday night I don’t do any work. I try not to talk anything about business.
It is a time for my family. It is a time for me to…for spiritual time for myself. And it is also a time where I try to enjoy myself. Where I’m not trying to become better, I’m not trying to squeeze more hours in a day. I don’t have a scheduled calendar that I’m following. If there is something to do, there might be two things in the entire day. Most often there’s just one. And so it’s—what would a day look like that’s different from every other day? And that’s what my Sabbath is.
I’ve been doing it now for 14 years and it’s been the most amazing thing in my life. It has saved my marriage. I have three young kids. It changes the way that I interact with them. I am present with them on that day.
And it enabled me to have such success in business, that after I sold my last company to a publicly traded real estate investment trust, I felt compelled to spend three and a half years writing the book, to really spread the message that there is this really old tradition that is arguably more important today than it’s ever been.
Maybe you can tell us a bit more about that. What is the historical tradition of the Sabbath?
Well, I mean, it comes straight out of the Bible…God says that he created the world in six days and that he rested on the seventh day. And what’s really funny is, for those who are listening, who believe in God and are religious, what’s so ironic is the idea that God needs to rest, but somehow we do not.
I actually think that the idea of a Sabbath was not only so revolutionary those thousands of years ago, but it’s this idea that actually by doing a little less, by reflecting, by resting, you can actually do more and that you can be more successful. And to also give time to yourself, to focus on the things that are maybe not so urgent but really important. So, it’s enabled me to grow, both as a person and in business.
You mentioned that you’ve observed the Sabbath for 14 years. What prompted that? Was it fueled by some sort of need in your own life or how did you come to start taking a Sabbath every week?
I did not grow up religious, per se, and wasn’t practicing the Sabbath. I write about this in my book, where I experienced a lot of success at a young age, and yet I found a hole in my life.
After a lot of stress and a lot of problems in business, I doubled down and tripled down on it. “Well, okay, I have been successful and now I’m struggling. Maybe I need to put in more hours and do more and really work even harder.” And that didn’t work.
I found myself, at one point, crying in the shower over the stress that I was putting myself in, undergoing. It basically forced me through a process where eventually, just really out of desperation, I decided to fall back on my tradition and say, “Well, what if I gave myself just a little break?”
So, I actually started back in 2005, I believe. I was like, “Well, what if I just turn my phone off on Friday night and I try to make it till noon the next day?” It seemed like this giant, Herculean task. How could I possibly do that? Right?
I did it. And then after a couple of weeks, I said, “Well, maybe I can make it to two or three,” and then eventually I lasted the whole day. And what I found was this amazing cycle that I started going through, which goes back to the tradition and why people have been practicing this for thousands of years. That you find that you work really, really hard, you start getting tired at the end of the week, and then you have this rest, recovery and renewal cycle.
And you also have something that’s really important when you turn off and you don’t work and you don’t check is your mind starts to wander and you come up with creative ideas. You also realize the world keeps spinning without you. So, you’re not as important as you think you are.
That humbling thought is very, very powerful and you start thinking about, “Well, if I’m not working, I’m not checking my phone, I’m not my computer, well what am I doing? Well, I’m going to be with my family and friends. I’m going to read that book that I’ve been wanting to read, or take a nap and go for a hike.
And time slows down. You actually start experiencing this freedom, where you’re not in a rush, you’re not…I call it “panic eating,” when you’re shoving food in your mouth because you’ve got to get from one thing to another.
So what happened to me, at that point, that troubling time I went through in my life, actually set me up for tremendous success later because I had the solid foundation. It sent me on a path. I started studying the Bible, studying my own tradition.
And when the financial crisis came in 2008 and 2009, despite the stress that I was under then…And this is one of the reasons I wrote the book…I actually attribute the Sabbath and having that day off as enabling me to get perspective. And instead of crumbling under the pressure or struggling, I actually created a new business. That business was buying foreclosed homes, fixing them up and renting them out.
I started with that one nugget of an idea, with 16 homes. I was able to build it to a portfolio of 2,500 single-family rentals and employ up to 100 people. I don’t think I would have been able to either start that business or succeed at that business were it not for the Sabbath.
What do you think it is about work and busy-ness and productivity that we so value? What drives us to continually work?
Well, I think there’s a couple of things. One is, we want to provide for our family, we want a better life. We want that, right? So it comes from this false notion that, if I want to do better and I want to provide more, well then it’s just a function of I need to respond to more emails or I need to cram more into my hours or I need to spend more hours on doing whatever I think is going to provide more for our family.
So one of the reasons I spent three and a half years writing is, I not only wanted to make the argument and not only tell my story and other stories like me, but I wanted to share scientific research. So there are 200 footnotes in the book, and my editor made me take out dozens of others, basically saying, “You’re writing a scientific journal.”
And what I found is, that the scientific data is so overwhelming that what we’re doing is not only really bad for us, for our health and mental state of being, our families, our relationships, our happiness, but it’s actually really bad for business. So, it turns out that working more, like anything in the extreme, you eventually start having diminishing returns to negative returns to what you’re doing.
You get sick, you make mistakes. You make poor decisions. You don’t sleep well. And this has been repeated many, many times over. So I think, in general, it comes from a good place, without people really thinking about, “Well, what are the long-term negative consequences to what I’m doing?”
You divide your book into three parts, examining this. I’m wondering if we can touch on all three here, starting with the first part, The 24/7 Life. So how do we know that overwork is detrimental to our productivity? You touched on this a little bit, but what are the consequences of that fatigue?
This is the main point. I mean, besides mistakes and getting sick and missing work and all those things…There are lots of studies on this, that show that the more you work, the more likely you are to be injured, to get sick, to make poor decisions. I share that all in the book.
But what I want to share is one of the key insights, is that…I want to talk about a part of your brain called the default mode network. What the default mode network does, is it turns out that when you’re resting or just not actively engaged, there’s a part of your brain called the default mode network that goes into overdrive. And what the default mode network does, is it processes the information and experiences that it’s taken in and tries to gain understanding from them.
So what is the key to success in the future and in today’s economy and world? It is not processing more information. We’re inundated with more and more information than you can possibly absorb. And with computer technology and artificial intelligence, the idea that we as humans are somehow going to succeed by processing more information is just not the key to success.
What will be the key to success, and you hear people talk about this all the time, is creativity and innovation. So imagine the key function in your brain that goes into overdrive when you are not actively engaging it and you are resting. And I don’t mean sleeping. You’re resting or you’re daydreaming or you’re just relaxing—that is the way that you come up with the creative ideas, the solutions to problems and the innovations that will make you more successful at your job or just in life, when you’re dealing with tough personal issues.
So people aren’t even giving them a chance. They’re actually hurting their chance to succeed in today’s economy. And the simple explanation on how this works is, do you ever take a shower and suddenly an idea hits you? Or you’re walking in a park or you’re doing something just like driving in the car, and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, now I know what to do.” That’s the default mode network in action.
So what you want to do is, you want to give your brain the capacity. It’s like a muscle, like anything else. Imagine if you went to the gym or if every time you left your house, if you worked out a certain muscle every minute of every day, you’re going to risk injury. You’re going to hurt your chances for long-term health. It’s the same thing with your brain.
The other thing I would say is it leads to is, have you noticed that people seem angrier and more anxious and that there’s kind of an anxiety epidemic and a mental health epidemic? This has shown that middle school kids, the number one way they die now is from suicide. And we have college health clinics being overrun with mental health issues, especially in the last decade. And I think it’s not necessarily attributable to social media, which is one aspect of it, but it’s to this always on. I’ve got a phone on me and I’m always on, at every waking minute. And it turns out that always on, at every waking minute, is really not good for you.
When you have this idea of the always on, we’re seeing the detriment, and then you go right back to the Bible and you have this wonderful kind of solution gift that we were given, and they just kind of marry. It’s just like a natural bridge. And they’re wonderful stories I share in my book, just about this. So, it was just really fun to research and find the latest in neuroscience lining up with tradition, thousands of years old.
In part two, you look at the value of a hard break. What research did you find that stands out to you that really supports that rest and relaxation?
Beyond my own story, you find that people come up with more ideas, that there are newer CEOs who are seeing the benefits of this. And studies that are showing that employees that take a vacation, really take a vacation, come back and they have more ideas. They are more engaged and they report more happiness at work.
So, there are CEOs who are now employing something called paid vacation, which is they’re paying employees to go dark and not work. And at the same time, while some of these newer CEOs are figuring out the benefits for taking vacation, you have Americans gave up something like 700 million days of paid vacation last year.
You read articles about people taking work-cations, where they work while they’re on vacation. And I think that people are realizing that the whole concept, that you don’t need less vacation, you need more, and this is where the Sabbath comes in so wonderful. And I tell people this, I get a vacation every single week. Who doesn’t want a vacation every single week?
So then how do we make the most of a weekly hard break? In part three, how do we take a successful Sabbath?
You have to think of it that it’s not like broccoli or your vegetables at dinner time. This is actually an amazing thing that I try to…Because people think, “Oh my gosh, I can’t turn off my phone,” or, “Oh my gosh, I can’t do this and that.”
This is something that is such a fantastic addition to your life. And so you’ve got to, one, make it fun. Do stuff that you want to do, that you’re not able to do because you’re working or because you’re busy throughout the week, doing errands, running chores, et cetera. That’s one.
The second one is that I recommend baby steps if you’re not doing this. So as I said earlier, I started by just doing Saturday mornings, and gave myself a couple weeks or a couple of months. I kind of edged into the idea of the Sabbath.
I’m just as addicted to my phone as everyone else. My wife has taken my phone from my hand and thrown it in the front bushes of our house. She was so frustrated that I wasn’t paying attention to her and I wasn’t listening to what she was saying, and focused on my phone.
So the other thing is just to prepare, to let friends and family know, to let work colleagues know, to figure out what day works for you. I profile people in the book, that some do Friday, some do Saturday, some do Sunday.
The best example of Sunday, just in terms of business and work and the ultimate example of the Sabbath that I write about in the book, is Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A is closed every Sunday. They make fried chicken, and yet somehow they’re the number three fast food chain, best fast food company to work for, best customer service. And they’ve grown over 10% a year for something like 35 or 40 years. So it works for their business and it can work in anyone’s life.
The other thing that I would say about how to make the day special to you…It isn’t just to say, “I’m going to take frantic Monday through Friday or Saturday. And then on Sunday, I’m just going to replace with different activities. So I’m going to have something scheduled every hour, every two hours. So, I’m running from one place to another.”
My wife and I try not to shop on our Sabbath. If we’ll go out, it’ll be to meet people for a picnic or a meal, but we try to do as little as possible on our Sabbath. So what I say is, maybe your kids to the park or things like that.
One of my favorite things is just taking a nap. A Sabbath nap is amazing. It makes you feel like a king. It really does.
But also, to make it your own. What do you love to do? I mean, meals are a very important part, I think, of a successful Sabbath. So whether you want to do it in your home with friends and family, having a regularly scheduled dinner, breakfast, brunch, lunch, whatever, but that it’s just where you get to spend time with each other and there’s no schedule.
You write about the seven steps to a successful Sabbath.
Just a few more is taking a walk in the park. It turns out that research shows, that if you are out in nature it’s really, really good for you. So, do stuff that’s really good for you, that you’re going to enjoy.
The other thing is just to prepare for it. Look, if you are going to be off, there’s also other tricks that you can do. You don’t have to turn your phone off per se, you just turn off all notifications. You turn on do not disturb.
One thing I’ve done when my wife and I have had to split up because of a health scare with one of our children is we swapped phones. Now why would we do that? There is nothing on my wife’s phone that has anything to do with my business or work. There’s none of the things that I normally check or email, that get me into trouble.
A lot of things you can do is just little hacks or tricks, to trick your brain from not checking your phone. The average person touches their smartphone 2,600 times a day. Heavy users, it’s over 5,000.
And the last thing that I want to say is, which is so wonderful about the Sabbath is, that it’s hard not to not ask yourself the deeper questions. When you’re not working and you’re not busy, it’s hard to avoid the deep questions. Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? How am I living my living? Am I living my life the right way? What am I sharing with my friends and family that’s really important? How am I spending my time? It’s hard not to have a spiritual component of this and to have that be a part of your Sabbath experience.
If you had to give somebody your top tip for taking a Sabbath this week, for instituting a hard break in their life, what would it be?
An easy, quick way to do it is to decide that you’re going to have one meal during that Sabbath…and whoever is going to be at that meal, everybody turns off all their phones. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. It doesn’t mean you can’t play board games or card games, but have a meal together.
If I were to give the number one kind of prescriptive medicine to families…You know what the number one thing that predicts whether kids will have problems with drugs and alcohol or their divorce rate or how they’ll do in school? The number one thing is how many times do they have a shared meal with their family? No better time than on a Sabbath.
The last thing I’ll say is, when I look back now, I could never go back. I cannot believe that most people…I say this only because I’ve been practicing it. Why would you want to be on-call to every single person you know? I only really want to be on-call to my family or maybe my best friend or someone, and ultimately to God.
See more about “The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle” at thehardbreak.com.
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