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How to Relax Without Guilt (Even if You’re an Overachiever)


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You thrive on pressure and take pride in how productive you are no matter how busy work (and life) gets. Your efficiency and reliability makes you a go-to at work for all things difficult (and especially time-sensitive).

The problem is that your overachieving ways are starting to take a toll. Although you know you should relax more often, you’re not sure how to relax without guilt.

Not only is it difficult to find time for relaxing, but doing nothing feels lazy and unproductive. And that prevents you from relaxing (even when there’s time for it).

The Importance of Relaxation

Your first order of business is to get to a place where you’ve accepted that relaxation is important. Because you’ll never prioritize it or learn how to relax without guilt if you don’t buy into the concept in the first place.

As an overachiever, you value hard work, efficiency, and productivity. And that’s exactly why you have so much trouble taking time for relaxation. So, how can you get past feeling lazy and unproductive when taking a break?

The answer is simple: acquaint yourself with the research. Because studies show that periods of renewal and relaxation help to increase productivity and creative thinking.

In fact, continually working on a task or project without pause has been shown to inhibit your ability to think creatively.

This means that there’s a productive purpose for downtime. By taking time for renewal and relaxation, you’ll be more effective in your work. And you’ll make it much more likely that your high-level performance will be sustainable too.

[Recommended Reading: 5 Tell-Tale Signs Warning You to Reprioritize Your Life].

What you look like when you need to reprioritize


How to Relax Without Guilt (Even as an Overachiever)

Once you’ve come to understand how relaxation will help you, it’s time to start doing it. Here are 5 simple strategies to incorporate into your life that will help you start relaxing without guilt (even if you’re an overachiever):

Relaxation Strategy #1: Practice Mindfulness Meditation.

If you’ve yet to try meditation (and even if you have, but it didn’t take), it’s time to give mindfulness meditation a try.  The point of mindfully meditating is to give your brain a mental rest.  Moreover, mindfulness meditation has been proven to:

And the best part is that you don’t need to devote a lot of time to it. I recommend getting started with just 5-10 minutes per day (that’s what I do – and I’ve seen serious benefits from my short practices).

If you’ve never meditated before or aren’t sure how to mindfully meditate, this Psychology Today article is a great resource on how (and why) to get started.

Relaxation Strategy #2: Weave Small Mental Breaks Into Your Daily Routine.

I know how difficult it is to take large chunks of time for relaxation – especially when at work. But the good news is that short breaks can do you a world of good, especially when work is crazy-busy.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Set a timer for 5-10 minutes, depending on how much time you have (this will ensure that time won’t get away from you and keep you from stressing over it);
  • Close your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths in and out of your nose.
  • Get up out of your chair to stretch and walk around for a few minutes.  This is a MUST.  You can go grab coffee, tea, or water (or walk up and down the stairs in your office).
  • Come back to your desk and take a few more deep breaths, followed by a quick affirmation that “you’ve got this and are ready to continue”.  Note: you can determine what you want to say, just be sure to say something positive yet believable before going back to work.

Taking these quick mental breaks will help you start making mental relaxation a daily habit.  And once they become a habit (and you see the benefits from your breaks), you’ll find it easier to take longer relaxation breaks during weekends and vacation time.

Relaxation Strategy #3: Make Rest and Relaxation a Goal.

To help make relaxation a priority, set it as a goal. This is a bit of a Jedi-mind trick (but it works for those of us goal-oriented high-achievers).  For this to work, be sure to:

  • Get clear around the purpose for relaxing and make that part of your goal
  • Be specific around how you’ll measure success for yourself.

For example, let’s say that the purpose for your new relaxation goal is so that you’ll have more energy.  That’s not specific enough nor is it tied to anything purposeful.

However, having more energy so that you can (a) take on an additional work project that could skyrocket your career and/or (b) be more present at night when spending time with your spouse and/or kids works.  It’s tied to something with more meaning and specificity.

Re-framing your relaxation as a goal and connecting it to the bigger reasons behind why you want to relax will help you to focus more on the benefits behind why you’re relaxing in the first place (as opposed to focusing on being lazy).

Plus, you’ll be turning something you feel you should do into a must-do (changing your motivation for doing it).

Relaxation Strategy #4: Re-Train Your Brain to Be More Positive.

People who are more naturally positive have less stress and therefore are more naturally relaxed. But you don’t have to be born this way to take advantage of the positivity effect.

You can train your brain to think more positively.  Get started by:

  • Practicing Daily Gratitude: every night list 3-5 things that you’re thankful for that day. Be specific and look for different things every day (and don’t forget the little things).
  • Practicing Random Acts of Kindness: Give a compliment to, find a new way to be kind to someone (even a stranger), and/or express your appreciation for someone every day. Not only does this increase your own optimism and empathy levels, but it will also have a ripple effect (on both those who you’re kind to and those who see you do it).
  • Changing Your Perspective Around Menial Tasks: When doing something boring or menial (or even stressful), instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the tasks, focus on the benefits of doing the task.  For example, while folding laundry, think about how good the warmth of the clothes feel and/or how happy you’ll be once they’re all folded, organized, and put away.

Is it that simple? Yep.

[Recommended Reading: for help with noticing the so-called little things, read How to Enjoy the Little Things (So You Can Be Happy in Life)].

Origami Birds Made by Noah

Relaxation Strategy #5: Disconnect on a Regular Basis.

It’s imperative that you take regular breaks from your email, social media, and even your phone. And that means:

  • small daily breaks away (such as during dinner time with the family);
  • larger weekly breaks over the weekend and sometimes in the evenings (for a few hours at a time); and
  • even larger breaks during vacation (for an ENTIRE day or more).

Trust me when I tell you that the world will not go into self-destruct mode without you for these short periods of time.  And that includes those of you who are in a client-driven business.

I’ve always been in a client-driven business and I’ve yet to lose someone over this (after over 18 years of legal practice with demanding clients who thought nearly everything was an emergency and now in my current coaching practice).

To ensure you truly disconnect, I advise that you schedule daily disconnect times (during your AM and PM rituals is a good time, as well as when eating your meals).   I also recommend that you:

  • Disconnect one hour before going to bed (and if that’s not always possible, do it at least 30 minutes ahead of time);
  • Schedule quarterly disconnection weekends (yes, the entire weekend!); and
  • Schedule mandatory disconnection days during vacations.

Expert Tips on How to Relax Without Guilt

No matter how much you buy into the importance of relaxing, it’s still difficult to do it. Life gets busy and it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of “emergencies” that come up on a daily basis.

Here are a few tips to help you prioritize relaxation no matter what’s going on in life:

Tip 1: Use Your Calendar to Schedule Your Relaxation Time.

There’s something about setting aside time in your calendar that makes you more likely to do it.  So, set aside time in your calendar for both your short daily mental breaks and for larger relaxation periods. And then be sure to check and follow your calendar.

Tip 2: Create Simple Daily Rituals or Routines.

Create several simple and easy routines that are designed to help you relax, get focused, and be more peacefully alert. I recommend that you have, at a minimum:

  • a morning routine that’s designed to help you get motivated and focused for the day ahead;
  • an evening routine that’s designed to help you ditch any stress from the day and relax so that you get optimum sleep; and
  • a go-to routine designed to help you de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed at work.

None of these rituals need take long – all could be done in as little as 5 to 10 minutes.

[My Personal Recommendation: download the Essential Self-Care Toolkit to help you design your perfect morning and evening routines.]

Tip 3: Differentiate Between What’s Simply Urgent Versus What’s Truly Important.

There’s nothing worse than spending your time on a bunch of stuff that’s not all that important – simply because it feels urgent.  Here’s the thing: something that’s urgent isn’t necessarily the same thing as important.

If you find that you’re often jumping from one emergency to another, it’s time to step back and re-think whether these urgent items are truly important (because many of them likely aren’t).

Note: the biggest urgent yet unimportant time-wasters are emails, phone calls, and interruptions from co-workers.

[Recommended Reading: Read How to Prioritize Like a Pro So You Can Focus On What Really Matters].

Picture of happy woman who has learned to prioritize like a pro

Tip 4: Block Your Time.

This is something I had to learn the hard way several years into my legal career – thanks to a partner I worked for. I was having difficulty getting a project finished because of constant interruptions via email and phone calls from clients.

She convinced me to schedule blocks of time for uninterrupted work and blocks of time to check and reply to emails and phone calls. And it worked like a charm.

Not only was I able to get my work done, but I was surprised with how much more responsive I was able to be in respect of my emails and phone calls when I had time dedicated specifically to these tasks.

Your Next Steps

Now that you have plenty of new ways to prioritize relaxation (and how to relax without guilt), it’s time to get started.  Make relaxation time your new secret weapon so that you can become a productivity powerhouse and make your successes sustainable.

To supercharge your ability to relax and be in control, download 5-Minute Stress Solutions.  5-Minute Stress Solutions contains 8 proven and effective strategies to reduce stress levels, take control of your thoughts, and increase your mental resilience.  You’ll quickly: (1) be less stressed, (2) feel more self-confident, and (3) be calmer and in control.


Until next time…


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Hey there, I’m Heather.

Recovering lawyer, executive coach and master of making the complex suuuuper simple.

Lover of queso and dark chocolate (I know, weird combo) + all things Texas Longhorns who’s driven to help lawyers and other high-achievers succeed in BOTH career and life (at the same time).

My 18+ years of practicing law, building my business and balancing it all with a real life taught me that you CAN have a fulfilling + profitable career without sacrificing your health or settling for less.

And I’m here to show you how.  Because you deserve to be able to achieve more (of what YOU want) while doing less so that you can free up time for things such as family, friends, hobbies and even some quiet time for yourself.

Go here to get weekly tips, tools and strategies for creating success from the inside-out (and make life fun again).