Do you notice that we spend much of our time on the “build up” to a big event or initiative in our areas of influence? Unfortunately, we don’t spend as much time carefully constructing the “wind down” afterwards…and that is where the rub comes for the average leader. Brethren, these thing ought not to be! We don’t know how or are not intentional in what horse racing calls “downshifting.”
I am reading a book right now on Seabiscuit, a champion thoroughbred racehorse in the United States who became the top money winning racehorse in the 1940s, and came across an interesting paragraph that seems especially applicable to every leader in the exhilarating yet equally exhausting “race” called leadership:
“For horses, ‘downshifting’ from strenuous exercise is risky. If they are brought idleness too soon after running all-out-in old cowboy parlance, being ‘rid hard and put away wet’-their major muscle groups can seize up in an agonizing spasm called ‘tying up.’ In addition, they can develop colic, a potentially fatal digestive crisis. Because of this, horses must be brought down from exercise gradually, slowly decelerating over about a half mile after a race and then undergoing a long walk.” (Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Laura Hillenbrand)
Wow! I don’t know anything much about equestrian matters, but there are far too many leaders riding hard and then foolishly “put themselves away wet” only to undo much of what was just accomplished or developing unhealthy fatigue and stress relievers that will produce a burned out leader who has lost their stomach for it all.
To downshift properly requires you to know how you tick, specifically if you are wired as a extrovert or introvert. As several people much smarter than me have pointed out, introversion and extroversion actually relate to where we get our energy from or how we recharge our brains. Extroverts gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social. Introverts tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time. (While there several downshifting techniques that overlap in helping both categories of leaders, this post focuses upon the ones that are a bit more unique.)
With the help of other leader friends, here are a few hacks that are helping us “downshift” on a regular basis:
For Extroverts (opposite of me…appreciate the input from others who are in this category and navigating all of the prolonged Covid-related restrictions and quarantines.)
- Get with a small group of peer-level friends with whom you can process your personal, spiritual questions and epiphanies.
- Initiate, with your spouse’s partnership, a random, thoughtful act of kindness toward someone in your extended family, church, or a complete stranger.
- Spend time at a coffee shop/other “third space” with the primary priority of encouraging those who are employees and patrons in that public setting.
- Go low-tech in your communication with someone you’ve loss touch with a lengthy hand-written letter or actual phone call with no time constraints.
- Reach out to another leader that you don’t know so well and find a thoughtful way to affirm them and be a blessing to them.
- Go work out at a public gym with a friend and/or with the intention to make a friend or two. (This can also happen virtually.)
- Find a fellow extrovert to simply “think out loud” about any and everything.
- Create and tackle, on a regular basis, a “bucket list” of creative, fun trips and experiences that can only be fully appreciated in the company of others.
- Partner up with someone in a “side hustle” that is not as much about making money as tapping into your shared entrepreneurial spirit.
- Register for a group-based class (may be more virtual right now) in some new interest that can range from the artistic to martial arts.
- Because extroverts thrive on public affirmation, find a fellow extrovert toward which to demonstratively express your gratitude and respect.
- Tackle some menial tasks after a busy season with some background noise of music, a podcast, or a audiobook. (As one assistant pastor shared with me, “Sometimes small actions (running errands, cleaning, etc.) makes me feel small. I know this is wrong so I try to listen to Gospel centered material as I do them to help fight the battle of the mind.” What a great way to affirm the value of the “small tasks” as especially the extrovert regroups.)
- Create a social calendar with scheduled meetups over the internet.
For Introverts (like me)
- Get alone with God.
- Lean into solitude but do so with structure that eliminates the tendency to drift toward carnal or wasteful diversions. (Example: Don’t aimlessly surf the net or scroll through Netflix all day.)
- Lose yourself in good book of fiction or history that has no pragmatic link to your profession.
- Get way for a few nights with your wife for sleep, good food, and foundational time together.
- Get by yourself and fix something or build something.
- Spend your first day after a “racing day” by working from home or away from the office to knock out more mindless, immediate tasks without any social obligations. (This is how I spend my Mondays.)
- Play video games with your kids.
- Get outside-if at all possible-and engage in physical activities like hunting, hiking, biking, golf, or woodworking.
- Shop alone.
- Give the physical organization and cleanliness of your personal space in the car, home, and office some careful attention.
- Take a morning or full-day fast from all social media and maybe even your phone altogether.
- Go for a long drive.
- Look for open doors to enter into deep, thoughtful conversations.
You may be tempted to feel like this post is on an “optional subject,” but nothing could be further from the truth! To be a leader who follows Jesus requires this personally-designed strategy to work at resting, as He reminds us in Mark 6:31, “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.”
As Cary Nieuwhof recently posted, “If something doesn’t give, our leaders will.” Dear church leader, as much as the high-producing “racehorse” in you wants to be the exception, you cannot repeatedly go through back to back races without some down time-attempting to do that will break you! To be “ridden hard and put away wet” is lethal to your longterm influence. If you and I don’t learn the stretch and release principle, we will lose our emotional, relational, and even spiritual elasticity to bounce back for those key moments for which God has put us on this planet during this season of human history.