Taking a Break

5 min read
A photo of the universePhoto by Jack Zhang

For the past months, I've been really burned out. I was lacking energy, not motivated enough to keep working on basically anything, especially coding. I felt that my love for programming was dissipating little by little. I didn't feel that fire and playfulness that I had when I started doing it more than 10 years ago.

Because most of my projects are coding-related, or at least, technology-related, I knew it was important for me to get this 'playfulness' back again.

Threshold of Actions

There's an interesting concept of “taking actions and threshold of actions”. The idea is basically:

The more complex and difficult an action is, the higher is the threshold, and the more energy and work is needed to get it done.

What do you do in these situations? You adjust the threshold setup. There are two main ways of doing it:

  • Break down tasks to make it easier to take action
  • Raise energy by increasing urgency through deadlines, accountability, making it interesting

Because the projects I've been working on require an enormous amount of energy and dedication, breaking down the tasks was not enough and I was overcompensating with working more time. In other words, less time to sleep and recover, less energy, increased time to get things done, and finally creating this vicious cycle.

I tried eating better, I tried exercising more, I tried sleeping more and better. None of that made a change in me. Diminishing returns if you will.

I needed a break. At least for a while.

Taking a Break

Rather than doing more and more coding projects, I started to use my free time to do other hobbies I like. Reading books, studying academic research, running, visiting my family, experimenting with different cuisines, and going to musical concerts.

This year, I've read 9 books already. The number is the least important thing. The most important part is that I have time to just enjoy the books I like. Just enjoy my time doing things that make me happy.

This year, I wanted to focus more on books that 1. open and improve my mind to better understand the world and 2. help improve myself as a person. I've read two books on Ikigai, the Japanese concept for 'everyday meaning', two about learning how to learn, two biographies (or memoirs), two about academic research, and one about self-help.

For most of you who have been following my journey for quite some time, you already know that I'm a big fan of running. I ran almost every single day. I take some time to rest my body too, which is pretty important to not get injured.

I read every single day a note I wrote about 'what I'm grateful for'. My family is the #1 item on the list. Visiting them, getting some quality time, and eating together is always a blast for me. It recharges my soul. I'm grateful to have them in my life.

I also went to the Radwimps concert. I just loved that. The vibe, the energy in the room, what a concert, what a band. I was obsessed with their songs, and now I'm an even bigger fan of their art.

Then I started to plan some trips to different places I wanted to visit. 2024 would be the year to restart and restore my energy. Traveling is simply one of the best ways to do it as it forces you to be present at the moment, not think about the projects you're working on, and just focus on the travel itself. There are so many interesting and new things, places, and people you get to know that you unconsciously put 100% of your attention and energy into that.

I went to some places in Brazil, enjoyed my time in a 1-month Japanese event in São Paulo, and made some friends there.

I traveled to Japan and had again the best time. I wrote about my trip back in 2019 (sorry, Brazilian Portuguese only), and I plan to write a new one as I had many more awesome experiences there.

I arrived in Tokyo, stayed there one day, went to Osaka, and stayed there for 8 days. Kyoto and Nara are 1h away by train from where I was airbnbing. Then I traveled to the North of Japan, in Sapporo, Hokkaido. What an interesting experience. First time seeing snow. First time in a negative temperature. It was a struggle there, but the local places I went to were simply the best hospitality I had. And finally stayed in Tokyo for 2 weeks more.

At that time I was already feeling better and better. It was like a dead part of me was resuscitating. That joyful part I was missing.

I came back to Brazil, and after 1 week, I went to Amsterdam. I visited some friends and went to the office to work. It is always fun to see the people you work with face-to-face. Also got some time to meet new people I never talked to. I had a blast.

Local vs Global Maxima

Optimizing for what's “locally” may only make we reach the local maxima when we have the opportunity to achieve greater things, the global maxima.

Sometimes it's better to take one step back to take 5 steps forward. Doing “restarts”, e.g. taking breaks, are a good way to design your life for you not to be stuck in the local maxima.

After taking this break, I feel recharged. When I was coming back from Japan, I was excited to work on my coding projects again. I never stay away from the computer for such a long time. That part of my brain was itching to get a computer and start working on my projects again.

Final words

If I could summarize this post so you can steal some ideas quickly:

  • Listen to your body and mind: they will tell you more things than you expect
  • Get some time to reflect if you need to redesign your lifestyle at least for a while
  • Don't get stuck in the local maxima for too long. Life is too short to not enjoy your next global maxima
  • If possible, think about taking a break as a restarting and recharging tool
  • New hobbies and traveling are awesome ways to recharge

There's an awesome post by my friend Lu and you should take a look at it to steal some ideas too: Practice does not make perfect.

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