4 Myths About Athletes, Rest, and Creativity

Aug 01, 2021
woman making scrapbook

What if I told you you had to spend an entire week resting instead of working?

If you’re anything like me, you might groan just thinking about it. You might visualize your inbox filling up and your weight set just staring back at you. You might dread the thought of boredom sinking in and a sense of uselessness washing over you. 

I’ll be honest, I’ve never enjoyed resting.  It makes my athlete-brain want to explode. But I wish it didn’t. 

Because as much as I’d like to think it is, REST really isn’t a 4-letter word.

As athletes, we know that physical rest is as much a part of training as is lifting weights. Without rest, we’d never recover after our workouts or build muscle. Every joint in our body would suffer. We’d see diminishing returns in every possible way until *kapoot*, we’re done.

Our experience backs it up. The science backs it up. Rest is a key part of training.

But something I’ve noticed over the years is that the discussion around rest in athletics starts and ends with physical rest. What is often ignored is the need for mental rest. Taking time away to engage in fun and challenging things that have nothing to do with sports and working out.

We need to normalize mental rest in athletics. We need to give athletes and coaches permission to take time away and engage in hobbies and activities outside of sports and working out.

And that’s why I wrote this blog; to start a conversation about the importance of rest AND to explore the value of mental rest and creativity as a tool for self-care. I couldn’t think of a better way to do this than by dissecting 4 myths about athletes and rest. Because even if you aren’t currently competing, you still think like an athlete, which means you probably need some reframing around mental rest. 

MYTH #1. Rest is Passive

As athletes, many of us think of resting as sitting on the couch and watching daytime TV. Putting on our sweats just to watch the waistband expand as we eat a thanksgiving-sized meal. Taking a bath while tranquil flute music plays in the background… Uhm no thanks, I’ll pass.

We think of rest as passive.

And it can be. For some people, maybe a day of massages and manicures sounds ideal. But that’s not for everyone. Rest can look different for high-performers.

In my house, rest doesn’t mean baths, face masks, and finding out who is kicked off the island. It means actively doing things that aren’t related to my sport, job, or core passion. For me, it means channeling my energy into something creative and investing in other outlets. It is active mental recovery.

So even while I’m resting, I’m investing in myself. Because I know that diversifying and exploring other things is absolutely vital to my mental and physical well-being.

And my favorite way to engage in active rest is by doing something creative. Which leads me to my next myth...

Myth #2. Athletes Aren’t Creative

Athletes don't always think of themselves as creatives. For many of us, our main hobby is working out in the gym. In school, we were the athletes, and those kids over there were the artists. But the truth is, we’re not all that different.

As an athlete, coach, or high-performer, you make creative decisions every day. Creativity is a necessary skill in sports. Your job is to find creative solutions to the problem in front of you, adopt new perspectives, and think on your feet. Your sport requires vivid imagination with flexibility to adapt to an ever-changing landscape and your creativity and tactical intelligence allow you to outplay your opponent.

In sports, you’re constantly coming up with new ways of doing the same thing. THAT takes creativity, and a whole lot of it. Athletes are creative.

As creative individuals, exploring other areas of creativity is a fantastic way to mentally rest and explore other ways of thinking.

Myth #3: Creativity Happens in a Vacuum

This one hits home for me, and I have to constantly remind myself that it’s simply not true.

Lately, I’ve been baking bread to unwind. Why? Because I’m auditioning for The Great British Baking Show! JK maybe in another lifetime :) I’m not doing it for any reason other than the simple fact that I enjoy it. It helps me turn my brain off. And when I pull that fluffy loaf out of the oven in all its gluten-y glory, I feel accomplished.

Not only does it give me pleasure to play with dough, oftentimes because I’m relaxed and letting my mind wander, I come up with all sorts of new ideas. My brain starts working differently, and I start connecting things that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’ve learned firsthand that creativity breeds creativity. The more you exercise creativity in any area of your life, the stronger your creativity muscle becomes. And being creative in any way creates creativity in other unrelated parts of your life.

Myth #4: Your Energy is Finite

Occasionally (when I was playing professionally in Turkey) we’d have practice without really having practice. We'd do it on a low energy day when players were unfocused and dragging themselves into the gym. Our collective energy would be in the toilet. Instead of pushing through practice our coach would yell "Futbol!", and everyone would perk up.

Suddenly, we’d go from a group looking like we are going into a math test, to a team excited to play sports again. We’d select teams, argue over jerseys, and start talking trash to each other in various languages. 

Then, we’d spend the entire practice playing indoor soccer. Pinning each other against the wall, yelling "Offside!", and laughing as our coach got hit in the stomach with the ball.

We’d leave the gym with our workout done, our mind rested, and our energy up. It just took one small shift to remind us that energy isn't finite. 

What feeds your energy? That's what you need more of. It’s not that complicated.

Do more of what gives you energy. Do less of what takes it away. Try new things. Mix it up. Find ways to bring excitement and change into your daily life. 


Bottom line: Your energy is not finite, and spending time doing things you enjoy can actually expand your energy.

How to Practice Active Mental Rest

There are so many wonderful ways to practice mental rest and invite creativity into your life; anything you do that’s free from structure, pressure to your ego, and personal or social expectations can be a great form of rest.

Rest doesn’t have to be boring or complicated. It can be:

  • Taking a day off from your phone and letting your mind wander.
  • Playing with your kids
  • Taking a class - Like improv or a cooking class
  • Reading fiction
  • Making a scrapbook or vision board
  • Getting outside and exploring a new neighborhood
  • Going to a museum, gallery, or the zoo

Whatever you do, I implore you: Choose to do it. Don’t fall into the self-sabotage trap of feeling guilty about the fact you’re not doing something else. Be where your feet are.

Importance of Active Mental Rest

Engage in active mental rest with the assurance and confidence that it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. It’s healthy, productive, and so very necessary.

If you struggle to rest (like I often do) remind yourself:

  • Having things you do for fun (that your ego is not attached to) is a natural pressure-release valve.
  • Your body needs physical, mental, and emotional rest away from your sport to heal, regenerate, and stave off burnout.
  • Exploring creative passions is rewarding, fun, and fulfilling.
    Being creative helps you tap into different parts of your brain.
  • Being creative in other areas of your life will actually strengthen your creative thinking in every area of your life, including your sport.

As you read this blog, what came to mind for you? What’s one thing you can do for yourself this week to practice active rest?

This month, I’ll be sharing on Instagram what I’m doing, so come say hi and let’s support each other as we engage in self-care, active mental rest, and creativity!

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