Episode 36 – Quit Trying with Aaron Edelheit

As world changers, entrepreneurs, and all around high capacity people, one of the hardest things for us to do is rest. Yet it’s critical for us to know when and how to quit trying. To give us wisdom in this area, Jessica speaks with author and CSO Aaron Edelheit. Aaron has discovered an ancient and simple solution to finding margin in a life that seems to never have enough hours. Also, this week continues a special series of shows where Jessica takes us through the themes of her brand new book, Imperfect Courage, one chapter at a time!



Jessica: Hi everyone, this is Jessica, host of The Going Scared Podcast and founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection. And we are going to cover all things social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. This week we are continuing with our Imperfect Courage series. We are down to the final, almost final chapter, called “Quit Trying,” and it’s the chapter that’s all about if we want to make a sustainable impact in our lives, then we’ve got to take the long view. And this is a lesson, honestly, that has been—it’s been a hard lesson for me to learn, how to take the long view. And I wanted to include this chapter because it’s tempting to be a workaholic in our culture, it’s tempting to just put the pedal to the metal, many of us are addicted and we’re unable to step away. But if we’re going to do anything for the long-term, we’ve got to learn how to take care of ourselves, how to avoid wearing out, and…yeah, we’ve gotta learn how to rest.

So when it came time to interviewing someone for this chapter, I really wanted to interview Aaron Edelheit. Aaron is the chief strategy officer of Flo Technologies, and he recently released a new book called The Hard Break: The Case for the 24/6 Lifestyle. You heard it, not 24/7, 24/6. Like many entrepreneurs, he was a workaholic, and he actually had a collision course with a myriad of health issues. He wore stress like a badge of honor, his career literally enveloped his entire existence, and he knew he had to make a change. And through a three-year journey, he made a radical change to take a Sabbath, a hard, hard-stop weekly Sabbath. He called The Hard Break a love letter to the regular practice of intentionally stepping away from the frenetic craziness of modern-day life. This has been an interview that stuck with me, I actually did it quite a while back that really moved me, because I did it during a week that was super crazy. I was feeling pretty frenetic, and it was on a Friday evening, right before he was about to take his official Sabbath, and when I say hard stop, I mean hard stop. You’re gonna hear all about it. And as we were getting off at the end he just said, “I just can’t wait, it’s been a crazy week and I can’t wait to Sabbath.” That’s really stuck with me. It’s encouraged me to continue to practice the Sabbath, even in a crazy time. I can’t wait for you to give it a listen.

Jessica: I am really excited to talk today because I am fascinated by this concept of actually taking a Sabbath. Because I think it’s so much more than just about a break, but it’s actually about resting and doing what’s restorative during that break, and that’s what I have a hard time doing. So, we’re gonna get into that later. But first, I would love for you to tell listeners, a little bit more about yourself and especially the work you do with Social Venture Partners, because I know that you partner with donors and social enterprises to help some of the most vulnerable people and you guys don’t just throw money at a problem, but you really build an infrastructure and there’s so many shared values between that and what Noonday Collection does. You really are amplifying dignity and opportunity for others. So, just share a little bit more about what you’re up to.

Aaron: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that. Now the work that we’re trying to do at Social Venture Partners is really just help the…it’s nonprofits and government and really kind of come in and be an independent resource to help them build up programs. New nonprofits bring innovative ideas to try, and my specific focus is around homelessness. So right now, I’m trying to help a couple of local government agencies where I live in Santa Barbara, California focus on using data more effectively to treat homelessness. So that’s getting people into the right places, making sure all the agencies are using a coordinated entry system and that they’re collaborating more and more. All of everything we do is about the effective use of data and some of our government efforts are just behind and some of the nonprofits don’t have the money to invest. So, I’m just working on a small initiative to try to duplicate what other cities and counties have done and bring it to my local area.

Jessica: That’s so needed, the idea of collaborating across agencies and organizations to help solve a problem. It’s like everyone’s after the same mission, but getting people to talk can be challenging. So I like that work.

Aaron: I’m just…I also feel very, very grateful that I get to live here in California and I have a beautiful house, I’m very, very grateful. And it’s just…I’m trying, in my own small way, to give back to those who don’t have the luxury that I have.


Break or Take a Break

Jessica: So, tell us a little bit more about your career. I have to say, as I was reading your book, I used to flip homes with my husband during…and so I’m thinking, OK, we owned about six homes at one time, but I cannot imagine the hundreds of homes that technically your company was investing in at one point. So why don’t you give a highlight of your career? Because where we’re really taking people today is this idea of eventually taking a break. But that came from living life at a really high stress level.

Aaron: Yeah. So the one thing…the first thing you should know about me is that I’m a workaholic and…

Jessica: Recovering workaholic?

Aaron: No, no, I wouldn’t say that. So part of the reason that I wrote this book, I have wrote this book to myself just to remind myself against my worst habits. No I’m a workaholic, I’m driven in ways that I’m not sure I understand. And so I’ve always been interested in business and investments and for 12 years I invested, had my own small money management company and built that up to a small hedge fund. And it was really during then when I was working 24 hours day, 7 days a week, trying to outperform in the stock market and invest and really protect my investors’ money that I kind of hit a wall. And that’s when I first kind of learned that working all the time was not helping me. It was actually hurting my health, my personal wellbeing. I wasn’t making the right decisions. And I kind of fell back into taking a break on a Saturday, trying a Sabbath. And actually, that’s what enabled me to eventually buy 2500 single family homes, all bought one at a time and eventually sell the company.

Jessica: I thought it was so interesting because you started that company after implementing the Sabbath.

Aaron: Yes.

Jessica: Why don’t you tell us, which honestly lent you a lot of credibility? Because I think it’s easy to talk about a Sabbath when you’ve sold your company and you’re living more of a relaxed lifestyle. But I love what you’re saying, you’re like, "I’m a workaholic," and you would work all the
time if you wanted to, but you’re suggesting a radical idea to us that we would actually stop. I’d love to hear though, what was your moment of realizing that it wasn’t productive for you to keep just running, running, running?

Aaron: Well, I just realized I had a number of things, I described it in the book, where a number of kind of negative things happened to me. You know, my personal life, my health, business had started underperforming and my first thought was, "I have to double down. I have to really…" And no
matter how many hours I put in, how much I grind, I grind myself down, I just wasn’t getting anything out. And I just realized, well, something has to change because this isn’t working. And out of that I just…almost out of desperation kind of said, "Well, What? Maybe I should turn my phone off." And so I tried. And so right before the way I tried, it’s like, it seems so ridiculous now, but I said, "OK, I’m gonna…right before I go to bed on Friday night, I’m gonna turn it off. I’m gonna try to make it till noon on Saturday." And that seems like an incredible Herculean task. It’s so ridiculous.

Jessica: I mean, it does, it’s ridiculous and yet it…

Aaron: It’s totally ridiculous.

Jessica: …it’s true though. I mean, it’s true. I’m a checker myself. OK. So, I mean, I have that compulsive reaction of needing to check my social and scroll and all of those things, so it can feel quite Herculean.

Aaron: Well, one of the things while I just ask you is, do you like feeling 57% more stress than the average American? Well, then just check your emails around work or texts when you’re not working.

Jessica: Isn’t that crazy?

Aaron: Like this is part of what I… So I mean, well, you can digress and stuff. But so one of the things that I found is this, I eventually started this. I started with like four or five hours and then I said, "Oh, I can make it till 2:00 p.m. or 3:00 p.m.," and then after a couple of months I was like, "I can do the whole day." And it’s so radically transformed my life like personally and professionally. And I just found these, like, suddenly I can sustain the work. And I was giving myself a vacation every week. And I found that knowing that I had a regular break coming, I could push myself and then release.

And then by the time the day of relaxation was over, I was excited to re-engage. I was rejuvenated. And I think that it enabled me to have the success or to really see through the ups and downs because there was some ups and downs in my business. It wasn’t like a straight line when I just started buying foreclosed homes in 2008 and then everything was rainbows and sunshine. And it wasn’t that, but it enabled me to persevere in a way that I don’t think would have been possible without the Sabbath practice. And once I sold my company, after watching a bunch of work behavior from people inside my company, people I was working with on all different types of… I said to myself, "I wanna write a
book about this." And I spent three years researching, there are 200 footnotes in the book.

I actually stripped a lot out for it not to be a scientific journal. And then interviewing pros file a number of businesses and people who practice in some way, shape, or form, basically saying that in today’s society I think this is how you can outperform, this is how you can succeed. So my book is the business case for the Sabbath. And so, you know, this is why I’m so passionate about it because even now I’m working with a startup. I have an investment partnership in Charlotte. I’m partnering to build homes outside of Italy and I’m working on a homelessness initiative. I’m on the board of another nonprofit. I have three young kids aged four, two, and eight months old, like there’s a lot going on in my life and if I didn’t have the Sabbath, I would completely self-destruct.

Jessica: So let’s…give us the bad news first, because you did do a ton of research for this book and there is this myth out there that more work, more hours equals more productivity, and we almost wear our stress like a badge of armor. I love what Brene Brown says, she says it’s like a great armor, what a lot of us do is that we stay so busy that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us. So tell us the bad news first, because you’re saying that this is actually a myth? This actually isn’t true.

Jessica: Yes. And so this is part of what I try to dispel. The research is very clear, many decades of research. So basically, once you work past 55 hours a week, you’re just not getting. There’s really no difference between 55 and 70 hours, and they actually find that… Now look, in any one week or
two-week period, could you really burn the midnight oil and try to accomplish a lot? Yes. The problem is when that becomes a consistent thing, week after week, what happens is your productivity plunges. And beyond that, you start actually underperforming below what a 40-hour a week person would do, and not only that, then comes health issues. You’re substantially more likely to get sick. You’re substantially more likely to get injured. You’re more likely to make mistakes, to not have the ability to really process information as well.

And so, there’s an overwhelming amount of research that from a business productivity perspective, you’re going to underperform if you overwork. Then you layer on the health aspects, which I touched on, but the mental health aspects. I think all of us realize that something fundamentally is going wrong when the amount of people that are having mental health issues, that something is wrong in our society, the anxiety levels, the prescription medications for depression, the fact that we’re connected on a level. It’s not just work, but it’s also social media and technology, is that we’re not built to be connected and have this onslaught of information coming at us, and really, the downside of being on call. And so when you have your phone on you, you may not realize that it’s on all the time, you are on call to the world, it may not be work, but it may be people on Facebook, coworkers, family, friends, but you are on call and there are severe negative problems for cortisol in your system, which is a marker of stress, to a finding sleep habits, to just the mental health aspect of dealing with it.

“There’s an overwhelming amount of research that from a business productivity perspective, you’re going to underperform if you overwork.” Aaron Edelheit

And we can see what’s going on. And especially what’s really frightening is when you look at kids, that I highlighted in the book is, the number-one way middle school kids die now is from suicide. And college campuses are being overrun with mental health cases. It’s growing at double-digit percentages every year. Do you just have to wait? What happened around 2007, 2008, that suddenly mental health issues would explode? I think it’s not a coincidence, that’s smartphone adoption. And it’s both the best and the worst thing. And then our kids don’t know of or remember of a world when you weren’t always online and they’re going through these very tough times of puberty, high school, college, etc. And they’re having to manage their own lives, but their digital lives as well. This is overwhelming.


Working Less Is More

Jessica: Well, and that’s what I was going to ask you about because it really has blurred the lines between work and home and social. I almost wanna ask you, how do you define work? Because I’m in the middle of a book launch, and I’m the CEO of a company, and I am managing a lot of social media right now because that’s my own brand where people are. That’s how people are finding out about the book. And it’s easy for me to say, "Well, that’s not. I’m not reviewing resumes right now or I’m not delivering on something I need to look at for the executive team, but I am, you know, commenting on Instagram or getting back to my DMs." And it’s almost…so how do we define work? Because we have to define work in order to know what to actually rest from and take a break from.

Aaron: So it’s…so you may… That’s a wonderful question. So it’s not just work, but it’s also technology. And there’s just really a wonderful phrase for how the modern work works right now. The modern work world is what I would call leaky. In other words, your work kind of leaks into personal and back. And I’ll give you a great example. When my phone is on and I’m with my four-year-old daughter on the floor and we’re playing, and I go to turn on music for her or take a picture because she’s doing something really cute, and then I’m like, "Oh, there’s an email I have. I wonder what it is." And I click on it, and my daughter immediately will turn to me, even if it’s like five seconds, and she’ll be like, "Papa, will you play with me?" And well, I’m like, "Well, yeah, I’m playing with you. I’m sitting right here."

But she knows that I don’t…she doesn’t have my full attention. And it’s the difference, the balancing. There’s no balance there and we’re just incredibly distracted all the time, and it’s the idea of giving yourself your mind and body a break from running all the time. So, you may think, "Oh, well, I’m just gonna go and I’m gonna check Facebook." And then you just realize, "Well, oh, that reminds me. I need to go check the social media." I need to go…I forgot to respond to this one direct message that somebody sent me, and then all of a sudden, you’re back at work. And you’re not giving yourself, your brain, the time to really unwind and it’s just a problem. And so that’s all the negative, now let me tell you the positives.

The positives of…I mean, one, this isn’t meant to be an anti-technology screed. It’s, you know, technology’s amazing. The ability we have to connect, the facetime. The fact that you and I are talking so easily, it’s amazing. But there’s just the downside, but let’s move to, you’re a CEO of a company, you have a book, you have a brand. You’re trying to grow your business. You’re trying to get out there. What is the number one way that you and I can succeed in the world? Well, it’s not about working more hours. It’s not about sending more emails, texts, putting more social media posts out there. We know this. What will break through is being creative, being innovative, standing above the crowd. So how do you do that? Well, it turns out, and this is what’s so fascinating, is you have a tradition like the Sabbath that’s thousands of years old, and the latest neuroscience is showing that basically if you want to succeed in today’s world, that the Sabbath has a lot of benefits.

“It’s not about working more hours. It’s not about sending more emails, texts, putting more social media posts out there. We know this. What will break through is being creative, being innovative, standing above the crowd. So how do you do that?…the latest neuroscience is showing that basically if you want to succeed in today’s world, that the Sabbath has a lot of benefits.” Aaron Edelheit

It turns out that when you’re resting and relaxing and you’re not on your phone, you’re going for a walk or you’re just, you’re not working, that what happens is you think you’re not using your brain, but there’s a part of your brain called the default mode network that actually goes into overdrive. And so what is the default mode network? Well, the default mode network is the part that processes our experiences, tries to gain understanding and form patterns. So when you’re not resting, you’re not giving the part of your brain that is going to create and going to gain new understandings. You’re actually hurting your chance to succeed. So who has the strongest default mode networks? It’s, they’re artists. And so, then let’s shift into, anecdotally, like what does that mean? Have you ever had the proverbial idea in the shower, where suddenly you’re going for a walk and the solution to a problem hits you?

Why does it happen then? It’s because you may not realize, but that your brain is processing when you’re not actively thinking about it. It’s this kind of, you know, ironic or contrary thing. And so, you know, a wonderful story that I share in my book is, you know, I don’t know if you’ve gotten the chance to see the musical Hamilton?

Jessica: Not yet.

Aaron: Anyway, it’s the most probably innovative, creative, unique musical that I think has come out in decades. And it was loaded with all this praise. And, so how did [Lin-Manuel Miranda] come up with the idea for the play? Well, he had a successful play, won a couple of Tony Awards and was burned out and decided, you know, I need a vacation. And when on vacation and at the airport before he took off, "I need something to read." And he picked up the biography of Hamilton by Ron Chernow. When on vacation, while he’s on vacation, maybe sitting there reading this book that had nothing to do with work or Broadway and all these ideas of having a play about with rap in a multiracial cast, and that this would work in today. And it would be compelling and something super unique and it typifies, and there’s lots of stories from Einstein when he was stuck on a problem. You know, picking up a violin or, you know, Steve Jobs was notorious for going for walks.


Disconnecting from Work. Connect with Life.

Jessica: Yeah. I have this chapter in my book that’s called "Quit Trying." And it’s all about truly making a commitment to a lifestyle of impact, and if you’re going to do that then you have got to learn how to rest. And during the first few startup years of Noonday Collection, it was nuts. I mean, you know how it is when you’re running a startup and I remember googling during that time, I think I googled rest. I might’ve googled Sabbath, and this article came up that was written by a pastor in New York, who I’m thinking, “well, he’s in New York, and New Yorkers work hard. They know how to grind.” And he was encouraging people to take a Sabbath and what he said is, he said, "Many careers demand some sort of initial period of heavy intense work. Starting your own business will require something similar. And these situations, you have to watch that you don’t justify too little Sabbath by saying you’re going through a season when in actual fact that season never ends." And it’s so easy for us to excuse ourselves to think, “well, once I get to this point of arrival, then I can rest."

Aaron: Well, I love that. And let me just tell you, what you just quoted is the reason why I wrote the book. Because that is a deep insight and that is someone who should be listened to, but if your pastor came to you, your friend, your family and therapist, whoever you were talking to, and you were struggling with the startup, you were experiencing stress or wherever you are in life and said, "Hey, you know, you should take a Sabbath. You should take a break." Your reaction, and I know because this was me, was you don’t know. That sounds great. That may be good for you, but you don’t understand the modern world. I need to succeed. I need…There are things, there are so many things that I have to do, and I have to achieve this, this and this, and I have to provide for my family, and there’s a bunch of justifications. The reason I wrote this book is because I wanted to definitively say, "Well, actually, you do need to take a break because it will help you succeed." And it will be many benefits. Here’s all the research and here’s a number of companies at the highest level of success and people at the highest level of success.

Jessica: All right. Well, what I would really want to know, we’ve talked about what work is. We’ve talked about this fluidity between work and personal and how all the lines are being completely scattered and erased in our modern-day technology culture. What I wanna know is what is a Sabbath? Because it is more than just taking a break. There actually is a level of rest and restoration, and I think that’s what I’d really love for you to help me with.

Aaron: Yeah, no, for sure. So what…let me tell you what the Sabbath is then. The Sabbath is not you laying in bed.

Jessica: I’m relieved to hear that.

Aaron: It is not you doing anything, it’s not you sitting in a corner or like meditating or, though you can do that, you know, for 24 hours or something like that. Now what the Sabbath is and what it’s meant to be, I believe, is it’s meant to be something different. So, and that’s why the book is called, The Hard Break. It’s a break from everything that you are doing and how you’re running around during the week. So, what does that mean? That means that if you have a meal, it’s not you shoving food down your throat, which is how I call it panic eating.

Jessica: I was just doing that before we got on. I was like, "Oh my gosh, he’s about to get on and I haven’t eaten anything yet."

Aaron: No. Look, I get it because we’re all, you know, there’s a lot going on. And so it’s that you’re not being distracted by technology, but you’re really trying to connect with people. So when I go meet with friends or family and we say, you know, whether it’s you go to a park or someone’s house or a restaurant, it’s a…I’ll see you there at 1:00. And it’s really funny people that don’t know me or people that for the first time we’re setting up a meeting on a Saturday, I’ll let them know. “Well, just to let you know, I’m not going to have my phone on, so I’ll see you there at 1:00.” And normally, there’s this panic on the other side. Well, what…how am I going to get a whole? What…Oh my good, you know, because…

Jessica: So you’d literally turn your phone off, like it is off?

Aaron: It’s off-off.

Jessica: It’s off-off?

Aaron: Yeah. And so there’s this panic on the other side because we’re so used to, "Oh, I’m five minutes away or I’m running five minutes late or, you know, can you bring this." Forgetting that, you know, people used to just meet each other, because I’ll be here, and so it’s invariably people will meet you and be on time. And if they’re a little late because something happened, it’s a little late. I’m not rushing to go do something else. The other thing though with the Sabbath is, is it’s meant to have a relaxed kind of like, that the time is yours. So the worst thing you could do it as a Sabbath is, let’s say, you turn off your phone and you don’t work, but then you go schedule 15 million activities for that day. So it’s, you know, I’ll do one activity, maybe two of like a scheduled nature.

You know what I love doing? I, you know, speaking of rest, I love taking a nap when I can. I love reading for pleasure. You know, so many of us are trying to improve ourselves, and in our downtime, we’re reading books like mine, which I recommend, but, you know, some of my favorite memories of just doing stuff on Sabbath is just reading fiction that’s just pure fun, like Popcorn fiction.

Jessica: Like John Grisham.

Aaron: Yeah, all of that, you know, or you just cut off with the book and there’s nothing bothering you. You know, really playing with your kids. You’re going to the park, or in a museum or watch if you watch TV or a movie. What’s something that’s just enjoyable? Nothing about business, no documentaries, no politics because we’re all being, you know, kind of blasted with all of this.

I highly recommend that one of the things to do on the Sabbath is have some kind of ritual around a meal. It’s amazing when you look into the research about the outcomes for children that have, where they eat with their parents as they grow up, and they have the more times that you eat together and that you have shared meals can have some of the greatest impact to the outcome of your kids in like crazy things. You may not think of it, but like whether your kids are gonna struggle with drugs or what kind of friends. It’s these unstructured moments, where it’s not like you’re picking them up from school. "How are you doing?" And they’re like, "I’m fine." And then you’re going back and they’re thinking about a million thing, but you’re just having a meal and you’re just eating and you’re talking and things can come up. And we as a society and as a culture used to, you know, prize these either on Sunday or Friday to basically, you know, be together.

Jessica: Yes.

Aaron: Because the most amazing thing about what the Sabbath is like, we’re connected in ways that we’ve never been connected before. But then why are people so lonely? Why are there articles coming around saying that there’s like a loneliness epidemic, and it’s because these connections are not deep.

Jessica: It’s like we are willing to connect, take the time to connect with an author through a book or a self-help podcast, but we’re not willing to actually connect with the people right in front of us. I can’t think it’s that’s messier, it’s two ways. You know, listening to a podcast is a one-way street, so is reading a book, but actually connection involves acknowledging maybe ways where we messed it up that week.

“It’s like we are willing to connect, take the time to connect with an author through a book or a self-help podcast, but we’re not willing to actually connect with the people right in front of us.” Jessica Honegger

Aaron: Yes, it can be absolutely hard. I mean, some of this can be, like if you’re having difficult personal relationships or whatever, but you know what doesn’t help in the long run, ignoring it.

Jessica: Well, yeah. Then it comes outside.

Aaron: But the thing is that like when you look at what truly brings people’s satisfaction, joy and happiness, it’s connection to other people, and real in-person connection. So the Sabbath is a time for you not to run around, but focus on that.

“When you look at what truly brings people’s satisfaction, joy and happiness, it’s connection to other people, and real in-person connection. So the Sabbath is a time for you not to run around, but focus on that.” Aaron Edelheit


The Difference between Working and Living

Jessica: Let’s talk about being a dad here because eight-month old, I mean, do you guys…?

Aaron: No, I have a four-year-old daughter, a two-year-old son and an eight-month-old son.

Jessica: Well, I know, the eight-month is what stood out to me because I’m thinking diapers. I’m thinking it’s like you can’t get out of diapers, right?

Aaron: My two-year-old is sometimes the most challenging, but yes.

Jessica: OK, that’s true. That’s true. Two-years-old. So what does that look like? Because I would hate to think you’re having a Sabbath at the expense of your wife.

Aaron: No, because I’m with my wife. No, it’s not that I’m not doing anything with childcare. I’m actually with my family, my wife is so happy when my phone goes off. She has…there has been times where literally she has taken the phone from my hand and thrown it in the bushes.

Jessica: I have done that to myself before, actually.

Aaron: She was so upset at me and she’s talked to me about all she sees is the top of my head, because my head is down looking at my phone. And so to my wife and to my relationship, my wife knows she’s going to get me for a full day. And so does my daughter and my kids and like, yeah, I’m focusing on them. And connecting with them, especially now that they’re so little and, you know, all they wanna do is play and be around me, you know. Because if I’m lucky, I see them for an hour in the morning and an hour at night during the week, but I get them for, guaranteed, a whole day on Saturday.

Jessica: Here’s another question because you brought up the inspiration for Hamilton. And what can happen to me is when I completely take that hard break, I will have those brain connections that you’re talking about earlier where suddenly ideas start coming forth, and I’m a creator. And I struggle with this, I have this tension of, "Well, is this counting as a break if I’m actually creating, which ultimately has a contribution to my work, or does this interrupt this idea of stillness?" You know, there’s this place where I just need to kind of let the ideas come and go away because I can start getting ideas and then I start putting pen to paper and before you know…

Aaron: I think it’s perfectly fine, I mean this is my own view is like, it’s not that you’re… You’re not going to be able to stop thinking about business or work or things you have to do. The idea is just to kind of take note of it, let it pass, and if there’s some kind of magic insight, well, write it down. Then when your Sabbath is over, your period of hard break is over, then you can reengage with it. But what you’re also trying to do is you’re trying, this is a thing I struggle with, is kind of excessive rumination. You have some challenge or problem. You just keep thinking and you keep going over in your mind and it’s this circular thing that makes you more anxious and more and more, and you really just want to try to break that, if you can, especially if it’s not productive. So, you know, to me, all this is it’s a tool.

“You’re not going to be able to stop thinking about business or work or things you have to do. The idea is just to kind of take note of it, let it pass, and if there’s some kind of magic insight, well, write it down. Then when your Sabbath is over, your period of hard break is over, then you can reengage with it.” Aaron Edelheit

Jessica: Well and breaking it, I’ll tell you what breaks it is when you sit down and have a conversation with your wife and your phone’s off, or when you look at your little eight-month-old and you get him to smile back at you, like that’s how we break these excessive ruminations that we all have.

Aaron: And just being able to take a deep breath. And what, you know, it doesn’t help when you’re feeling anxious or you have a problem is being, feeling like you’re on call, and that there are emails and stuff, other things that you need to do. It’s just making you more anxious, which makes it harder for you to think right, to make the proper decisions and to really gain perspective. The other great thing about the Sabbath that we haven’t really touched on is just the perspective. Like it can be incredibly humbling to turn off and then you turn it back on, you realize the world kept spinning without you. Your company kept running. The world kept going. Not much happened. And that is really good. That is a really good thing in the long run. It reminds you what’s important. It reminds you that it’s OK that you can turn off.

It reminds you that, you know, for a lot of positive things, and also lowers the stress level in what you’re doing. There’s a lot of times you can really invest yourself in something and you’re working really hard. Like a great example is this book. I’m trying to promote this book. Get people to agree in the concept of the Sabbath. It could be…I could, with my personality, very easily take over and try to do it every second of every day. But what happens if some people read it, they like it, but it’s not some giant bestseller or whatever. It’s, you know, that could happen.

Jessica: That could happen. It’s that the world will keep spinning…

Aaron: The world will keep spinning.


The Trickledown Effect of a Sabbath

Jessica: …you will have your family. I love to…you brought that book, The Power of Habit, which I actually read last year.

Aaron: Wonderful book.

Jessica: Yes. And I love that idea of a cornerstone habit. So it’s this one habit that can have these trickle effects. I actually have some friends living in Israel right now, and he’s a filmmaker. They’d been there for about two years and I was catching up with her a few months ago, and I mean, Israel completely shuts down for 24 hours, you know, I mean, it is.

Aaron: Yes, I do know.

Jessica: And so, she was telling me about what that’s done for their family, what that’s done for their rhythms. So I’m curious how this has else this has trickled into your life, having this one cornerstone habit, how has it also been a domino effect on other things?

Aaron: So in a couple of ways. One is it’s realized…I’ve realized that I shouldn’t make my smart phone, my phone, the centerpiece of my life. So what that means is I realized, I don’t need to have my phone on me when I’m having meals with my family. So it’s in a drawer. I don’t need to have my phone by me when I’m going to sleep. So I leave it in the kitchen. I realized that the power of notifications, I used to be one of these people that had all of the buzzing and the banging and the lights and all that stuff and I just removed all. There’s no more notifications that have any sound or rhythm or vibration, because it was making me like a Pavlov’s dog, or I was just constantly forced to… It’s made me realize and on a regular basis of how addictive the technology is.

“I don’t need to have my phone on me when I’m having meals with my family. So it’s in a drawer. I don’t need to have my phone by me when I’m going to sleep. So I leave it in the kitchen… It’s made me realize…how addictive the technology is.” Aaron Edelheit

You know, the other thing that it’s done at least on a personal basis is that it’s made me realize that I wasn’t being in touch with my family and my extended family like I wanted. And so I have, and this is coming up for me right now because I’m gonna be turning it off tonight, so I look at this right now and I say, "Oh, I’ve got a, you know, from when we’re recording right now, I have a couple of hours to call my family and loved ones and catch up with them, call my parents, call my two brothers." And basically, you know, "Hey, how are you doing?" You know, wish them, you know, a wonderful weekend and really get in touch with them, because I realized that before I had this rhythm, this break, that sometimes two weeks would go by and I wouldn’t talk to my parents or my brother.

Jessica: Oh my gosh, I mean, I’m totally there. So that’s been one of the trickledown? That’s been one of the…

Aaron: Yes. So you just realized, wait a minute, because you started, well, this is the secret and it can be scary in some ways, but you just start thinking about it’s hard not… When you’re not thinking about work, and you give yourself space, you start asking yourself what’s important, what’s important in people’s life?

“When you’re not thinking about work, and you give yourself space, you start asking yourself what’s important, what’s important in people’s life?” Aaron Edelheit

Jessica: People?

Aaron: You know, people, family, loved ones. When was the last time, you know, you talked to this person or that person or this friend and that friend and, you know, how am I living my life? Am I doing what I really wanna do is, you know… And it’s OK, the answer may be yes, the answer may be “I don’t know,” and that’s OK. You know, but it’s helpful to have that and not fill our lives with frantic busyness all the time so that you at least don’t have this regular cadence of checking with yourself, with your family, etc.

Jessica: I am curious because I actually have made commitments to all the things you’re talking about. I even, I quoted you, my book earlier, but I find that these old habits will creep back in, and OK, I say that I’m not going to be on my phone, but I’m launching a book right now and this group needs me and I want these people to feel seen and known and Instagram is all about like that immediate, you know, connection point. Do you have…are you perfect with this?

Aaron: So one, I’m definitely not perfect. So let me just say that, but one of the reasons to turn the phone off is it’s just it’s way too powerful, and you just have to acknowledge that it is. And one of the reasons why I profile Chick-fil-A in the book and why it really follows on the power of habit and the keystone habit that we were discussing earlier, is there anything more immediate than fast food? And so to have the idea that one out of every seven days your restaurant is closed, and you’re all about providing convenience and best serve to people that want your food. For one day you’re saying, no, you can’t have my food. That’s pretty crazy, right? If you think about it, but why does the average Chick-fil-A, they do four times the revenue. The average Chick-fil-A store does four times the revenue of the average KFC.

It is the highest grossing fast-food restaurant per location than any other. Even though every other restaurant chain is open every day of the week, they did $9 billion in sales last year. In two years, they’re gonna be the third largest fast-food company. And on the trajectory they’re on, at some point in the future, they will be the number one fast food chain in this country, and they are closed every seventh day. And so one of the things that you learned from that is that, one, popularity, people’s connection to you, people identifying with you. Your level of success does not require that you are available every second, and it’s about setting expectations. It’s about communicating it, having it on a regular basis. And then what happens is people will respect you for it.

“Popularity, people’s connection to you, people identifying with you. Your level of success does not require that you are available every second, and it’s about setting expectations. It’s about communicating it, having it on a regular basis. And then what happens is people will respect you for it.” Aaron Edelheit

And I found that in my own personal life, but with Chick-fil-A, they found, well, you know, if they’re closed every Sunday, they’re pretty strict about it. I bet they’re pretty strict about their cleanliness. And I bet their bathrooms are pretty clean. People go in there and then, you know, like, hey, I wonder how they treat their employees. Well, it turns out they treat their employees pretty well. And they started looking and saying, the company as itself started looking and saying, "Well, you know, most of our employees are seasonal. They’re students. How about we start providing scholarships for them?" And they provided millions and millions of dollars of scholarships to their employees. And then it went to, "Well, what kind of food are we serving?" And they said, "Well, you know, actually we care about our customers. Should we have antibiotics in our chicken?" The answer was, they decided no. So they have removed antibiotics in their chicken and now it’s even going to the welfare of the chickens themselves and they are enacting where over the next several years, and you can imagine how many tickets they go through, that they’re gonna be cage-free.

And this all cascades from the idea of the Sabbath. And where it just builds on itself and in a way it builds like this very, very large competitive moat where you have a super engaged, loyal workforce that is very diligent about offering the best customer service and they have the best customer service ratings. They’ve come very clean, you know, fast-food restaurant with high traffic, and where they’re serving quality food and they’re showing people very definitively they care about themselves.

And so in the Instagram world, I’m throwing this out, I mean, and profile anyone specifically, you know, in your world, so to speak. But if the values that you’re representing, you know, come through, I don’t know how that hurts you and it probably will help you. You know, one person I do profile in the book that maybe a little more complimentary is Devon Franklin, who is a Seventh Day Adventist and a movie producer. And he, early in his career, he can’t, you know, Seventh Day Adventists they’re, for him it’s a strong religious commitment. He started working on a reality show. And he was working on a reality show and, you know, movie and TV and reality shoots are notoriously long, and they were going to shoot and Friday night was coming around, and he said, "Doing myself, oh my gosh, we’re going to have to film, and what do I do?"

"What do I do?" And, you know, he wanted to succeed in the movie business. He was just starting out. What does he do? And he eventually decided, "You know what, my principles are more important." So he went ahead and said, "I’m sorry, I can’t." Everyone was like, "Oh, we understand. Well, we’ll shoot on Sunday." And he was like this momentous thing and he has now become a tremendous success. Eventually worked for Sony, now has his own production company making huge blockbusters and still observes that Sabbath. And he’s on Instagram, he has like, you know, 700,000 followers and, you know, written books and all kinds of things, so.

Jessica: Well, and I love that because I do think that when we take those breaks and make it known, then we really give other people permission and invite them into that journey, which is really what you’ve done with this book. And I’m quite sure many people listening are convinced. What are the next steps? I mean you, you said you kind of tried a few hours and then tried a few more hours. What’s a practical way if someone right now listening is like, "You sold me in, I’m gonna do this."

“I do think that when we take those breaks and make it known, then we really give other people permission and invite them into that journey…” Jessica Honegger

Aaron: Yeah, it’s a great question and it’s part of the book that it’s like one thing to like pound you down. You’re like, "OK, and I agree."

Jessica: I get it.


Starting Small, but Starting Still

Aaron: Yeah, I get it. And so what I try and do is give tips and tools and suggestions, practically of how you can integrate this in your life. And so some examples, let’s say that, you know, one, I recommend baby steps. So if you’re gonna do this, don’t do it for a day. That’s not how I started. It’s not what
worked for me. Do it on a morning, Saturday morning. For some people, for some reason, it may be they can’t do it on the weekend. I profile some people in the book and give an example where some people turn off at 5:00 p.m., they help their kids with homework, pick them up from whatever activity they’re doing or from school. They cook dinner, they spend time together.

They’re completely off every weekday at 5:00. No one…everyone knows in advance, they’re are gone at 5:00. So there’s none of that peer pressure. And then at 8:30, they turn back on. And everyone knows that they are gonna get right back to all the emails, and calls and I don’t think that that’s ideal, but it’s a hard break. And it’s on a regular basis. And some people, the break is on Tuesday, you know, other tips and kind of thing. So, you have baby steps, that’s what I would recommend. One, you’ve got to make it work for you. And there are ways you can keep your phone on, by the way, for if you’re worried about emergencies, just turn off all notifications. Or depending on what smartphone you have, you can put "do not disturb." But many people don’t know and "do not disturb," if someone calls you twice within five minutes, it’ll ring through. So if it’s truly an emergency, they can get through to you.

Jessica: That’s good to know because I’m like you, I can’t have my phone on. I mean, it’s just…

Aaron: Yeah, it’s too powerful for me. That’s why I turn it off. The other great thing that I’ve done, and, you know, I have three small kids, sometimes you’re separated from your wife, you know, there might be a health issue or something, and I’ve had this unfortunately in our lives where two of my kids have some health issues, they’re doing well though, where my wife and I have had to be in contact on Saturday. And I happen to believe that life and death obviously is more important than anything else. So, we switched phones. There’s nothing on my wife’s phone that I’m gonna want to check one. She doesn’t use Twitter. I’m addicted to Twitter. Her Facebook is hers, It’s not mine. None of my work emails are on there. Like I literally…

Jessica: That’s a great solution.

Aaron: And so we can stay in touch. People can get in touch with us, maybe not perfectly, but that’s one thing. You could, you know, if you wanted to get an extra phone, you could get a flip phone. Well, I have one, I call it a bat phone, where it’s just all it does is it serves as a phone. There’s no texting, there’s no email, there’s no internet, it’s a phone.

Jessica: I’m curious, you’re still in the weeds with your little guys. I have a seventh grader now. When are you going to get them phones?

Aaron: You know, I don’t know. You know, I think that I’ve actually watched a lot of friends and people I respect have some of them given them very early. Some of them are like, "No, you’re not getting any phones until high school." But what happens is eventually when they get the phones, it’s the same reaction. These devices are amazing. Of course, you’re gonna want to spend all your time on them. Like what I think what’s important is not necessarily when you’re gonna get on the phone. And this is where I think, you know, our kids are watching us.

Jessica: Yeah, they are.

Aaron: They’re mimicking us. They see what’s important. They want to do what we do. And I think this is where like the idea of a break or Sabbath just becomes really, really important, is just to be like, "Hey, it’s OK to turn off. It’s OK. It’s good. Let’s connect. You know, let’s just try this for a little bit and you put this in your tool kit." You know, you don’t, you know, I don’t know how, at least, well, in my house I’m gonna ask that at least one day none of the phones are on.

Jessica: I love it. We haven’t got our kids phones yet.

Aaron: Honestly, I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know what the right answer, if there is a right answer, but I think this is where that idea that you don’t have to be connected all the time is really powerful. Like I talk in my book about from this camp director who had to enact, you know, a policy and decided, you know what, for their camp, we’re gonna have a no digital policy. The first year he was like, "I think I’m doing right thing. I’m really worried what the reaction is gonna be from the kids." And who did he have the biggest blow back from? Parents. “What do you mean you’re not having?” And what reaction did he have from kids? Almost immediately the kids started coming to him and saying, "I’m having the deepest connections with my friends. I’m having the deepest…"

Jessica: So much relief.

Aaron: So much relief. And when you look into the studies and you talk to kids who are on their phones all the time and connected, they admit they don’t know how to turn off and they wish they could. It’s like sad, it’s like crazy. You shouldn’t. It’s this electronic leash and part of it is, it’s not this thing you’re taking away from them. You’re adding something in just like, "Hey, just take a couple hours. Just give yourself a break. You’re gonna love it."

Jessica: I love it. You have so inspired me to recommit to my commitment.

Aaron: Well, here’s the thing, but you also have to make it your own. This can’t be a negative. You’ve got to build right out of the Power of Habit book. You have to build in rewards. You have to like really think about, prepare. Like what happens if people wanna get in touch with me so you’re not freaking out. Like how can they get in touch with me? What can I do to make this special? Just really you prepare, baby steps, you try to use little tips and tricks to kind of build in rewards. And the other thing is, and this is why I wrote the book, is, you know, spread the message.

Jessica: Wow, that was such a good conversation. As you can tell, I try to think about all the barriers that you guys were thinking when you were listening. Like, “I have kids, so I can’t,” or “I’m doing two jobs, so I can’t,” and he really broke it down and was basically like, “yes, you can.” I love his tip about how he actually exchanges phones with his wife. I’m like, that is brilliant because my husband’s phone does not have Instagram on it, so we’ve actually practiced that one or two times, and even just recalling this conversation is just making me want to up my game again. The truth is, I have a value to do this, but I haven’t been hardcore. And he truly is hardcore, it really is a hard break, a hard stop. So, if you wanna read more about that and about other rituals that I have in my life in order to keep the long view, make sure you go check out Imperfect Courage. It’s available at all bookstores, Amazon, Target, all the places. And I want to thank you so much for joining me. We are down to the second-to-last podcast in this series. So we’re about to wrap it up, and then I’ll be announcing our next series soon.

So thanks for tuning in to today’s podcast. Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. The Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.