John C. Maxwell: 3 Signs You Need to Unwind

UPDATED: April 14, 2016
PUBLISHED: April 13, 2016

Recently I heard a story about a man who was having trouble with his iPhone. When he pressed the home button to summon Siri, she wouldn’t respond. He’d press the button, ask Siri a question, and wait for an answer that never came.

He complained to his grandson about the defective phone. His grandson assured him there was nothing wrong with the phone, but the man wouldn’t listen. He was certain something was wrong and was determined to prove it.

“I’ll show you,” he said. He pressed the button and said, “Siri, why won’t you talk to me?”


He pressed the button again and said, “Siri, what’s two plus two?”

Still nothing.

Finally, he pressed the button and said, “Siri, explain to my know-it-all grandson why I do indeed have a problem with my phone.”

That’s when the grandson said, “Grandpa, your phone is so old it doesn’t have Siri.”

Kids, right? This silly story underscores an important point: We all know we need to stay up to date with our tools and technology. But we also have to refresh ourselves from time to time. You must retain your edge to enjoy continued success.

You can’t push yourself nonstop and stay in top form. You must regularly allow yourself to unwind. Whether it’s a vacation to your favorite beach or just a walk around the office to encourage a co-worker, giving yourself permission to slow down will do wonders for your work and relationships.

Related: Why You Need ‘Just Be’ for 10 Minutes a Day

Signs That You Need to Refresh

Maybe you don’t think slowing down is your thing. Maybe you’re saying, “I’m a busy person, John. I don’t have time to pause!” I understand. I’m an activator, which means I like to get things done and see my goals met. I keep my schedule full so I can make the most of each day.

But I also know that if you don’t refresh on a regular basis, you actually hurt your productivity. Call it burnout or stress, but when you push too long without letting your mind reset, you’ll see your output dip. Sometimes you get so busy that you don’t realize the dip is happening.

Here are three telltale signs you need a breather:

1. You speak more from your head than from your heart.

In my book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, I talk about the Law of Connection, which states that leaders must touch a heart before they ask for a hand. How do they do this? By connecting with others from their own hearts. A headful of facts and figures may be necessary, but data doesn’t motivate people to produce their best work. No one ever sacrificed for a factoid, but people will put everything on the line for someone they feel connected to.

If you find yourself saying “Just do your job!” or if you simply rely on your position or power to prod others, chances are you need a moment to reset.

2. You talk about yesterday more than today.

If the most popular day of the week is tomorrow, the second most popular would have to be yesterday. That’s because it requires no effort to get there. You don’t have to think or dream or plan to visit the past; you just do what you’ve always done. I tend to agree with the person who said, “The past is a nice place to visit, but you certainly wouldn’t want to live there.”

If you rely on what you’ve learned instead of what you’re learning, or if you bank on what you’ve done instead of what you’re doing, that’s a sure sign you need to hit the brakes.

3. You talk about change, but things stay the same—or become worse.

A prison inmate stood in front of his cell’s lone window every day and gazed out longingly. As he stared, he would dream of freedom and tell his cellmate, “One day I’m going to dig a tunnel and escape from this place.” And every time his cellmate would reply, “OK.” This went on for months, until one day the cellmate didn’t reply. When the dreamer turned to see why, he discovered that his cellmate had escaped through a tunnel behind his bed.

Many people are like the inmate staring out the window: They talk about change but never follow through. Being stuck in a rut means you need to refresh.

Intention With Ease

So how can you do it? How do you reconnect with yourself, live in the moment and make the changes you long to make?

You get intentional about taking care of yourself. Too often people wait and hope for things to get better instead of taking action where they can. To be renewed and refreshed, you have to deliberately set aside the time for that to happen. Pull out your calendar and schedule time for yourself just as you do for your meetings and appointments with others. Use these times to refresh and renew your vision for your life. Start with something big: a once-a-year retreat. Then carve out one afternoon a month to visit a place that brings you peace. Also develop the habit of walking around the office each day and looking for ways to help someone. Once these breaks are scheduled, stick to them. Honor them for what they are: valuable investments in yourself and the people around you.

A knife will lose its edge without periodic visits to the sharpening stone. The same is true of people. If you never pause to refresh, you’ll lose your edge. So be intentional about making sure to renew yourself. That will keep you on the leading edge, making a difference in the world around you.

Related: 7 Thoughtful Ways to Stress Less


This article appears in the May 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.