THE OTHER DAY I TOOK A BREAK.
I freed myself from my desk, leapt into my car, and headed out for wild adventures on the open road.
Ok, ok, I was actually just going to Burlington for a networking event. So, maybe not quite the jetsetting, cliff diving, running with the bulls kind of audacious venture you have come to expect. (sorry)
But it FELT like an adventure. Because it was so thrillingly different from what I had been doing for AGES.
For weeks, I had been a slave to the same daily routine. With so many pressing deadlines on projects, I spent all day, every day in front of my computer. I skipped meals, I skipped bathing, I skipped sex. Yes, there had been some discontented rumblings from other members of the household.
And, even though I was really, truly excited about the work I was doing, my actual progress had gradually, painfully slowed to a standstill. It was frustrating, but I decided to just power through it.
But then, this festive networking event came up. And, as much as I didn’t want to leave my work, I had committed to it, so I forced myself to relinquish my desk and just GO.
So, there I was, meandering along lush country back roads through the Green Mountains, with the sun sparkling on Lake Champlain, smelling the fresh manure on the fields (ah, Vermont!), hearing flocks of geese calling overhead, and generally just letting my mind wander, when suddenly, my brain started flooding with ideas.
Good ideas. Great ideas. Ideas I had been looking for for weeks.
I was productive. I was creative. I was a GENIUS.
What the HELL was going on?!?!?
APPARENTLY, I HAD REALLY NEEDED A BREAK.
Americans are famously working longer and harder than ever. Our workday has lengthened and we
eat live at our desks. We have almost NO public holidays and we have moved all of them to Mondays or Fridays so as not to break up our precious workweek.
Many of us even refuse to take the measly ten vacation days that any self-respecting European would find miserly to the point of cruelty. Seriously, they would spit their foie right out in horror.
And, yet, WE feel good about this, virtuous even. We pride ourselves on being hardworking, highly productive money making machines.
But, it’s not working out quite as well as we thought it would. Not just because all work and no play will make Jill run screaming mad. It also turns out to be truly terrible for our productivity, and, more importantly, for our creativity.
So what to do?
Happily, a whole gaggle of psychologists, neuroscientists, and researchers are furiously studying the nature of productivity and creativity. And, THIS, they say, is what you need.
YOU NEED A CHANGE.
You’ve noticed it. You are laboring away for hours and hours and HOURS at a task. But, the longer you work, the less you are getting done.
Here is the thing: your brain is actually wired to notice and respond to change. When it concentrates on one task for a long time, it becomes desensitized and simply stops responding, the same way your skin no longer registers the feel of the shirt on your arms.
The same way that the weather in San Diego is so absolutely perfectly perfect every single day, that I simply stop noticing. Vermont’s weather, on the other hand, I notice ALL OF THE TIME.
Change is what your brain needs to keep on working. So, leaving your desk, stepping away from your work, and giving your brain that break allows it to actually get something done.
ALSO, YOU NEED TO RELAX.
You know what else helps your brain to get stuff done? Relaxing. No, really, I’m serious.
Disengaging from a problem, distracting yourself, and allowing your mind to wander are all essential for creativity and innovation. See, you can actually get TOO focused. You grapple with a problem so intensely that you get stuck in a death grip and can’t stop fixating on stuff that simply IS NOT WORKING.
A lot of the time, your unconscious mind has actually already solved the problem. But you don’t know it, because you keep batting it away like it’s an unruly four year old, all the while screeching “leave Mommy alone, I’m trying to focus.”
Letting go and distracting yourself allows your unconscious mind to whip those ideas out and leave them lying around where your conscious mind will trip over them. When that problem solving, critical thinking, analytical part of your brain has stopped plotting world domination, you are open to new ideas and can make surprising connections.
That’s when those spontaneous, creative, free flowing GENIUS ideas appear. That’s why you spend all day wrestling with a problem and the solution, maddeningly, escapes you. But, the next morning, in the shower, you are suddenly a freaking creative WIZARD.
AND, ANOTHER THING: YOU NEED NEW AND DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES.
Creativity just doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a response to stimulus. If you don’t get yourself exposed to new ideas and experiences, all your mind has to work with is the same old same old it already has. It can keep putting it together in different combinations.
But can you imagine what it could do if you offered it something new?
Took it out in the world and actually showed it a good time?
Who knows what inspiration you would find there.
Even better, all this exposure to new and different experiences and ideas expands your brain. LITERALLY. Your brain changes its physical structure when it has novel experiences.
It automagically creates new neural pathways and changes existing ones, reorganizing them and forming fresh links. And all this new brain development allows for even more thrilling ideas and connections.
SO, LET’S SEE, WHERE ON EARTH CAN YOU GET A CHANGE, SOME RELAXATION, AND NEW EXPERIENCES THAT EXPAND YOUR BRAIN? THAT’S RIGHT. YOUR NEXT VACATION.
If leaving your desk helps, imagine how much it would help to leave the office, the state, the hemisphere.
And, if I got all those brilliant ideas from just driving to Burlington, IMAGINE what could happen if I went skinny dipping with piranhas in the Amazon, wandered Fez to my heart’s content, fell asleep under the stars in the Pacific?
IMAGINE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YOU DID?
Now, I know you. You’re sitting at your desk, head down, working 15 hour days, thinking that if you just keep at it, the answer will come to you.
Well, both the good and the bad news is: it won’t.
And now you know why.
SO HERE’S WHAT I WANT YOU DO.
You’re going to march into your boss’s office (or look yourself straight in the mirror if your boss is you) and announce that this is the year you are actually going to take your vacation.
You are going to get the hell out of here and see the glorious wild world.
You’re going to go somewhere new, somewhere you have never been, somewhere fantastically adventurous.
You’re going to get a change, relax, have some amazing new experiences, and, as a bonus, get a better brain.
Not just for your sanity, but for your productivity, your creativity, and your work.
TELL THEM I SENT YOU. OR BETTER YET: SCIENCE!
Yes, you CAN skinny dip with Piranhas and live to tell the tale. What? You didn’t know that? What ELSE are you missing out on? Get thrilling tales and surprising tips in your inbox free of charge!