Aaah, summer. A time to slow down. To step away from it all. Get off the grid.
Every year I anticipate escaping the city to our family cottage on the shore of Lake Winnipeg. But this summer, after a stressful winter and a hectic and busy spring, stepping away from Toronto’s fast-paced life is proving harder than usual. I’d like to blame technology. But the problem goes deeper.
My vacation began with a lecture to my kids on the merits of putting screens aside. I regaled them with childhood stories of summers spent reading, playing with cousins and exploring the ‘great outdoors.’ My city boys were, to say the least, underwhelmed. But after negotiating some parameters for screen time, I – pleased with myself – headed back to my book and newspaper. On my laptop.
As a small business owner, there’s always a lot to manage. Projects and clients, marketing and writing, and endless admin. Sometimes I feel like if I stop, everything will; stepping away from work isn’t easy. This year I made a bargain with myself: I’d take a longer break than usual, but would work a little every day to justify the extra vacation time. And with cottage wifi; this is a snap. Oh, and despite my vacation auto response, I’m really still available to my clients if they need me. My phone is always nearby (must film the kids swimming!) And since it’s on me anyway, I’ll just quickly check my email. And while I’m there, social media…
So, as we enter our second week of vacation, I am wondering if it’s technology that that is stealing my cherished vacation time, or if the problem lies in my tendency to ‘busyness’, and to undervalue the importance of rest. Having spoken recently at a conference about developing resilience in the face of workplace pressure, I’ve been pondering how to harness inner resources.
We think of rest as simply stopping work. But stopping doesn’t equal recovering. At the end of a workday, our brains are often still toiling away. We may flop on the couch, but in our minds we’re planning what we’re going to say to that difficult colleague. Or figuring out how to ask for a raise. Or mulling over the financial data for the board we sit on. Planning that renovation. Raging about politics. You get the idea.
Our collective addiction to technology doesn’t help. Apple tells us that iPhone users unlock their phones 80 times a day (!!). Other research indicates that each day we touch our phones a whopping 2,617 times. Studies abound telling us that too much screen time inhibits our health, with impacts ranging from sleep loss to weight gain.
But how does it impact our resilience? Key to building our resilience chops is the willingness to push ourselves out of our comfort zones – leaping into the unknown. But in between leaps, we need to recover, regroup, recharge.
Stopping isn’t enough. Just as our bodies need to recover after vigorous activity, so too do our brains need a break from a constant state of cognitive arousal. Author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang suggests that a rested brain is not only more productive, but more creative. Allowing our minds to wander often leads to solving complex problems with less effort – especially if we’re engaging in a “restorative activity”, such as taking a hike, painting, cooking a meal.
Allowing ourselves to recharge, also allows us to be present with others. Through presence we can make authentic connections, strengthening relationships.
Some ways to build resilience by recharging:
- Plan to stop. At work, build in time for a cognitive pause. Take a walk, listen to music, step outside for a few minutes.
- Meditate. Apps like Headspace or Calm can be set up to remind you to take a mindfulness moment.
- Take a tech break. Choose a time to put your phone on airplane mode. Leave it in another room. (If you really want to challenge yourself, apps like Moment or Checky can give you a wee insight to your phone habit.)
- Set your email boundaries (no one will set them for you).If you’re on vacation, choose a time of day to check email.
- Take a nap.
- Turn off your computer. When it’s on, it beckons. When off, it becomes a dead thing, a hunk of metal with less allure.
- When in line at the bank, or the grocery store, instead of reaching for the phone, allow your mind to wander. Create the space for a moment of reflection.
So, dear readers, after posting this blog, I’m going to be turning off my computer and phone in order to take a complete break from my normal routine to give my brain, body, and spirit a real opportunity to recharge with three generations of my family.
And if you leave a comment, I’ll be delighted to look at it next week.