We live in a time of unprecedented connectedness, tethered 24/7/365 to work, family, friends, news, and all manner of interests and stressors, whether we want to be or not. The economy? Crisis in the Middle East? The latest school shooting? Check. A work headache masquerading as an ‘opportunity’? You’re up. Family stress? Relationship troubles? Celebrity scandal or wedding du jour? Try hiding from ’em.
Scientists worry that our brains are being asked to take in more information than ever before. Maybe even more than we, as humans, were ever wired to. After all, if a big part of the journey of life is to figure out what it all means, it’s hard to do when we can’t stop and process it all. It’s never been harder to find the silence between the nonstop flurry of notes. Hence, a few suggestions:
Be a loner No, don’t drive cross-country and start chopping hitchhikers into little bits. Take a walk. Do yoga. Go for a run, a swim, a ride. A hike, a drive, a paddle. Visit the library, sit in a café, read on a park bench. Dine for one. Dare to be alone with your thoughts. It won’t always be pleasant, but every now and then you are your own best companion.
Take a proper lunch Most days, I eat lunch at my desk. But it pales in comparison to the simple pleasures of breaking bread with a friend and having a real, unscripted conversation where you can’t filter, edit, and retouch everything that comes out of your mouth. In Europe and Latin America, it’s the norm. Here in the States, sadly, it’s often the exception. People enjoying themselves in the middle of the day? Sacrilege!
Meditate One of the best ‘pause’ buttons out there. I took a class but haven’t even come close to mastering it yet. Hopefully I’ll get the hang of it before my frayed nerves give out.
Mindfulness The kissing cousin of meditation. Be present. Listen to your kids or your significant other when they tell you about their day. Slow down enough to actually taste the food you’re eating. Just that little act of concentration will make your brain fire differently.
Digital detox How often do you see couples or even a table full of folks (or families) out to dinner and no one’s talking because they’re all staring at their phones? Same in meetings. It’s the new crack. Tear yourself away from all those glowing screens. (See ‘be present’ above.) Sound impossible? Despite ambitious plans to break global sales records again this year, Volkswagen Germany banned after work email in an attempt to give employees an opportunity to recharge.
Take a nap Kids do it. Animals do it. Latin America does it. New research shows that napping lets your brain grow new cells. My advice: 10 to 15 minutes, max. If you’re a coffee person, drink an espresso, put your head down, and when the coffee kicks in, you’ll wake up good to go. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
Go on vacation Sounds simple enough. Yet a story in Forbes notes that most Americans left 9 days of vacation time on the table in 2012. What’s the untold cost in terms of stress and lost productivity? We may never know. But many countries require their citizens to take vacation. Smart employers do the same.
Say nothing Why do we feel compelled to fill every second of air like so many of the annoying commercials on TV? Some of the most interesting conversations are the ones with awkward pauses and stumbles. Right now, we need more white space.
If the notion of ‘pausing’ strikes you as old fashioned, dear reader, I stand before you, guilty as charged. Drag me out to the gallows and and string me up by the threads of one of my Paul Smith jackets. Flog me with the cables of my retro audio system. Drown me in a vat of my favourite biodynamic Barolo. There are worse ways to go, and at least my mind will be clear when I do.