Hopefully many of you have recently returned refreshed from your summer break. The average American vacation is—shock, horror—a mere 4 days! Those slackers the Japanese take off 10 days on average, while those other layabouts the Canadians idle for 19 days. The true practioners of the good life, the Italians, manage an extraordinary 31 days. Up for a challenge, we abstained from work for a full two-weeks this summer in an effort to raise the national average.
We decided to try a staycation because it was easy to arrange and finance, and it was something different for us. Did we mention it was easy? Really easy.
As we looked forward to the 336 deliciously pristine hours that lay ahead of us, we pondered what we wanted a break from. No one would call our lives hectic—there are certain standards self-proclaimed Slow Life Advisers need to maintain. So what should we do (or not do) to have the respite we craved?
Time + Contrast = Restoration
We realized that the key to having it feel like a break was to experience life in contrast to our normal way of being. If you're standing up, it feels like a break to sit down. If you're sitting, the break comes with standing and movement. If your life is full of routine, then having more variety might be what you need. Should you be one of the rare people whose life is busy, then doing less may be just the ticket.
Here are some of the contrasts we experimented with:
Spontaneous vs. Planned—We plan a lot, so a break for us meant being more spontaneous. We went on day trips starting in one place and improvising our way from there. A while back we took a trip during which someone else planned everything. Again, this was a welcomed change for us. Alternatively, we have friends who are spontaneous much of the time, and for them planning to do something is a break. They enjoy the opportunity to exclusively focus on a project or activity for a period as a breather from their usual toing and froing.
Clock vs. Event Time—Clock time is when there is a specific time to begin and end, whereas event time is when you flow with what's happening regardless of the time. Personally we have lots of appointments with definite times, so creating experiences in which we didn't track the time felt luxurious. We know parents, especially moms, who are immersed in event time with their children. For them, setting up well-defined clock times during which they can pursue their personal agendas feels like an oasis in a sea of contingencies.
Mental vs. Physical Activities—Do you spend most of your time noodling on things with your brain, or using your brawn to move mountains? Our landscaper friend loves to sit and read during her breaks. If you are frequently chair-bound like us, then getting off your butt and moving feels liberating.
Novelty vs. Familiar—We know people who travel for work, and they relish their time at home doing simple household tasks. We work from home, so early in our staycation we found being at home (ironically) did not feel like a break. We soon dropped any ambitions of doing house projects as well. Our challenge was finding ways of experiencing our familiar stomping grounds in fresh ways. And we did! This gave us some unexpected benefits too, like a renewed appreciation for where we live and yet more activities to put on our Fun-To-Do list.
Solitary vs. Sociable—Again, the goal is finding the contrast that leads to restoration. Parents may long for time alone or with fellow grown-ups. Other people may crave time with friends and family, especially if their work keeps them away. We began our staycation by being relatively solitary, and then socialized more during the second week as we felt rested. While we stumbled upon this strategy, it worked. That's just how spontaneous we were!
Plugged-In vs. Unplugged—There may be someone living under a rock who is not plugged in, but for most of us unplugging is the contrast we need. As a culture we have totally oversold the value of being connected 24/7. Before we disconnected, we told clients and friends we would be off-line and used an auto-responder to help set expectations for others. We missed absolutely nothing important—nothing! We later regretted even the few times we checked in electronically. Unplugging for an extended stretch may be the biggest and most important contrast we can give ourselves.
After you have considered the changes that would feel like a break for you, the next step is to use your creativity and design an experience that fits your time, budget, and other criteria. You can try this whether you have an hour, a day, a weekend, or (hopefully!) more time. The goal is to bend your life in different directions for a while and in so doing, give your body, mind, and spirit a chance to restore.
What are some of the contrasts that would feel like a break for you? Start by describing characteristics of your current situation. Now think of what would be different and appealing.
Use the above list to create a break for the next time you have a few free hours. What you need changes with what you are doing, so consider what would be a restorative change for you this week.
Wishing you longer and better breaks in the months to come,
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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