Sunday, May 30, 2010

Want Your Brain To Make You Brilliant? Give It A Vacation.

Many of us are not taking our vacation time. That's bad for the brain. Brains need time off to renew. A proper vacation can light up higher order brain function that a year of pernicious stress has dimmed and debilitated. The reward for the time you invest in a vacation is a brain humming with the creative intelligence that will sustain you at the top of your game for another year. Now that's a handsome return on investment.

So invest the time. Time-off, when done properly, guarantees recovery of the neurological, psychological and spiritual capacities that enable you to excel once again and in ways that are intrinsically rewarding.

Take this tool on vacation with you: There are a few very simple things you can do while away on vacation to rejuvenate the brain. Practice these steps every day, and when you return to work I promise your rested brain will deliver a powerhouse of renewed intelligence, enthusiasm and vision.

  • Put your Blackberry in a drawer. If you have to use it, be sure to return it to the drawer when you’re done.
  • Two or three or more times a day, practice the 4-step process below. It takes no more than 3-minutes to perform, although you may want to do it longer, once you discover how good it feels:
2. Tilt your chin slightly toward your heart and allow the next few breaths to soften your heart.
1. Sit quietly and relax your brain as you would a contracted muscle.
3. Now relax your body. Start at the feet and slowly move up the body, relaxing each part separately: the feet, the legs, then the torso, then the hands, and so on to the arms, hips, back, shoulders, neck and finally the face. Now, feel your whole body as you breathe and relax into it.
4. Conclude the process by slowly taking in a deep breath and as you
exhale, let the mind go completely.

  • Hold the intention to listen better, judge less, and forgive more. Tune into loved ones with genuine interest and listen to them with curiosity and openness. Rediscover them all over again.
  • Have the general intention to judge nothing that happens while on vacation. When unpleasant people or situations arise, forgive them. If you are the source of dissonance, forgive yourself and return to feeling happy and at peace.
  • End each day by writing down at least three things you appreciated about the day or your life in general.
  • Exercise moderately and restrict consumption of alcohol.
Each day of vacation spent in this way can return three days of recovery time. Click here or on the umbrella to download your Vacation Brain Tool.

If you are thinking of skipping your vacation this year, I invite you to read on about the trouble you will not be protecting yourself against. If you absolutely cannot take vacation time, at least attend a weekend retreat somewhere. I am offering one in July in Marin. There are many good retreats that can help you renew. A weekend retreat in proximity to taking a vacation might even free the genius in your brain that stress has locked away.

So, here's the trouble: Instead of taking time to renew, the Harris Poll says most of us are working harder than ever, an average 49 hours a week. We are putting in 100-200 more hours per year than our parents. Those are averages; you might be working more than that. These extra hours are time away from our kids, friends, spouses, and even our bed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says we sleep less than our parents did; one to two hours less. Vacation is a time to recoup that lost time and revitalize our minds and hearts.

All work and no play is not what we want, at least according to surveys. In one study, people overwhelmingly preferred a 10% pay cut in return for a 10% reduction in hours. Only 47 percent of Americans say they are happy in their jobs, a sizable drop from the 61 percent who expressed satisfaction twenty years ago. Our over-worked life style is also evident in morbidity and mortality statistics. A hundred years ago, the #1 killer of Americans was bacterial and viral infections and childbirth for women. Stress-related disease now holds that dreadful distinction. One study showed that 80% of serious illness was preceded by high stress in the previous year. If we go about it correctly, a vacation can break the negative cycle and renew us in ways that can make the upcoming year less stressful.

But many of us are voluntarily skipping vacations in lieu of working more. More than one in three of us forfeit vacation time. We talk about vacations, plan them, dream about them and then fail to take one. As much as a half billion vacation days will go unused this year. That equates to nearly two million years of lost vacation. Some of us are not even taking a lunch break. The American Dietetic Association found that 35% of us eat lunch at our desk. While we're eating, we typically work on the computer, read, make and receive phone calls, write, do calculations or clean up our work space. If we go on vacation, we take work with us. "I rarely go on vacation," said Ellen Kapit, a real estate agent in Manhattan. "And when I do, I have my computer, my Palm, my e-mail and my phone with me at all times." Do you see yourself in this picture? A survey found that 92% of those away on vacation frequently check in with the office.

Why? Because we worry that the person next to us will get ahead while we're gone. Or we're afraid that the work piling up on our desk will put us so far behind that we'll never catch up. If we look deeper, we might see a mix of paranoia and obsessive-compulsivity behind these concerns, neurologically generated by stress. As our stress level spills over the top, which is usually a month before vacation time, it floods our brain with stress hormones. These hormones erode the higher brain function that sustains peak performance.

Stress hormones also hyper-activate the brain's fear center producing Type-A behavior and locking our brain into "threat mode." This neurotoxic brain state tends to interpret any uncertainty as a threat to our survival. When you think I can't afford to take time off, it's usually the brain's fear center thinking for you. It's the brain using you, instead of you using the brain. You need to reset the brain to peace, which is the neuroplastic state that rebuilds and restores higher brain function. Vacation is a good way to reset the brain to peace.

So use your brain and take a vacation. When you return to work, neurologically you will be ahead of the person you worried about the last time you took time off.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a really interesting post with great information and suggestions. Personally, I think there are different ways to travel, some that reboot the mind and stress levels more than others. Many people chose to do something like gamble in Vegas or lie around the pool at an all-inclusive resort, and those kinds of trips can actually up your stress level. But take yourself out in nature, be active, explore a different culture, learn a new skill, and you'll come home feeling like you regained your youth and vitality. I'm linking to your blog on mine,, and would love if you'd link back.