It's August. It's hot. Many of us are getting ready to go or are already on vacation. It is that time of year. We "check out" for at least a few days, maybe a week, or if you're a European, a whole month. That is as it should be. Time for rejuvenation, relaxation and the big "R"--REST--is essential if we are to maintain some semblance of balance in this wired, weary world.
But, as I recently learned the hard way, something major has changed in the way we experience vacations: we just don't do "down time" anymore, not really. Let's be honest. When you head out to the beach or up country on that longed for road trip, do you really "turn off" the world? Do you leave your laptop behind? Do you stop checking your email or logging on to Facebook? I doubt it.
The truth is that with our newly acquired ability to "stay connected" via small, nimble gadgets like the iPhone and Blackberry, it becomes easier to think we have left the world of work behind, all the while constantly checking in (and feeling guilty if we don't). Now, lest you think coaches and psychologists are immune to the techno-addictive ways of today's wired world, I want to dispel this notion point blank by sharing my own tale of woe.
Last week, I "escaped" to the breezy beaches of South Florida for a mini-vacation. My plan was simple: I would relax, hang out with friends on the beach, and read a couple of novels that have been piling up for months. My goal was to leave my laptop at home, not check my email, not even watch TV -- at least for a few days. It's called R & R. Or so I thought.
All was going swimmingly until one afternoon on the beach, while dozing in the bright afternoon sun, my friend notified me that everyone was packing up umbrellas, chairs and towels and quickly retreating off the beach. Turns out there was a dicey swirl of black clouds heading our way. Before we knew it, hard, driving rain poured out of the sky, drenching me and all my possessions. The deluge lasted all of about 15 minutes, but the damage was done: everything and I mean EVERYTHING was soaked, including my iPhone. It was dead. I pushed every button and flicked every switch and even hung it out to dry in a bag of rice (see Google: "wet iPhone remedy") for three days. All to no avail, she was a goner.
Now losing my iPhone wasn't life-threatening. BUT, it did send me into an emotional tailspin: how could I check my email? What would happen if a client needed me? How could I live without being able to send/receive text messages? OMG! That's when it hit me: I hadn't "escaped" from the world of clients, or family or anyone. My vacation was in some ways a complete ruse. I was, until the nature Gods abruptly disconnected me, still wired to work, wired to the internet, wired to respond. Down time? Intermittent at best.
So, in response to nature's wake-up call and the recognition that I was fooling myself into believing that I had turned off the world, I have decided to enumerate a list--for my next trip--of ways to truly DO NOTHING. (FYI: meditation practice doesn't count. For me, meditating is an active discipline involving focus, attention and breathing; it stacks up very high on my "to-do" list). Here are six that I've come up with:
Okay, there you have it: My recipe for re-inserting meaning to the words "down time." Let me know what you think. I shared this article with a client yesterday and he literally freaked out at the thought of doing nothing. He told me that he can barely function at work unless he has at least six "windows" open on his computer and can switch back and forth between them constantly. Yikes. It is more crucial than ever that we turn off those ubiquitous gadgets once in a while. We all need to remember what we knew intuitively as kids: DOING NOTHING is one of life's precious gifts. We need to revel in it more often.
Happy August! Dr. J