Recently, a dear friend sent me a link to a webinar all about the power of slowing down and doing nothing. It addressed the positive impact on productivity that occurs when your brain has the appropriate amount of time to rest, reflect, and recover, as well as the spike in overall well-being that happens when you give yourself down time. It discussed the necessity of down time in memory creation, solving complex problems, and forming a solid sense of self. The takeaway message was that, paradoxically, in order to be your most productive, confident, and successful self, taking time away from work and the deluge of daily data is absolutely necessary.
I saw the link while checking emails standing in line at the pharmacy. I responded to it as I walked back to my car. And then the irony hit me--I was responding to a discussion about the power of slowing down while running a mile a minute.
What did I miss by being on my phone while waiting and walking? What space did my brain have to be bored, to reflect on my day, to be curious about the people and world around me? If a therapist such as myself, in a flexible, supportive work environment, struggles to give myself downtime, how much harder must it be for those in fields with more data and demands?
Now, I know all of the arguments for being productive in those little downtime moments: it’ll free up big chunks of time to be truly present with family and loved ones. Yet I just notice that while the intention may be to cram things in to open up space, in reality, I often just end up running myself ragged, without ever reaching the end of the list.
I also know I am not alone in this. Americans wear our busyness like a badge of honor. The busier you are, the more in demand you are, which means you're more successful, right? According to several surveys, Americans often obsessively check and respond to email, or feel an obligation to work while on vacation. Furthermore, on average we have about nine unused vacation days at the end of the year, even though we consistently rank low in the worldwide average of paid vacation days.
The research is clear. The individual experiences of being burned out and overburdened are equally as clear. We all know it is important to take a break, to go on vacation, to allow ourselves to rest; so why is it so hard to do it? Whatever the reason, the benefits of becoming more intentional in taking time, meditating, and increasing mindful awareness of the world around us are significant. It might be worth exploring what gets in your way- I know I will be.
Interested in reading further? Check out this Scientific American article for a more in-depth exploration of the research on this topic.