Ahh, to be young. I remember the summer I was 10 years old. It was the summer of all summers. My family was living in the San Francisco bay area, in a house that was just a short distance from what (in Chicago) is known as a forest preserve. That 165 acre park was my daily destination that summer. My friends and I would ride our bikes up there and spend hours playing in the creek; catching crayfish, building dams, looking at spider webs, and exploring old barns, or deer trails, or … anything! Summer was not programmed; it was a wide open expanse of discovery, time with friends and being outside. We’d get up whenever we wanted to, bike up to the park and meet whatever friends made it on that day. We explored, applying that all our little heads retained from 4th grade science. The bonds forged in our little group were deep ones.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that summer was ideal. Not just because I was 10 years old, living in California with a great group of friends. The level of freedom and discovery I enjoyed that summer gave me a standard–a blueprint–in my head that dictates what Summer is for. Summer is for rest, reflection, and exploration.
We see constant hand-wringing about how busy our lives are. We work too much, we don’t take care of our bodies, we skip sleep, all in the name of productivity. We’re trying to get so much done. The crazy thing is, we know this cycle makes us less productive, and less likely to engage in the creative problem solving that’s really going to move our businesses forward. That’s what makes the first task in the summer so relevant and so important. In the summer, our first task is to rest.
Learning to Rest
I’m not good at resting. I like to work, I like to be busy. The worst thing of all is wasting time. I hate to waste time.
But the truth is that everything rests. The earth–alive in summer–rests in winter. We all breath air in, and breath it out again (imagine if we only breathed in–yikes!). Even though sharks never sleep, they still rest. Failing to rest has terrible consequences for every species on earth, including you.
Find time when you aren’t going to work. And by that I mean: a time when you are choosing to NOT WORK. Maybe you have a place where you can get away for the weekend. Don’t take a computer! If you are going on vacation, turn off the alerts and notifications on your phone (or better yet unplug all together). It’s critical for our physical, mental and emotional well being that we take time to rest.
Rest doesn’t just mean that we don’t work. Too often, when we take time “off”, we do a ton of other things instead of “working”. But true rest means really slowing down; slowing down so MUCH that you feel like you are standing still (because you are)! Our brains and our bodies need to stop sometimes. Try it! It feels really nice (once you get used to it)! Try sleeping in, or taking a nap. Find a comfy spot out in nature and just sit and observe. Waste time. Do nothing. (It’s so decadent)!
Rewiring your brain (to be more creative)
Once we are rested–when we get to the point where we have truly slowed down–our brain does different work. Instead of racing around, trying to remember the next thing that we need to do, the brain switches into a whole different mode of processing (sometimes called R-mode, or Theta mode). In this mode, the brain begins to sift and sort all the data you’ve stuffed into it; and it makes new connections. This is why we have all our great ideas in the shower, or while driving. Those creative connections can only be made when the verbal, problem-solving part of our brain (the part that is engaged in working, but not engaged during resting) is turned off.
So. At least some of our summer needs to be at a place where we can stare at the line where the sky meets the water, or where there are trees older than our grandparents–a place that inspires awe. Seeing our (small) place in the universe puts a whole new spin on the daily problems that occupy our mind. We are just not that important (in the long run). Responding to that email, or writing another proposal can wait until you are back at the office.
There’s one more thing…
That true rest and reflection prepares us for a very important task; one that can only be done well when we are “away from it all”.
We need to set priorities.
Why do we need to look at priorities when we are sitting by a lake with our family? Why can’t we do it at our desk in the office? Because humans stink at separating the urgent from the truly important. As a result, if we set priorities when we are in the office, we confuse ourselves. We forget. We forget the pleasure of our time in the mountains or at the lake; we minimize how short the time with our kids truly is. Surrounded by our devices and our staff and our clients, we lose sight of those parts of our lives that bring a joy that can’t be measured. When we lose this perspective, we end up prioritizing things that are, in fact, less important, because they feel more urgent in that environment.
Given everything I’ve just shared, here’s what I want you to do: take time off. If you haven’t made any allowances for it, do it now. Look at your calendar and find some extended time for rest–where you unplug from all that is work and plug in to all that is life around you–and just be. I promise, you will be significantly impacted by all that rest reveals to you.
What are you NOT doing this summer?
Photo credit: Death to Stock Photos