Vacations Rebuild the Brain

By Don Goewey

Many of us are not taking our vacation time.  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.  We sleep less than our parents did; one to two hours less.  Those are averages; you might be working more and sleeping less than that.

Two Million Years of Lost Vacation Time

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 time.  If we do take a vacation, we take work with us.  A survey found that 92% of those away on vacation frequently check in with the office.  If that weren’t not bad enough, the American Dietetic Association found that 35% of us never take a break while at work. We eat lunch at our desk working at our computer, returning emails and phone calls, or organizing our desk.

Believe it or not, breaks are an important element in peak performance. Researchers found that activity in the hippocampus and neocortex increased during periods of wakeful rest, especially after learning something new. The hippocampus and neocortex generate everything we think of as intelligence.  Another way of saying this is: refusing to take a break is a decision to be stupid that day.  Refusing vacation is a decision to grow dumber in the coming year.

Why Do We Skip Vacation?

We skip vaction 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.

It’s Bad For The Brain

We need time off  we can reset the mind to peace, which is the neuroplastic state resets the brain and super-charges higher brain function, enabling us to sustain peak performance.  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, common sense and physical energy that will sustain you at the top of your game for another year. Now that’s a handsome return on investment.

So Use Your Brain and Take a Vacation

Invest the time in a vacation. When you return to work, neurologically you will be ahead of the person you worried would get ahead of you. Time-off, when done properly, guarantees recovery of the neurological, psychological and spiritual capacities that enable you to excel.

Do These Simple Things While On Vacation

Here are a few very simple things you can do to increase brain power while you’re away on vacation. Each day of vacation spent in this way can return three days of recovery time.  Practice these steps every day, and when you return to work you’ll be a powerhouse of renewed intelligence and creativity.

Before you leave, put your email account on auto-responder. First thing when you arrive at your destination, put your Blackberry in a drawer.  If you have to use it, be disciplined about letting non-urgent business calls go to voice mail.  Most of these calls will be non-urgent.

Twice a day, morning and afternoon, practice the 3-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:

  1. Tilt your chin slightly toward your heart and allow the next few breaths to relax your mind and soften your heart.  Imagine your brain quieting down and relaxing.
  2. 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.
  3. Conclude the process by slowly taking in a deep breath and as you exhale, let the mind go completely.

Commit yourself to tuning into loved ones. Rediscover them all over again.  Hold the intention to listen better, judge less, and forgive more.  In fact, practice judging nothing that happens while on vacation, from traffic jams to service workers. 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.  It also helps to exercise moderately and restrict your consumption of alcohol.

Each day of vacation spent in this way can return three days of recovery time.


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