Here’s my strategy for clearing the mind, tapping the creative potential of your brain, and starting the year with a spring in your step.
I need a holiday from my holiday.
Sound familiar? I’ve heard it more than once this silly season.
We spend the run up to Christmas hustling to get everything done, dreaming of all the free-time we’ll have once the holidays arrive.
But then they do come. And then there’s Christmas to organise, lunch to prepare, presents to wrap. There’s plans for New Year’s Eve, catch-ups with Dan and Sally, dropping in to your mother in-law’s.
And then there’s all the odd-jobs around the house you thought you’d get time for. Cleaning the curtains, fixing up the fence, trimming back the hibiscus.
And what about a digital catch up? The witty blogs you didn’t get around to reading, that hilarious youtube video everyone’s talking about. Emails to long lost friends that have been on your to-do list for years.
Christmas is a manic time of year. In some ways we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s high summer. In the human and animal kingdoms it’s a time of peak activity. It’s a time for getting stuff done. Hoard some nuts, paint the fence.
And I think for a lot of us, the Christmas holidays become the over-flow of life. Don’t have time for it now? Stick it in Christmas’s inbox.
But all that means that we end up running ourselves ragged trying to get everything done. Combine that with feasting and booze, and a lot of us end up starting the year wiped out.
We hit the ground flat-footed.
That’s why, for some time now, I’ve been trying to make a point of getting some genuine R’n’R in the first weeks of the year. Right now, I’m still up in Noosa, writing this from a beach-side café. I’m only just starting to get my mind back into the practical realities of my work.
Because I think rest and relaxation is one of the most under-rated ingredients of a successful life.
You can’t keep flogging the horse or the monkey without a break. Sooner or later it’s going to fall over or off.
And a rested, relaxed outlook is the engine of creative thought.
A few years ago I noticed a bit of a pattern. Whenever I took a real break, my mind seemed to go through three phases.
The first seemed to be about processing. Seems to me that mind is a bit like the stomach – it’s a digestive organ. But rather than food, it’s digesting information and stimulus.
And we live in an incredibly stimulating age. We are carpet-bombarded with news and stories and pretty things.
We get so habituated (addicted?) to it that we actually start craving and seeking out distraction.
But the mind is designed to process everything. And if it doesn’t get a chance in our busy lives, I kinda feel it files stuff away in the ‘come back to it later’ compartment of our brains.
But our busy lives never give us a chance to come back to it. And so we end up mentally blocked up, in good need of a psychic enema.
And so it’s only when you cut the stimulus back to a minimum that the brain starts getting its affairs in order. It starts clearing through the old files on your desk, putting things away and making everything neat and tidy.
This is the first phase. And I found for me that I’d just start rambling to my wife about what I should have done with that project, why this project failed, why this one was a success.
It wasn’t planned. It just spontaneously flowed out of me, as my brain processed a busy year.
For me, it was deeply relaxing. For my wife, it was a signal that it was time to go shopping.
In the next phase, nothing much happens at all. I’m not driven to think about past projects, I’m not inspired to think about future projects. I barely think at all. Days pass, and I let tumbleweeds just blow about between my ears.
I don’t know what happens in this phase. Maybe the brain is repairing itself. Maybe it’s just taking a break. Who knows? But it seems a necessary part of the cycle. The cold winter of thought.
After that, in the third phase, I find myself drawn back to my projects. My mind naturally starts ticking over the possibilities, finding things to get excited about.
And I find I can see them in a new light. Connections that were once hidden are now obvious. The road forward is a lot easier to make out. My thinking is fresher and a lot more ‘outside the box’.
I just think better.
But this only happens if I give myself a ‘real’ break. It’s now a central part of my process, and I try to give myself that breathing space at least a few times a year. A 4 day weekend here, a week away there…
But you can’t rush it. You need to give it time and space. And the handful of days between Christmas and New Year, when there’s 100 other things on, is exactly NOT that time and space.
And all this is not to be confused with the pie-in-the-sky daydreaming that we call New Year’s resolutions.
“I’m going to have six pack abs and a million dollars” is not a goal. It’s just a daydream. And calling it a ‘new years resolution’, doesn’t make it any less of a fantasy.
An escapist fantasy.
And the truth is, if you’re drawn in to this kind of wishful thinking, you’ll probably never be successful.
So, that’s the question… did you get the break the rest you needed? Did you get to access an empowered, creative mindset, full of inspired strategies and fresh angles?
Or just more wishful thinking, jammed between catch-ups and mince pies?
And if so, what are you going to do about it?