Breaks are important. Proper breaks are essential.
And… welcome back. How was your Christmas? Did you get a proper break?
My guess is you probably didn’t.
Almost nobody does. The Christmas holidays are the worst time to try to take a holiday. There's just so much going on.
But it's not too late. You could still squeeze a weekend of proper downtime out of the new year.
And it’s important. 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. And so now 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.
But there’s still time. You can still make it happen.
Put it in the calendar. There might not be anything more important you do all year.