Thursday, July 14, 2011

Talking to a wall...being present at work & at play

Taking a pause 
Cuppa Joe in the backyard.
I thought I'd write daily in this blog, but so far that's not happened. Not taking time off for a while has meant I've gotten caught up on sleeping, reading, communing with nature, and "torturing" my children with vocabulary tests, studying new languages, and math drills. My daughter recently informed me she's ready for me to go back to work full time anytime now. She's kidding of course or maybe I'm just kidding myself with saying that. ;-)

Thinking, thinking
I've been doing a lot of thinking about the value of taking time off and what the experts and research say about it. While there's a ton of evidence that suggests taking time off is invaluable to psychological and physical health as noted in this article about stress and vacations, I'm not altogether on board with the hype. 

Feeling the Buddha
It's a matter of perspective
I recall a cultural observation made in Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers that compared the Asian and Western work ethics.  He suggested perspective, among other things, is rooted in agriculture. Historically Asians worked the rice paddies year round because of the longer growing season, but the Western growing season is limited to half a year or so which likely has influenced how the two cultures view work. You also can't consider this without considering the differences in Confucianism and Protestant work ethic which puts collectivism and presence at odds with individualism and fate. The net net is Asians spend far more time in school than Westerners, they spend up to 40% more time working through difficult math problems than their US counterparts, and they are out performing many Western students at universities. Of course, any culture is not without its fair share of issues so I don't want to imply I think one cultural approach is better than another. Instead I think it's better to take the best of both.

Luda & her friend Desiree
Some change is good 
I wonder how much of our "need" for time off is wrapped up in what the media says we're supposed to do. I don't want to completely discount the value of taking a holiday. I do think it's energizing and renewing. As a matter of fact research shows that a change of venue makes us more open to new experiences so I wouldn't toss that out for anything. It's also well known that some of the greatest discoveries were made while doing something unrelated their subject of study. Hooray for a change of scenery! On the other hand, time off can dull the senses a bit, make us feel like we're "not on our game," and the time to ramp up the pace again can be long and painful.

Be present while you work or play
So what's the middle path? It's being present at work or at play. In this world of technology driven ADD or what psychologists are starting to call Attention Deficit Trait (ADT), which is created as a result of constant multi-tasking, it takes a bit of discipline to be present in whatever activity you're doing. Being present doesn't remove stress but rather controls how you handle it. I always find when I'm trying to do multiple things at once it takes two to three times longer to finish. Others have told me the same happens to them as well. Conversations are more challenging. Solutions are slower. Patience is short. More coffee (or wine) is needed.

Daisy takes time to smell the flowers
Balance in all things
Too much of one thing is usually not good because it makes the limbic brain, or "feeling brain" as my son Ethan calls it, work overtime to constantly marshall the hormone troops in your body to produce. The effect is your system works overtime to keep those feelings rolling, but eventually like anything that is overworked, it goes on strike (anxiety) or shuts down (depression). It's a vicious cycle that becomes a kind of addiction -- yes, I said addiction. 

Focusing the animal in all of us
Some of the most energetic people I know are that way because they are so present in the moment whether they realize it or not. When something feels good we naturally want more of it and these energetic people have intentionally or otherwise figured it out. They approach an activity with the same focus and energy no matter what it is. It doesn't mean they aren't human and don't have complaints, struggles, and uncertainty.  It just means they acknowledge and give time equally across the spectrum of experiences and don't dwell on it. They have balance and let things go...

Moving on to the next moment
I feel this moment closing and a new one kicking off. The NC Museum of Art is calling so it's time to scoot. Please share your thoughts on living in the moment. I've had a number of convos with very smart people about this with no conclusion so I'll leave you with a parting Q: 

What does it mean to you to live in the moment? 

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