Learning to sit still

My husband and I are on a “forced vacation” this week. Now, before you imagine dark forces holding guns to our heads and shouting “Relax, damn you!” in our ears, let me explain.

We had to postpone our summer vacation last year because the weather forecast showed that Bermuda was about to be hit by two consecutive hurricanes. While I am as fascinated by the fury of storms as much as the next person, I would much rather watch them on the Weather Channel, not from my hotel room.

The hotel let us postpone our vacation for six months, so here we are, in February, sitting on an island in the Atlantic, where the temperature is around 60 F. It’s definitely not the vacation we had originally planned.

Here’s the funny thing that’s happened: this is more relaxing than I would have imagined. We’re reading books, taking walks, leaving the TV shut off and just … relaxing. I am spending hours a day sitting still. I didn’t realize, until just a few days ago, that I even needed some time off. It’s amazing what a few days of not racing from work, to the grocery store, or to the airport, can do for me.

As I said in an earlier blog, time off from work actually has to be time off, not time spent working remotely. But what never occurred to me before now is that I need really take time off—with no responsibilities other than to decide which books to bring along.

For me, this means getting away from familiar surroundings. If I’m home, or even on Nantucket, I look around and see all of the little chores I want to do. While I get a sense of satisfaction by checking items off my To-Do list, it’s not restful the same way sitting still and doing nothing is.

So what does all of this have to do with being happy at work?

Think of it as training to run a marathon. When you train to run a marathon you run longer and longer distances, putting in hours of training so you can run 26.2 miles on the day of the race. As a runner, I always focused on the running days, not on the rest days. But without the rest days, your body could not run the longer distances, so each good training program always has rest days built into it. I was always more energetic the day after a rest day; this run felt good and I could usually do a little more than I had planned.

It’s the same for work: the “long runs” don’t create energy at work, the rest days do. And, I’m only happy at work if I feel energized at work.

For me, this week has been an “aha” moment: I need to schedule time off and away from my usual haunts on a periodic basis, even if it’s only for a few days. Since my sabbatical, I am much better at taking little breaks and protecting my days off—but I am still not good at truly relaxing during my time off. I have just learned the importance of sitting still!

When we fly home in a few days, I will take this insight with me. I can’t always get away, especially with the work travel schedule I now have, but I will try in the future to replicate this feeling. I am going to sit still.

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