Why We Stink at Taking Breaks
One of my favorite ways to take a break is to lie on a hammock. So much so, that several years ago I purchased a metal frame in order to set one up in my backyard. When I'm on it, gently swaying back and forth and looking up at the open sky and occasional passing birds, I can feel miles away from the items on my to-do list, as well as everything else for that matter. Ironically, when I'm on my hammock, I'm not really that far away from anything. It sits only a few steps from my backdoor, and once I'm settled into the hammock's worn rope, my butt rests, at most, about a quarter-inch off the ground. It's close enough that I often wonder if I'll end up with grass stains on my back pockets. Still, the experience creates about as simple and pure a break as a break can get--which causes me to wonder: why don't I do it more often?
I've been curious to understand why so many of us are so awful at taking breaks. What is it about our cultural conditioning as adults that prevent us from stepping away from our seemingly important tasks in order to briefly recharge. Certainly, we're presented with adequate opportunities to pause when we don't want to: red lights, traffic jams, lines at the grocery store and the bank. However, for many of us, when given an opportunity to take a break at a time when a break would improve our energy level and our concentration, we don't do it. It just becomes too compelling to continue doing what we're doing. Maybe it also feels too difficult to change our momentum in order to pause--or to recognize that some value might come from taking time to recharge.
I wish we could start a cultural movement to reclaim the power of the break. Possibly, we could approach it as an old fashioned cigarette break--stepping outside, taking in some fresh air, and noticing our surroundings--just without the smoking part. Or maybe we could approach it as a coffee break, sitting down for a few minutes and directing our attention to something different--letting the caffeine and even the beverage, to be optional.
If I were to make up banners and flyers in support of the movement, they'd have to speak to our tendencies to exhaust ourselves. They'd have to describe how easy it is to get lost in what we're doing and to continue on past a point that's really in our best interests, or even in the best interests of the project we're working on. Our doing, in and of itself, can create a desire for more doing, just as eating sugar creates a longing for more sugar, and getting angry can cause us to escalate into more anger. It's important that we practice the art of taking a break so that we're able to modify this tendency. It's also important that we keep this skill fresh and effective so that we can pull it out when we want to: when there's an opportunity to read a bedtime story to our child or to enjoy a sunset at the beach.
Taking breaks is a useful tool for those of us wanting to live our lives more mindfully by bringing our full presence into our day-to-day activities. A break can serve as a sort of meditation bell, bringing our attention back into the moment, and allowing us to return to our activities with a fresh start.
It's worth experimenting with what sorts of breaks work best for us, whether they are short or long, inside or outside, or at risk of causing grass stains or not. Reflect on what your version of a coffee break might be.
(Reprinted from Huffington Post & DailyGood)