Have you ever taken one of those vacations where you feel like you become a new person? The kind where your body relaxes, your mind frees itself and you are, well, happier?
In those instances, you haven’t become a new person; instead, you have shed layers of egotistical crap from your psyche and become the person you really are. The vacation isn’t changing you per se, it’s allowing you to become who you really are. Yes, deep down inside you really are a happy and joyful person.
This thought came about as I walked down the street today, frantically running late to a meeting. Most of the people I passed were either hurriedly walking somewhere purposely or had their head buried in a smartphone. But one young woman stood out from everyone else. She was walking a bit slower than others, her posture was relaxed and I saw that she looked around her with a sense of wonder. As I passed her, she beamed out a warm, inviting smile at me that was impossible not to feel physically. I smiled back and instantly felt less stressed.
The scene reminded me of one of my favorite vacations in Hawai’i years ago. After dinner, a friend and I were walking one of the busiest streets in Honolulu near the marketplace where street vendors vie for the attention—and money—of tourists. But on this splendidly warm evening, everyone on the street was relaxed. Soft Hawaiian music played in the background and tourists languished on the street, taking in the sights and sounds of the tropical paradise.
That night I became aware of the friendly atmosphere of Hawai’i. No one was rushing to get anywhere. No one appeared angry. In fact, almost everyone we passed looked us in the eyes and smiled as they strolled down the street. We didn’t feel pressured to be anywhere or to do anything and in fact the biggest decision was where to stop and have a glass of wine. Sounds pretty nice, huh?
Family vacations notwithstanding, this kind of reaction is common when we go on holiday. We literally feel stress sink into the sand on some exotic beach, allow our troubles to float away while on a canoe in a mountain lake or let our enthusiasm rise in a crowded European marketplace. So why the hell can’t we do this at home?
During vacation, we purposely turn our attention and awareness in new directions. We notice our surroundings (which are generally new and exciting to the senses) and become emerged in the present moment. Most astonishingly, we feel that it’s okay to relax and quite proper to simply forget our problems for the time being. It’s a trick of the mind.
I’m not saying that vacations aren’t a wonderful thing. I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t allow ourselves the pleasure of going on vacation, quite the opposite in fact. I’m a big advocate for getting out of Dodge whenever possible.
I am, however, saying that it’s possible to bring vacation-type awareness back to the regular work-a-day world where it can really do us a lot of good. It starts with conscious choices of where we place our thoughts and emotions.
My interaction with the young woman on the street is a great example. Her smile and the subsequent reminder of vacation made me realize that I have a choice in how I approach each moment. So for the rest of the walk to my meeting, I slowed down and took note of my surroundings. I purposely felt the sun on my face and the slight breeze blowing around me. I made a point to look at everyone I passed and smile at them whether they noticed or not.
I remembered how great it felt to walk down the street in Honolulu and held that image and awareness for the rest of my walk. I wasn’t really on the island but my thoughts were and that allowed me to bring a piece of heaven back home to Colorado.
Bring the beach back with you (or the Eiffel Tower)
When you’re feeling stressed out, over burdened or just plain wiped out, try using some of these simple techniques to adjust your thinking:
- Stop and remind yourself that you have a choice in each moment. You can feel stressed out or you can allow yourself to feel calm. This is a hard one to do in certain situations, but give it a whirl.
- Immerse yourself in the present moment. Stop talking, slow your thoughts, and look carefully at the world around you. Take note of small details wherever you are—anything from the bright orange of a pencil on your desk to the coffee cup on the floor of the subway. Investigate with your eyes, your ears and your sense of touch, smell and taste. Engage your senses so that your mind can take a mini-vacation. Above all, breathe deep as you check out your surroundings.
- Refuse to worry. Even if it’s only for five minutes, tell yourself that you won’t worry and won’t concentrate on problems, challenges, negative people or unwanted shit. Give yourself a break. You can always pick up those thoughts in a while but for now, they’re banished.
- Change a pattern. Take a new way home from work. Put your pants on the opposite leg first. Order a cheeseburger if you normally get a chicken sandwich. The point here is to engage your mind from a different perspective, much like you’d have to do on a vacation in an unfamiliar place.
- Send your mind to the beach (or wherever makes you happy). Sit and close your eyes and remember one of your favorite vacations (or people or places). Remember as vividly as possible what you were doing, how you felt, what you wore, what it smelled like and what the temperature was. What did the ground feel like under your feet? Were you in the water? How did it feel against your skin? The trick here is to remember as much detail as possible (happy details!) and keep your mind engaged for several minutes to allow your nervous system to reset itself.
You don’t have to go to the beach to take a vacation. All you need is a purposeful intent, some creativity and a willingness to bring the beach home with you. Change your focus by pretending what it’s like to be on vacation—even if it’s in the middle of a busy day.