Leisurely Speaking – The Benefits of Travel

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It’s the first week of June, which means that many of us will be marking our calendars, putting together itineraries and booking flights. There are many joys that come with the arrival of warmer weather and some good, uninterrupted down time is perhaps one of the biggest perks. Having a Modelo and catching up on some reading at 10:30 in the morning on a deserted stretch of beach would make anyone feel good. But it also turns out that there are some significant psychological benefits to taking time away from the office.

It turns out that there is a growing body of research that indicates that getting out of your office and into a beach chair is the sure fire way to avoid possible burnout. During an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, Charles Duhigg, New York Times journalist and author of The Power of Habit, gives insight on vacation’s effect on our subconscious thinking:

“We know from studies, that when people tie their shoes or brush their teeth, they use the exact same cues and do it the exact same way. They’ll always do their left shoe first or their right shoe first, or they’ll always brush their lower teeth or their upper teeth first. They’re probably not even aware of this.  . . . I’m sure that you would brush your teeth the exact same way at home because you have the exact same cues that are triggering the tooth-brushing habit. But if you go on vacation and all the cues are different, you’ll brush your teeth [or put on your shoes] in a different way without even noticing it. Once the cues change, the habit becomes broken up.”

Our tooth-brushing and shoe lacing routines are trivial, but while on vacation, we can apply Duhigg’s logic to accomplish tasks with greater significance. By removing ourselves from familiar cues and rewards, we have the ability to take control over the habits that we thought we were powerless against – the need to check e-mail, running from meeting to meeting, the 3pm snack break; the list goes on and on. On vacation, we have the ability to form new patterns that can make us healthier and more productive in our normal lives.

Speaking of productivity, working more does not always equal working better. It’s an interesting paradox how taking time off can increase job performance. This isn’t rocket science and the importance of taking a moment to recharge is rooted in our physiology. Much like a baseball pitcher isn’t expected to throw at peak performance for all 9-innings, unless you’re Josh Beckett of the L.A. Dodgers, our brains work best when we’ve given them time to rest.

Getting away from home, hearing different languages and eating different foods, leads to seeing the world through a different lens. When traveling, we are able to think differently and stimulate areas of the brain that aren’t used during a typical work day. The rhythm of the day changes and we are left to our own devices. This fresh perspective can lead to new ideas and unexpected solutions.

Summer’s finally here (unofficially). Take a break and consider it an investment in your quality of life. It’s good for your creativity, workflow and peace of mind.

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