For many of us, life is a constant frenzy. The rhythms we are used to, the commitments we make, the technology that allows us to (and obliges us to) to be always connected, contribute to making us march forward without stopping.
We are convinced that our existence is functional only to productivity, that every moment in which we are not doing something is wasted time, and that slowing down, or even worse stopping, is not only useless, but counterproductive and therefore absolutely to be avoided.
We have too much work, we are too stressed, and we dare not think about what could happen if we were to stop, even if just for a moment. This leads us to be in perpetual operating mode, but we cannot physically and mentally always be at maximum productivity, without stopping.
We need to take a break
We have become prisoners of a perverse mechanism, so we are increasingly dreaming of the possibility of stopping, but we continue to accelerate. And this trend shows no sign of changing or slowing down. In fact, the world around us continues to go faster and faster. The only thing we can change, therefore, is how we react to what’s going on.
“Instead of planting our feet and trying to fight change, we should ask ourselves how we can respond creatively.”
As long as we continue to see the break as the opposite of productivity, we will fuel an internal struggle that has the only result of being exhausted. What we should do is see the moments of pause and reflection as a functional part of our life, working and otherwise. We have to realize that the speed at which we go is not constant, and there will always be times when we slow down, or even stop. And rightly so.
Without stopping, our body and our mind suffer. Both need to regenerate, and removing this possibility is harmful. In addition to physical and mental damage, however, we must also reflect on those moments that we lose, if we do not stop to enjoy them.
A break can be an opportunity to review our way of managing time, a way to experiment with the rhythms of our life, and to regain control of our existence, so that it is not defined only by external factors.
How to define a break
Taking a break is an expression that brings to mind different situations, from a few minutes coffee break to a vacation of several days. Depending on the situation we are considering, the “pause” changes. There is no fixed time unit, and each type of break has its own characteristics and benefits. Let’s try to define what are the characteristics that define a break.
A pause is a moment in which we must immerse ourselves completely, a voluntary interruption, different from the small distractions (notifications, phone calls, etc.) that we face every day. It is a time when we decide not to pay attention to certain things, in order to leave “space” for others to happen.
Often, pauses are those moments when our mind is free to think without any kind of constraint. It is precisely during the breaks that we often have the best ideas, which can flourish only thanks to that detachment that the break allows us to have, in which it is easier for us to notice what is happening around us, in which we are better able to see what usually we would be too busy to notice.
The power of silence
A pause can also take the form of a moment of silence. Silence is a moment that creates tension, and we can use this tension in our favor. During a speech, a moment of pause leads people to reflect on our last words.
During a meeting, a moment of silence allows others to come forward with questions or comments, even if only to break the tension that has arisen. Silence works like the punctuation we use in writing, it serves to emphasize the rhythm of what we are saying, to place emphasis on the most important parts.
Make breaks a part of our routine
One of the best aspects of breaks is that they are extremely familiar moments, you don’t need to attend a course or read a book to learn. We can immediately begin to incorporate them into our daily lives. The easiest way to create a habit, such as taking a break, is to replace an existing habit. This requires commitment both mentally and physically.
The easiest type of break we can take is related to our breathing. Breathing is something that we do continuously, and we can therefore take advantage of it at any time. When a situation becomes tense, we can simply “take a breath” before reacting or responding.
This short moment brings with it enormous potential: it allows us to free our mind, take a step back and observe what is happening from a different point of view, and can often interrupt a moment of panic and crisis, giving us lucidity to formulate a reaction.
Breath may not always be enough. The next step, then, could be a short walk. Walking is also something we do often, so connecting it to a break becomes an extremely effective tool.
Getting up from the desk and going around the block might seem like a waste of time, but it brings all the benefits we have seen deriving from a break: it allows us to clear up our ideas, to take that moment of detachment that is often crucial to face a tense situation.
As we walk, our mind is activated, and it is as if the physical movement we make is mirrored within us, as if we were walking from one idea to another, changing perspective, noting connections that perhaps were not clear before.
If we are heading to a meeting, for example, we try to slow down our pace. Of course, running would get us there first, but those extra moments that we will take to arrive at a slower pace will help us prepare mentally to face the meeting.
An extremely easy technique to implement is to count to one before entering a room. It is such a short action that even the busiest cannot deny they can do it. Counting to one forces us to stop, even if just for a second. The important thing is the act of stopping, not the length of the break.
The journey home-work, for many of us, is a time of stress and frustration. Traffic, overcrowded trains, heat, delays. However, we can try to change the way we live these moments, and see them as a break. Instead of seeing them as moments to fill, perhaps checking the email or reading a book, we simply try to look around, to notice what happens.
The secret to turning something into a habit is constancy. We can try to carve out daily moments in which to write or draw, and make them our breaks. These activities do not necessarily have to be mental efforts, we can make them a moment of physical activity.
Just take a sheet of paper and a pencil, and let the words or lines come by themselves. Initially we will have to think about what we write or draw, but soon it will be easy to let the hand move by itself, without having to consciously control it.
Just something simple, without obligation. If we manage to make it a daily habit, a moment just for us, in a very short time these moments will become precious.
Plan longer break times
The breaks we’ve talked about so far are short and frequent. But there is another type of pause, longer, less frequent. These are more sought after moments, designed a priori, whose impact must last over time. Their purpose is to act on the way we feel, on our mood.
Bill Gates, for example, regularly schedules what he calls “think week”, the week for thinking. During these weeks, he isolates himself from the world, bringing with him a selection of books and newspapers, and dedicates himself to the issues he considers important.