How to make vacation mindset last all year long

September 2, 2019 - 10 min read

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Cultivating a vacation mindset

Let your brain roam free

Channel your playful side

Choose your own adventures

With the holidays fast approaching, many of us have vacation on the brain. But despite the well-known benefits of taking breaks, many of us struggle to disconnect from work. More than half of employees end the year with unused time off.

This ends up costing employers in more ways than one, such as higher disengagement, turnover, and much more. Beyond the business impact, there are also harmful health effects for individuals. Chronic stress and workaholism lead to burnout.

People who take at least one vacation report better health than those who don’t.

Luckily, progressive employers are leading a cultural tidal change around taking vacation. Many are implementing policies that encourage people to use PTO so they can tend to their well-being. And it’s for good reason: people who take at least one vacation report better health than those who don’t.

These workplace culture changes are important because the human brain is not designed to work all the time. It needs what I call mental maintenance, which includes rest, recharging, and reflection necessary to operate at our best. That means you have to intentionally put practices in place to engage your mind in new and different ways. When you do, you not only feel rejuvenated, but it also gets your creative juices flowing. You feel more energized and engaged on a daily basis.  

The human brain is not designed to work all the time


Why wait for the holidays to roll around to get the many well-being benefits of time off? Here’s why you should embrace a vacation mindset all year long, and how to build daily practices into your work and life for long-lasting results.

Cultivating a vacation mindset

Why wait for the holidays to roll around to get the many well-being benefits of time off? Click To Tweet

Think back to your favorite vacation or trip. What made it so special? It’s likely you felt like you had mental white space, which allowed you to think clearly. Maybe it included lots of fun, or deeply delightful activities. This sense of ease, engagement, and enjoyment is vacation mindset at its finest.

Mindfulness expert Leo Babuta describes vacation mindset this way:

Vacation mind…is just present in the current moment. Time is less important, enjoying yourself is the priority. So what does it look like when you apply vacation mind to work? You let go of the anxiety. You aren’t worried about getting it all done, or doing the right thing right now, or all the things you have to do later. You are immersed in enjoying whatever you’ve chosen to do right now.

Why should this optimal state of well-being only be reserved for our time out of the office? Vacation mindset is something that can be cultivated and it can have a positive effect on both personal and workplace relationships.

Here are some simple practices to help you incorporate elements of mindfulness, calm, and energy into your regular work life to help make every day feel a little more like a vacation.

Let your brain roam free

The diffuse mode is that daydreamy, relaxed state that happens when we allow ourselves to take a break.

Have you ever noticed that you tend to have your best ideas in the shower? Or maybe you’ve finally (and surprisingly) made a big breakthrough on a problem after a few days off. That’s because when you allow your mind to wander, your brain gets busy making new associations and connections. These come to the forefront as creative insights and innovative solutions.

While we spend most of our work day in logical thinking, analyzing, calculating, and strategizing, we’d do well to engage the brain’s diffuse mode more often. The diffuse mode is that daydreamy, relaxed state that happens when we allow ourselves to take a break.

There are many ways to tap into the diffuse mode regularly, including with mindfulness practices like meditation and self-reflection. Another practical way of accessing it that you can do in a team setting is mind mapping, which is a visual way to lay out a problem and brainstorm possible solutions. Mind mapping follows these general principles:

  1. Start with one thought at the center. Represent it with a single word, phrase, or symbol.
  2. Add more subsidiary thoughts around the main idea. Connect related thoughts by lines.
  3. Continue to group and organize related ideas and concepts.

There are digital tools you can use to create a mind map, or your can create your own (bonus points, since studies show that doodling inspires focus and creativity).

Channel your playful side

As adults, we often fall into the proverbial “all work and no play” trap. And yes, it does make life very dull. Vacations have a way of reigniting that childlike sense of fun in us and it’s worth bringing a little of that playful energy back into the workplace. Why? Play is extremely important for well-being. It reduces stress and even helps foster a greater sense of collaboration.

An easy way of fitting more playfulness into your day is by smiling every time you walk through a doorway. It sounds silly, but it’s a powerful way to gamify your day that releases “feel good” neurochemicals.

Design firm IDEO has explored how to cultivate a playful workplace culture both in mindset and daily behaviors. Their research shows that playing games as a team, prototyping, storytelling, and flexible workspaces that promote movement positively contribute to experimentation, empathy, and risk taking.

Choose your own adventures

If I asked you to tell me about your ideal workday, what would it look like? What would you spend your time doing? This Ideal Day exercise is one I share with most of my coachees. The goal is to help you get in touch with your values, strengths, and most importantly, to bring to awareness the type of work that gets you into a flow state.

Cynthia Maxwell, Director of Engineering at Yahoo, describes flow as more enjoyable than any dream vacation money could buy, “‘If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still come into work.” That’s flow. She even designed a tool managers can use to help their teams co-create flow states at work.

A few years ago I heard a quote from Seth Godin that has stuck with me ever since, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape.” It’s a reminder to be present and stop putting happiness on hold. When you choose to bring your whole self to any situation, you embrace a fuller life and more meaningful work.

Maybe you’re not able to work from a beach, but you can cultivate a similar relaxed state wherever you are, right at this very moment.

Original art by Theo Payne.

Published September 2, 2019

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