For a few short weeks this summer, I found quiet. Unplugged from phone, tablet, email and largely, the outside world, I immersed myself in a family vacation and loved every minute of it.
We trekked Sicily, Rome and a little gem of a Greek island that offered only the white noise of waves on the coastline. We visited Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano on the European continent. My boys’ eyes widened when our tour guide shared that Etna’s first volcanic activity occurred half a million years ago. We visited the Colosseum, considered one of the world’s greatest works of architecture. Centuries of wear and tear have destroyed nearly two thirds of the original amphitheater, but what’s left is still a sight to behold, an icon of all things Rome. It wasn’t lost on me that we are just a speck in time in this world.
I share this because I came back almost astounded by how good I felt after simply getting away—physically, mentally and emotionally—and I thought it was important to remind all of you of the benefits of taking a step back every now and again, whether for 10 minutes outdoors, a long weekend, or an actual vacation.
It goes without saying that we’re living in a time of continuous unrest and instability. Conflicts on multiple continents, social upheaval at home and war abroad, natural and manmade disasters everywhere. There’s a lot of scary stuff out there, and it’s hard to escape. What’s more is the constant inundation of visual and electronic stimulation. Even when we try to unplug, we’re plugged in. Those “meditation” apps that relentlessly send push notifications? Sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?
Whether a mixture of extra sleep, yoga, exercise, family time or quiet time, the secret sauce to stress reduction, healthier living and competitive business advantages isn’t so secret. All we really need is to breathe, reflect and truly disconnect. The tricky part is having the courage to actually do it.
A 2014 article published in Psychology Today said, “our bodies and brains are just not equipped to maintain the chronic stress that is a part of 21st-century life.” So what should you do about it? Research shows stealing a few minutes for yourself or taking an outright vacation can spark creativity, offer a fresh perspective for problem solving, improve relationships and increase productivity. Similarly, studies done on the benefits of (real) meditation show it literally rebuilds gray matter in your brain and provides psychological benefits that persist throughout the day.
You are reading this right.
To better innovate and concentrate, you need to truly remove yourself from your daily grind. It’s not enough to do strategy sessions and have meetings out of the office. You must give yourself the gift of stepping away. Don’t be among those who take “time off” and bring their laptop and smartphone. Multitasking isn’t doing you, your family or your company any favors (plus, scientists say “multitasking” actually slows down thinking and output). And certainly don’t be among those who don’t take any time at all.
According to a 2014 Oxford Economics study, Americans left an average of 3.2 paid leave days unused in 2013, totaling 429 million unused days for U.S. workers.
I realize this is an almost impossible task for some of you, but it’s necessary to refuel and recharge your mind and body so you come back stronger, full of ideas and primed for higher thinking. Plus, it’s a proven formula for better business and a more robust bottom line. Fortune 500 companies including Google, Apple and Target offer their employees mindfulness classes for a reason, while business moguls like Rupert Murdoch, Oprah Winfrey and Arianna Huffington say that meditation has made them happier, healthier and better leaders.
As soon as you put this magazine down, your frenetic pace will no doubt rev back up until you turn in for the night (hopefully without a phone or work report in hand). So do yourself a favor and take a few minutes each day to quiet your mind, do something you truly enjoy doing or book that getaway you’ve been talking about. Finding moments of uninterrupted reflection can work wonders for your brain, your body and your business.