Vacations are no vacation for people who are compulsive, workaholic, or Type A. If any of these describe your personality, it might take you more effort to relax and enjoy a vacation than to stay at the office and get things done. Why bother?
Vacationing for Workaholics: The Efficacy of Rest
Here’s a scientifically proven fact that could inspire you to loosen up for a little while: time away from work helps us to be more creative and productive.[i] Rest is just as essential to doing good work as persistence. Really. Your brain doesn’t stop working on a problem if you lie in a hammock for 11 minutes. In fact, you’re actually more likely to come up with a solution to that snag you’ve been blocked by if you give it a rest.
Once you stop focusing on the problem consciously, an entirely different part of your brain springs into action to work on the problem. And according research done by Ap Dijksterhuis at the University of Amsterdam, it often reaches far better solutions.[ii] So, ironically, if you don’t take time for R and R, you miss an opportunity to boost your productivity.
But for people who are compulsive, workaholic or Type A, trusting that if the ego stops trying to manage everything, other parts of your psyche will step up and do a better job is easier said than done.
Take vacations (for example). We’re set up for failure in this area: we’re programmed to control and produce—neither of which cohabit well with vacation. Travel is infamously and deliciously unpredictable, and it’s hard to let go and enjoy what there is to enjoy when things don’t go as planned. And it doesn’t seem like you’re getting anything done on vacation, which, let’s admit it, has become a little too important.
But perhaps worse, compulsives can become critical of their own struggle to chill out. “I know I should be enjoying myself, and I’m not, so I’m failing….Again.” Which is about as helpful as using kerosene to put out a fire.
So here are some pointers for making the best of your time off:
Don’t let your need for control ruin the vacation for you and everyone with you.
- Be with whatever is happening. Something will go wrong–I guarantee it. And it may feel like the worst possible thing that could go wrong. Still, that’s no excuse to spoil the whole vacation obsessing about how unfair it is, or what you did wrong in planning, or how someone else’s sloppiness or laziness is keeping it from being perfect. It’s raining, the wi-fi is out and your rental car has gone on strike. Insert your favorite expletive.
- But with the right attitude it can still be a good situation. It’s not what happens that counts; it’s your reaction to what happens that counts. You will laugh about it someday.
Don’t wait until problems gets fixed to enjoy what’s there.
- Compulsives like having things resolved. Sorry. It’s going to take 36 hours for your luggage to arrive. That’s 79.7 percent of your vacation and believe me, those airline execs are not going to feel one bit of your pain no matter how much you stew about it. How are the mohitos at the bar?
Slow down: seek quality, not quantity.
- Beware of trying to do EVERYTHING in the limited time you have. You won’t be able to see every waterfall, go on every ride or visit every bakery in search of the perfect red velvet cupcake while you’re there.
- Savor what you are able to do and see…And eat and drink.
Detox from your work addiction.
- You may well be addicted to work, and like any other addiction, when you try to stop you’ll experience withdrawal. Expect it to be very uncomfortable….At first. You’ll get past it.
- If you must work, compartmentalize it. Limit calls or emails to a particular hour and then leave it. Put your phone away. If you insist on doing some sort of work or having a project, work on not working. Take the reins of your compulsive energy and make relaxing your destination.
Substitute Presence for Productivity.
- In order to let go of control and productivity you’ll need to put other things in their place.
- Savor the small things with all five senses. The smell of the air. The temperature. Textures—sand, smooth rock, the wooden tabletop. The sound of the breeze in the trees. The colors of buildings, water, leaves, and, the eyes of your friends or family.
Re-inhabit your body
- I’m going to make an educated guess here that your body is more of a vehicle than a temple for you. You use it to get somewhere rather than enjoy the ride. You’ve been leaning so far forward to be productive that you’ve actually evacuated your own body.
- Try to get back inside. Take hot showers and baths. Enjoy stretching. Use progressive muscle relaxation. Exchange massages with your partner. Slow down enough to notice your in-breath and out-breath.
Recall what’s most important to you.
- Clarifying your priorities is one of the most important things you can do to move toward the healthier end of the compulsive spectrum. Unhealthy compulsivity is caused fundamentally by a very skewed sense of value and meaning. To start, ask yourself why you’re taking this vacation. This is also a good time to think long term: what are the things that are going to make your life really satisfying?
Vacation is a great time to experiment with letting go of the constant ego chatter about what you think needs to be done, and instead listening to other parts of you that call for something more fulfilling. You have a chance to trust that if you allow the controlling ego to let go and rest, other parts of you will make your life richer and give you better direction.
If you struggle to achieve any of these bullet points don’t get down on yourself. You’re a work in progress. Accepting the realistic limitations of being humanly imperfect is part of The Healthy Compulsive Project. And that’s a challenge you can enjoy.
[i] Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less (New York: Basic Books, 2016).
[ii] Ap Dijksterhuis, “Think Different: The Merits of Unconscious Thought in Preference Development and Decision Making,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87, no. 5 (2004).