The Science of Motivation

The Power of a Vacation

chairs on a beach in the Caribbean

During my travel home Monday, from a week-long vacation to several countries in the Caribbean, I had some time to reflect on the quality time I spent with my family and how I wanted to do it all again very soon (…not two or 3 years from now). 

Other than brief road trips to neighboring states, we haven’t taken a lot of time off to travel long-distances to relax and visit interesting locales outside the country (U.S).  My wife and I have three children ranging from 3-9 years old and it can be expensive when you combine airfare, hotels, meals, incidentals, etc.  Thus we don’t travel as often as we’d like.  We’re both very busy, my wife an emergency room RN and my work in consulting.

So, what happens?  You work and work and work, and maybe not eat right or exercise regularly, and don’t take the time necessary to unwind for a few days now and then.  And when I say a few days, I’m not talking about a long weekend (i.e. Thursday or Friday through Sunday).  I’m talking about a week or more if you can swing it.  This leads me back to my original motivation for writing this article. 

After the usual stressful experiences of traveling overseas via air with 3 children, getting through security, keeping them entertained (and quiet), getting to your destination, clearing customs, getting a cab, etc., etc., you finally arrive. 

What made this particular arrival and the initial moments after unique for me was the high level of sadness (and fatigue) I felt.  I’m in “paradise” and there was an arrival party going on around me and I didn’t want anything to do with it…I just stood there in my thoughts.

So…what the heck was going on?  I simply chalk it up to burnout, but I really have no idea.  The good news is, one week later I feel great and I was able to take that back with me to my usual grind at home.  I’m writing this well-rested and feeling pretty good about things, but deep in the back of my mind I’m concerned I’ll get back to that place again where I’m not feeling right when I really should be.  I was on vacation, at a party.  What could be better than that?

Back at the beginning I mentioned my time spent in reflection on the trip.  This is where I made the connection between the vacation and how I felt at the end.  I liken the experience to taking medicine for an ailment.  Every day, as I took my “medicine” I felt better and better, and by the end I was cured so to speak. 

Now, I know this personal revelation isn’t worthy of a front page article in the New York Times, but in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives we forget to take care of ourselves.  We forget or don’t prioritize taking time off, eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, spending time with our loved ones, etc., etc., etc.  All of that builds and will weigh on you at some point.  Your mind and body will remind you of it, sometimes, harshly, if you don’t invest the time in addressing these areas.  My recent experience was a wake-up call.    I write a lot about these topics on this blog and I try to set the example through action but I’m not infallible.  Nobody is. 

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  You have to take time off and give yourself an opportunity to rest, reduce stress, and do things you enjoy.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a “stay-cation” or you go out of town for a week, figure out how to get it done and do it.

In doing a little research while writing this, I stumbled onto an article at the Webby-Award winning site Mental Floss that addresses the benefits of vacation time.  You can find it here.  Physical benefits of time away include reduced heart attack risk, more energy, improvements in mood, reduced stress, and longevity.  It’s hard to argue against that kind of upside.  Yet, many of us do that involuntarily by not taking steps to reap these benefits.  The U.S.-based medical advice site WebMD tells a similar story here, stating:

Get away, often. It’s a fact: People who take vacations have lower stress, less risk of heart disease, a better outlook on life, and more motivation to achieve goals.
It doesn’t have to be 2 weeks in Europe, either.  Just 24 hours away, and you’ll reap the benefits. Even better, the biggest boost in happiness comes from planning the vacation.
You can feel the effects up to 8 weeks before your trip.  And when you’re done with that retreat, start planning the next one. Simply having something to look forward to can be rewarding.”

The bottom line here is that you need to take the time to re-charge your batteries.  I now personally consider time off as important as diet, exercise, and sleep in maintaining my health.  As a result, my wife and I are planning our next family vacation right now.  It’s not going to be for a while, but knowing it’s out there beyond the horizon helps a lot.  Making it a priority and planning are a big part of it.  If you invest significant time planning, I think you are more likely to make the trip, or relaxing time at home, a reality.

Be sure to check out the post 10 Really Simple Tips to Make You Happy Right Now 

Thanks for reading and make sure to take care of yourself! - John