You’re Vacationing All Wrong

Opines Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“The truth is, when it comes to vacation, rest and relaxation aren’t just overrated. They might even work against the very things a trip is meant to cultivate: a mental reset, a sense of relaxation, happiness. A better vacation is one in which vigorous exercise features prominently. That way, you can take a break not just from work and routine life but also from the tyranny of self-absorption.”

Okay doc, what do you suggest then?

“Recently, a close friend and his wife invited my husband and me to join them on a cycling vacation. I was a bit nervous; I’m a serious swimmer but not an experienced cyclist. Riding 30 to 40 miles a day through Vancouver’s impressive hills for five days sounded like hard work, not pleasure. But by the end of our first day of riding, I was overtaken by euphoric calm.

The work of managing hills by bike has a special way of commanding your attention. I was so busy thinking about whether I could hold my pace for the next rise and how fast I could go downhill without wiping out that I had no time to think about myself. I started looking forward to getting up early and hitting the road. I took in the mountains and forests, dense with cedar and fir, but my focus was really on the bike and the road.”

But this entire Humble Blog is based on the need for more introspection. If everyone is just hammering up hills on two wheels, are we really better off?

“In fairness to the rest-and-relaxation lobby, some introspection is indeed good for you, and being able to tolerate idleness and boredom is a sign of psychological strength. I’m a clinical psychiatrist, and I know well that self-understanding is a cherished goal of therapy. But too much self-examination doesn’t make you happier or more enlightened. Besides, vacation is not the time to work on that skill. You can incorporate moments of idleness into your daily life if you want to get better at sitting with yourself, but vacation is a time for feeling good and escaping responsibilities, including the ones to yourself. Accordingly, you should do what makes you feel good, and that’s activity, not idleness.”

Got it.

As an endurance athlete, I’m keenly aware of how my brain waves fluctuate markedly during most workouts. If I’m going uphill and/or into the wind, my focus narrows a lot on the task at hand. If I’m descending and/or with the wind, my mind drifts to numerous other non-athletic things. I might even begin writing the next blog post.

All movement is good, but add some intensity in on occasion. Even on vacay.

Half And Half

It’s come to my attention that half of humanity would benefit from being much more introspective. From pressing pause, stepping off the treadmill, turning off the screens, and carefully examining their life. Truly getting in touch with their feelings by breathing, journaling, talking to someone who is empathetic.

The other half, the “overthinkers” get more anxious the more they think about past problems and current challenges. Their thinking spirals. One anxious thought begetting another. They might benefit from doing more and thinking less. Such as being an empathetic listener for others, walking a dog, tending a garden, cycling*.

To flourish interpersonally and positively contribute to the common good one must routinely “work on” themself, but there’s a point of diminishing returns. Except for me, No one strikes the perfect balance, so extend grace to people in both buckets.

*extreme exercise can be a serious detriment to being introspective

Somethingotherverted

I’m neither introverted nor extroverted. I’m somethingotherverted. Someone on the outside looking in would probably label me introverted.

I prefer solitude to crowds. Give me a quiet dock on a still lake over a Disneyland pass any day of the week. On a Friday night, I’ll pass on the concert in the park for popcorn, the NewsHour, and something interesting to read. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The stories motherdear could tell about my dad’s propensity for quiet nights at home.

Long story short, I lack social energy. But the ironic thing is, when cajoled to attend the concert in the park, I almost always enjoy myself. And often I see people I know and rally, asking questions, catching up, making people chuckle. If you were to eavesdrop on me at the concert in the park, you might even conclude I’m extroverted. That’s why the conventional sociability continuum doesn’t quite cut it.

Some of my close friends are surprised when I half-jokingly describe myself as anti-social because my socialness is most evident in small groups. I greatly prefer dinner parties with a few close friends to large fiestas where I don’t know many people. At fiesta gigante the GalPal, a conventional extrovert, will walk right up to you and introduce herself. Especially if you look like you might not know anyone else. In contrast, when I’m looking at you I’m thinking, “What a sadsack.” That’s okay though because once she ditches me, you’ll be thinking the same thing about me. Kharma.

My somethingothervertedness is evident in my professional life too. I’m guilty of keeping a very low profile in the office and on campus, but I’m alive in the classroom, enjoying my interactions with students very much.

I’m fortunate the GalPal sometimes nudges me out of my self-imposed solitude. She used to try to drag me to events which often caused me to be even more resistant. She’s become more understanding, meaning more sensitive and subtle.

Then again, our 25th anniversary is around the corner. A quarter-century should be long enough to figure out our extrovertedness and somethingothervertedness.

What are you?