We’ve all had those weeks, the ones that don’t seem to end. Sometimes it’s a big presentation for a major client that’s constantly perched on your shoulders, driving you crazy on your drive home wondering if there’s a typo on page five and nagging you while you are ordering coffee that the strategic development, already on its 12th draft, isn’t substantive enough. You’re burdened by the worry, and yet nothing seems to move forward. Other times, it’s a week full of little stuff. It’s mid-November and the boiler breaks down just as everyone in your family is trying to take a shower. You’ve been on the phone all morning trying to find someone to fix it, all while trying to find the motivation to finally fill out the refund form for a delayed train and tackle HTML so you can update your website.
Friday morning comes and you can see the light. The week is over. The presentation came and went, and there’s no plumber who will answer your phone call on a Saturday, so you might as well enjoy it. But the transition into weekend-recovery is rattled by hangovers and dirty dishes and not finding anything to do on a Saturday afternoon, so you spend it in front of the TV watching Cake War re-runs. (A true story a … friend told me) The idyllic fantasy we had on Tuesday about turning off the screens and stepping away from obligatory birthday parties evaporates when we come home Friday night – or go straight out because really, who has the time to change?
The illusion that the more time you spent at work, the more productive you will, be has been shattered by studies in mostly Scandinavian countries (the most productive of the countries. The studies show the benefit of taking the time to recover. But we also know that it’s not just that we have the time off but what we do with it. Studies have shown that the best way to truly recover from the work week is to engage in activities that mentally distance ourselves from work. Psychologists hypothesise that there are non-work hassles that prevent us from benefiting from time off. We should avoid following a work-week that drains us – of time, energy, attention – with another resource-consuming holiday.
Resource-producing vacations, on the other hand, give more than they demand. On these holidays you might learn a new skill, such as basket-weaving, foraging for plants or side-crow. The combination of these skills being physical and screen-less, as well as something new, makes it an ideal way to properly rejuvenate. It’s hard to replicate these resource-producing weekends at home as there is always, inevitably, something that demands our attention and drains us of productivity.
In the book Peak Performance, authors Steve Magness, a running coach, and Brad Stulberg, a writer, echo the sentiments psychologists have found. They advocate the “stress + relax = growth” equation that many athletes follow. Their work with athletes have shown how taking the time to let the hard work sink-in and absorb is more efficient for improving skills than working hard with no limitations. And they also share the belief that the resting period should be something meaningful and fulfilling. Stulberg explains it best when he says:
When you’re deep in effortful thinking, the default mode network — the subconscious creative part of your brain — isn’t online. So it’s only when you step away from the deep effortful thinking that you have access to the more creative part in your brain. Which again explains why on a micro scale people tend to have these aha moments when they’re in the shower or when they go on a walk. And on a macro scale, this is why sabbaticals, in theory, exist, is to give researchers, who spend so much of their time doing deep-focus effortful thinking, the chance to zone out.
That’s what we here at Scapa Fest are trying to do – create a weekend full of activities that nourish us by sparking the senses and getting the parts of your brain and body stretching and activated that usually remain docile. Make it a weekend where you eschew the stressors and distractions, and come sing along with the mellifluous sounds of nature.
Michal Shimonovich is currently a researcher at the University of Aberdeen's Health Services Research Unit.