Staycation: Finding Obstacles to Living in the Present

Staycation - image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/

This week I’ve taken my very first staycation. I was supposed to go on a trip to see a space shuttle launch with the vacation days I had put in for at work, but several factors added up to make it not seem as feasible. I had some car issues that were not fully resolved and I was already tired from a long work week and the final events in Epic April. Adding 20 hours of driving over 3 days would have only worn me out more, and while I’m normally a fan of crazy vacations, I really needed to feel rested up this time.

So, I rented a hotel suite in my city, packed my suitcase, and have stayed away from my house and daily routine for the past 3 days.

An important part of the good life is having time to sit back and reflect, both in general and on specifics about your own life. One of the traps that we can fall into is getting so caught up in our day-to-day lives that we feel as though we don’t have time to sit down, relax, and just think. So many things can prevent us from fully living in the present.

This staycation has provided me with exactly that opportunity, and I’ve had several important realizations during the past few days:

1) Things in our daily life can stress us out without our even realizing it.

Being in a hotel room without any maintenance or cleaning responsibility gave me the insight that my house stresses me out, this surprised me, because normally I’ve always found my home relaxing. However, Elana and I have both been so busy that, while we’ve managed to keep the house mostly clean, it’s extremely unorganized. And so many things need work. For example, one of the bulbs in the bar room needs to be replaced, but it’s a specialized bulb that will require a trip to a hardware store. Not a huge deal, but something that will require a lot of time. What I’ve realized is that when I’m in the house, every time I look at something that needs to be worked on, it adds a small amount of stress to my day.

This is huge for me, because outside of work, I spend the majority of time in my home. Now I know that I either need to find a way to overcome this aspect of my personality and not let these things stress me out, or quickly figure out a way to get the house in a shape that it doesn’t add to my stress.

Are there things in your day-to-day life that stress you without your consciously realizing it?

2) When there’s nothing else to do, we do what we love.

Getting away from normal responsibilities is one of the thrills of a vacation. One of the points is to enjoy the relative lack of responsibility. Normally on vacation I would explore the place I’m in, but without that need during my staycation, I was left mostly to my own devices.

Some of the time was spent watching TV and playing games, but one of the activities I went back to again and again was researching, writing, and working on classes. I really enjoy these activities. Not only do they relax me, but they help me reflect on my life and figure out more about myself.

I had gotten so frustrated with the process of applying to Ph.D. programs that I had almost entirely set that part of my life to the side and stopped focusing on it. I think that has been a mistake. These are activities that I love, and I think it will be an important part of my long-term life plan to incorporate them into my weekly routines in one format or another.

This is also something that’s most likely been bothering me on the subconscious level, but only by taking the time to slow down and chill out could I really figure this out. 

Do you have loves or desires that you aren’t incorporating into your life because you’re too busy? Is there anything you can do to start including them?

cell phone, image by http://www.flickr.com/photos/johanl/

3) I absolutely hate push notifications on technology.

I’m a huge advocate for technology, and this is reflected in both my personal and professional life. However, one of the things I’ve firmly come to believe and teach others is that technology is a tool just like any other tool, which means that we can use it for good or for bad. For example, we can use a hammer to help build a house for a needy neighbor, or we can bash someone over the head with it.

Technology is the same. There are ways it can improve our lives and there are ways it can make our lives worse. 

Over the past 3 days I have concluded that push notifications for emails are one of the ways that technology makes our lives worse. My email inboxes generally serve as to-do lists. If there’s something in my inbox it’s because I still need to do something with it, whether it’s simply read it, respond to it, or work on a related project about it. And that system works fairly well.

However, instantly being notified of new emails on my phone is a burden. It interrupts whatever I’m doing, and if there’s an email asking me to do something or has a message that is stressful for any reason, it really takes me out of the ability to live in the present. Let me give you an example.

For a class I’m teaching this summer, I was reading Umberto Eco’s On Ugliness. While I was engrossed in the book, a message came through saying something needed to be done urgently at work (not everyone checks the vacation calendar). Of course, I never should have checked the message in the first place, but it’s become an extremely automated Pavlovian response. And now, instead of staying engrossed in the book, my mind had a lot of background noise because it was thinking about the email and worrying about how to take care of the issue once I go back into work.

An important part of living the good life is living in the present. Push notifications inherently take us out of the present moment and either cause us to immediately focus on something else or worry about something in the future.

Almost all of my working life I have had the company that employs me pay for a smart phone. The few months that I had my own, I got an extremely simple phone that only did texting and voice. It was actually much less stressful. Email is a necessary and important part of our personal and especially professional lives these days. But how important is instant access?

Is there a better way to do things?

Overall, taking this staycation has given me the opportunity to identify things that have stressed me out but have fallen under the radar of my busy day-to-day life. While I’m never going to give up traveling for real vacations, I do think staycations might become a larger part of my life, because they have given me the opportunity to identify problems that I can now work correcting.

Have you ever taken a staycation? Do you think you could benefit from it?

Mentioned in the Post:

On Ugliness

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