There’s a quote which says, “The rainy days a man saves for usually seem to arrive during his vacation.” Even if we’re a total penny-pincher, a holiday on the beach will have us buying a tacky multi-colored balsam wood fish that we know perfectly well doesn’t go with, well, anything in our house much less anything in reality. But it’s so FUN, how we can resist?
WHY do we tend to spend more money during our vacations, let our hair down, do stuff we wouldn’t dream of in our day-to-day life? What does a vacation do for us that day to day life doesn’t seem to accomplish? And, is it possible to replicate that sense of joie de vivre without HAVING to have an excuse for it for a mere two weeks out of the year?
Let’s do a little reverse engineering and see if we can figure out the psychology of what’s happening during a vacation. Let’s talk about the 3 ways to turn everyday life into a vacation:
1. You’re in a new environment and, thus, in a new “state.”
Have you ever heard someone use the expression “a state change?” In science it usually refers to changing the state of something without changing its chemical composition, i.e. going from a liquid to a solid. This usually happens by changing the environment. You want water to become a solid? Put it in a temperature under 32° Fahrenheit and you’ve got ice cubes. You want to make it into a gas? Crank the temperature up to 212° Fahrenheit and things start to get steamy.
Like water, we respond differently to big changes in environment. (We do the same thing to subtle changes, but the results are not as noticeable.) For example, a normally straight-edged college coed only interested in getting a 3.5 or higher GPA will – on spring break – flash her breasts for a string of plastic beads. Mind-boggling… until you’re there in the same context, surrounded by an atmosphere which makes breast-flashing seem to be the ONLY logical thing to do. After all, how else are you going to get those beads?
When we’re on vacation things that seem foreign to us suddenly become totally reasonable. There’s an air that it’s OKAY. The temperature has gone up, and we feel steamy.
There’s an expression that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”
That means when we repeatedly think two thoughts conjointly, eventually they feel like one thought. We tend to manage our day-to-day experience by creating habits, and so behaviors become intrinsically linked to certain times in the day and to locations we visit. They are ‘wired together’. We don’t really realize that we instinctively STOP trying new things because our environment programs us to do the same-old, same-old.
You might be thinking, “Okay, but I’m pretty sure I don’t really want to start flashing my breasts at the mailman, hoping for some beads.” That’s cool – he probably doesn’t carry beads with him, anyway. The bead/breast example was just an illustration we’re all familiar with. The POINT is that we’ll do things – FUN things, liberating things – when we go on vacation, and this produces a sense of freedom to try new things. Freedom our daily lives oftentimes fail to produce. This sense of freedom is powerful when we want to develop and change into better versions of ourselves.
It’s true that none of our habits popped up out of nowhere – we all created them at some point because they very likely serve us well. I’m not suggesting you alter your entire life just to get a sense of Mardi Gras. I AM, however, suggesting you review your life to include a little more sense of joie de vivre and freedom. Where can you make changes to your patterns to get things a little more spicy? A Salsa dance class, perhaps? Bikram yoga?
Maybe instead of getting caught up in the grind of everyday living, take a full night each week to indulge your senses with an evening of exotic cheeses and red wine. As self-serving as it may sound, it really is a key to feeling empowered and gaining a sense of control in your life. What environmental changes can you make in order to encourage a feeling of freedom?
And what’s stopping you from doing it right now?
2. You see your time to have fun (or relax) as limited.
When we’re on vacation we feel we have to pack the fun (or the relaxation) into as concentrated amount of time as possible. “Two weeks! Gah! That’s barely enough time to get a sustainable tan!” you think to yourself as you slather coconut oil on your exposed skin at the luggage carousel.
But unlike daily life, vacation isn’t about a sense of urgency. It’s about making the most of your time, even if that means sitting on your ass doing nothing but drinking one mojito after another. And, oddly enough, that’s far more effective than living on the fumes of rushing from one arbitrarily important thing to the other. On vacation we see time as precious, and we don’t allow enemies like stress or pressure to get in our way.
Okay, so in case I’m the first person to tell you this I’m just going to rip the Band-aid off quickly: You’re going to die. Much, much sooner than your mind has the ability to understand. Zooming out to look at the age of the universe, the age of the planet, the age of humanity… heck, the age of upright mankind, you could pretty much say that your life is the equivalent to that of a vacation. Brief, all too quick, suddenly over.
And that makes your time here precious.
Too precious to hand over to a sense of urgency that is only rushing you faster to your grave.
Making the most of your time here on this planet is pretty much the highest leverage skill any person can learn, because from it is born a HOST of other skills and talents (including learning Kung-Fu ways to manage stress). Finding meaning and purpose and fulfillment all start with recognizing the need to make the most of your time here, which means all philanthropy STARTS with seeing life as a vacation.
3. You expand your boundaries.
On vacation, we no longer feel that we HAVE to observe the boundaries we take for granted in our day-to-day life. For example, we give ourselves a little more freedom to spend money because we know it’s not going to become a habit. A vacation romance is now on the table, even if we’re usually careful with our hearts. We expand our boundaries, effectively creating new ones. “I don’t usually spend money like this, so this one little time isn’t going to kill me.” We expand what we think we can do, knowing the context isn’t following us home. Basically, we feel empowered to make decisions differently because there’s a specific deadline for when we have to stop being ‘cavalier’.
This is probably one of the most beneficial elements of a vacation in my opinion – we actually question our assumptions about what is possible, what we’re ‘allowed’ to do. Regularly asking yourself what is possible and answering the question differently than you did last time is one of the healthiest behaviors you can adopt.
As humans, we fear what great the late, great systems thinker Russell Ackoff called “mistakes of commission” – mistakes that have observable consequences that might get us in hot water with other people. Because of this (learned) fear, we STOP pushing ourselves and our boundaries. And, in the process, we stop learning. We stop learning what we’re capable of, what the world is capable of, and who/what we want to be as people. Instead, we do the far more damaging thing: we commit “mistakes of omission,” which are actually FAR more costly. We live our lives without ever scaling up, and effectively ‘run out the clock’, wasting time that can never be recovered.
How, in your day-to-day life, can you thoughtfully revisit your boundaries?
For example, can you summon the courage to take on projects that feel just slightly above your current level, enough to be a challenge but still conceivably attainable? Can you be okay if you fail, knowing you’re in the process of true learning?
Anecdotally, I can attest to the power of extending your boundaries and ‘scaling up’. A few years ago I, with a small team, hosted a TEDx event (an independently held www.TED.com event) in Las Vegas. While some people on the team had event managing experience, I didn’t have even a shade of it. Finding a location, getting local support, selling tickets, lining up speakers… this was a massive undertaking that pretty much had me shaking for about five months straight. And then… it happened. And it was FABULOUS. It sort of felt like giving birth, and I couldn’t even imagine doing it again, but the feeling of triumph was intoxicating. And I learned what I could do.
So, that’s not EXACTLY like a vacation, but it certainly isn’t living the everyday, humdrum life.
How can you scale up in your life and challenge yourself to something bigger? Leave a comment and tell the world how you’re going to accomplish just that.