“Are you taking a break again?” my mother called through the door when I lay down on my bed to study (word of honour!). So for a long time I had the impression that taking a break is something one should not do because it labels you as a slacker, a passive; an idler. Someone who steals from the Lord God the time HE has given to people for the purpose of working. At some point in my life I realised that this could not be entirely true, at the latest when I heard the following anecdote:
On a weekday, and therefore a working day, one man observes another sitting on the seashore doing nothing. He asks indignantly, “How can you steal this day from God?” The other replies in amazement, “Steal? I give him one.”
So why take a break?
A Microsoft study conducted earlier this year headlines: “Your brain needs breaks”. Although this is mainly about the ability to focus in (virtual) meetings and to maintain one’s own ability to function by taking short breaks (and let Outlook remind you), it is always about the primacy of working. This fits in with the Protestant work ethic I was taught at home. The so-called creative break, which is actually intended to promote development through periods of inactivity, demands, from this point of view, that something unique must come out of it in any case. Does leisure have a chance at all?
I would like to agree with the German writer Anton Schnack:
„Leisure is the art of really doing nothing when you are doing nothing“.
Can we still do that today? We are not rich Romans who could afford “otium” (leisure), while others had to do the opposite, namely “negotium” (enterprise, business), to keep their heads above water. The fact that there is a great longing for the opposite of “being on the air all the time” is shown by the popularity of all kinds of mindfulness courses. And without wanting to expand on this here, I am firmly convinced that the first steps towards exploring doing nothing could be learned there. Even though it is clear to me that the focus is not primarily on doing nothing, but on actively, consciously, and unintentionally dwelling in the here and now, it is nevertheless a good basis for learning the ability to take breaks. And it’s not just about sitting still on a cushion, but also moving, as in walking meditation, Qi Gong or yoga.
„break“ oder „pause“?
In addition to the terms break or pause, there are many other synonyms, such as leisure, rest, recess, intermission, recreation, respite, stop. As a German process consultant, what I like about English is that “pause” and “break” imply that there is a process that is either interrupted or stopped. Breakfast in the morning ends the process of overnight fasting. After a break, the process is to be resumed in a different way, if not to start a new one. A rest or relaxation break is always a “break” because one hopes that afterwards the process can continue with more concentration. “pause”, on the other hand, means a short pause and then a continuation of the interrupted process, like when you pressed the pause button on the remote control and now press play again. So how do you pause or have a break?
Get out of automatism
First of all anything that gets us out of automatisms and into conscious action is of great value. And for that it needs a break. Only then can I decide whether I want to continue or not. And such a stop doesn’t have to be long. Even asking the question “What do I need now?” every now and then throughout the day is such a pause. And this pause is not always followed by an actual break. By this I mean a time out worthy of the name, because the focus is on doing nothing, lingering, consciously noticing my surroundings, relaxing, gathering strength etc.
Not everything that is called a break is really a break
The synonym I like best for a break is: Time-out. How much time out is there in a normal lunch break, possibly with a work lunch or eating a chocolate bar (Germans are familiar with “Lila Pause”) And how long can break actually last? An overworked and stressed coaching client had set himself a time-out of one hour every Sunday. He then told me that sorting out his CD collection during the hour of time out had not really brought any relaxation. This was the through pass for further work on: what does it really mean to take a break?
We, and not only our brains, need breaks. In my opinion, the value of break time, whether it is short or long, is decided at its beginning. Is it the result of reflecting on the current situation in which I, my fellow human beings and the environment find themselves? In other words, not just an automatism such as: It’s 12:00 – meal time – the canteen is calling. And if I am aware of my situation, then I can also plan targeted breaks/time off that really do me good. Ideally preventively, not just when my body makes itself felt in a way that I can no longer look away.
What have you been planning in this regard for a long time, but not implemented yet?
Wishing you lots of energy and drive