HR Insights

Can You Get Away From the Job and Relax? Finding the Key to That Puzzle

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So Dad, now you can relax since you have all this time off. I am taking my vacation the same time so we can both hang out.”

On my 12 hour flight from Saudi Arabia to New York last Friday, I thought of what am I going to do for close to four weeks off. In the Middle East, it is not viewed favorably if you are doing company work while away on vacation unless it is an absolute emergency.

I wrote a TLNT post that broke records in views and readership a while back about vacations: Americans vs. other expats. I know of so many people who have taken 30, 40 days of vacation and do not give it a second thought. But here I am in the solitude at 50,000 feet altitude wondering what I am going to do for the next month.

My wife is working; my son is also working, so my daughter said it is just the two of us to hang out. She met me at JFK and we went directly to the mall. When I suggested we go home first, she nixed that and said we are going to hang out.

Oh well; welcome home.

Breaking old habits

It seems that when we have been ingrained over the years in certain work habits, we have a tough time trying to break free. My plan was to take a few days to get settled at home, but my wife had other plans and I had the proverbial “honey do” list which took a couple of days and kept me busy.

Being a gym rat, I welcomed the early morning gym workouts. especially since they start when the gym opens at 5 am. My problem is that Saudi Arabia is 8 hours ahead and my body is looking to go to bed at 4 or 5 pm every afternoon.

It seems that we lead such hectic lifestyles that one thing that is missing from our constant to do list is to relax. However, we do not seem to put that at the top — although exercise and managing stress is the key to staying healthy.

Presentism is something we have all noticed that we are guilty of. We rush through dinner, hurry to our next appointment, race to finish one more thing on our agenda — all while not being present. I am guilty of doing one thing while mentally I am on to the next.

Learning to relax

Relaxation is an activity that is often talked about and rarely achieved in today’s world. We all admit that we need it, but on the other hand, we have trouble doing so.

Living in Saudi Arabia, which is a very conservative country, there are not the normal outlets that you will find in other countries. There are no movie theaters, pubs, or other type gathering places. Outside of the gym or the activities of the compound that you reside in, that is about it.

This type environment has caused me to really cherish weekends because they allow me to sit and read, write, take a nap, and just RELAX. That is fine while I am there, but now I am in the New York metropolitan area where there are a host of distractions. But are they really relaxation?

The good (or bad) news is that even if we wanted to relax and schedule time for that purpose (scheduled relaxation?) we might not be able to actually do it, at least not in the strictly physical sense.

To truly relax goes much deeper than having completed the “to do” list. Just because the chores are done with everything checked off does not automatically equate to relaxation.

Distraction or relaxation?

Many people are too tired after an exhausting day to engage their minds. They prefer to “relax” by watching TV or some other form of distraction. The Internet has become the go-to destination for our relaxation.

However, this has caused us to tune out the world while not really serving the purpose that we are looking for — which is to relax. There was a commercial where the person said there was nothing else to search or do on the Internet and they did not know what else to do. We have all been there.

Not being a TV person, I am sometimes in a dilemma as to which activity to pursue when things are done. Reading is one activity that is always on the top of my agenda until I get bored with that. I read a research report that said that people who actively use their minds in activities like reading, puzzles, or learning languages and taking on new hobbies are happier and less stressed. This works for me, but when I have more options, reading and puzzles moves down the list.

Being content doing nothing

My wife has the ability to just sit and do nothing and be totally content. She just turns off everything and she is in her “zone.” On the flip side of this coin, most people also don’t turn their minds off enough.

How do you let “relax” mean “relax?” This may not mean watching TV or doing another activity that causes activity without engaging the mind.

To each of us, we are in our various stages of trying to find the key to that puzzle. I truly applaud anyone that has figured it out.

All in all, relaxation is easier said than done.

Over the next few weeks, I will use every day to find out what the secret sauce is for me. I do know one thing though: going to the mall with my daughter is not it.

Happy Holidays!

Ron Thomas is CEO of Great Place to Work-GCC countries, based in Dubai. He formerly was Chief HR Officer of the RGTS Group in Saudi Arabia. Ron is also a senior faculty member of the Human Capital Institute. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living. Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com or on Twitter.
  • http://www.good.co/blog Lisa – Good.Co

    It’s important to note that ‘relaxing’ doesn’t have to mean ‘doing nothing at all’. The act of being present can be relaxing, even when engaging in activities such as working out, or eating a meal. A big part of relaxing is reducing or eliminating demand on our brains, and that’s the part we have so much difficulty doing. Anything we do – whether it’s something or nothing – that allows us to quiet our rushing minds, to be completely and fully aware of the present moment, and to experience our lives without anxiety or judgement becomes relaxing. Entering a meditative state doesn’t require sitting still or closing your eyes, but it does require conscious effort to achieve (for most of us, anyway). Practice makes perfect, though. With enough practice, any activity can become just as relaxing as no activity at all.
    Peace and happy holidays! Lisa Chatroop, Good.Co