The Importance of Taking a Pause: Lessons From a Year-Long Sabbatical

It’s good to reconnect! As you may remember, I took a year-long sabbatical in 2019 from work. It was an amazing gift and I am truly so very grateful for it. People have asked how I spent my time, and I thought I’d share a bit about my experience.  While the time could have unfolded in many ways, for me and my style, I thought a lot about how I would know if I used this time well.  I created an intention “to feast on the wonder and love in life”. From here I identified several areas of focus that included:

1. Slow down and reset to be more present rather than reactive

2. Cultivate a daily personal relationship with spirit

3. Deepen important relationships

4. Feed my strength of curiosity and interest in the world

5. Reflect on the past, assess the present, and plan for future.

As someone who prefers structure, from here I reviewed my sabbatical list of things I could do (see the reflection exercise) and starting prioritizing actions in my calendar while trying to be careful of being no more than 80 percent full, and holding a balance of planning and space for spontaneity.  I had a daily journaling practice and a weekly sabbatical check-in with myself to help keep my priorities in focus. I’m now on the other end of it, and entering the new phase of transition and integration. How do I process and carry forward the important learning I received to inform my life going forward?

Personal Lessons From a Year-long Sabbatical

Taking a break is important, and I get that not everyone can take significant time off from work. But with the belief we can learn through others- I thought I’d share some reflections. To try to keep it brief, I’m just bulleting out some major thoughts, each which has a whole story behind it. Perhaps something will spark you to reflect on what a pause of some sort might offer you.

1.I shaved my head bald. (It was something I have always been curious to do- and a bit afraid). I felt strong, vulnerable, and curious about the positive reaction I had from so many people (especially women)

2. I was often told I looked younger- I attribute this to lower stress levels. This got me thinking about what would we all be like with less stress in our lives?

3. Even though I had no work challenges to deal with, my mind still got hooked by stuff, which made me realize the nature of the mind is to be a meaning-making machine. Keep with meditation.

4. I’m a “doer,” and I’m inclined toward filling the calendar regardless of what I have to do, so I need to be mindful that “just because I can, doesn’t mean I should”.

5. De-cluttering my physical environment created calm and space for new to come in. I love opening my drawers and seeing organized shirts.

6. As an extrovert, while I was initially nervous to spend so much of my day alone, I learned to really cherish the quiet. A five-day solo backpacking trip on the Long Trail was a highlight.

7. It was actually a gift to have a finite amount of time- it helped me sort what was important to attend to now versus in the future. There is more in life than I will ever experience, and checking in with my head, heart and gut was essential to my discernment of how to spend my time.

8. Relationships take time- and if my head is filled with too much stuff it’s harder for me to be present. The next challenge for me is how to maintain presence when the workload increases.

9. I am joyful in my body and love to move. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since my gymnastics days and was thrilled to experience my body’s strength and ability with training. (One of my goals was to ride 100 miles in a day which Jon and I completed in September in NYC.)

10. When I am quiet there is more space to connect with spirit. Having a life grounded in spirit is essential to me. Sharing this about me with others is vulnerable and authentic.

11. It is rare to have quality time with each of my daughters separately, and so planning a trip to travel individually with each of them helped us relate in new ways, and created amazing memories to look back on.

12. Novelty is energizing to me and helps me feel alive. I gave the gift of a “novel date night” to Jon once a month- and it was fun to get out of our regular routine. I had the space to follow my nose a bit in topics that I became interested in (for example: learning some Spanish before traveling, trauma and epigenetics, how to keep backpacking food bear-proof).

13. Thinking about my own death is also a way to feel alive and present to the wonder of life. I wrote down my wishes for my funeral, and wrote letters to Jon and my daughters in the event I should die unexpectedly with no time for goodbyes.

What would you be curious to learn about yourself in a pause?  

Book Review: The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)

By: Hal Elrod

This is a rock-star book on the topic of morning rituals. What I appreciate is the thoughtful approach when considering beginning something new by starting with core questions of who do you want to be? What is important to you in your life? This is the anchor to identify the purpose for the morning ritual. From here the author offers six practices he calls LIFE S.A.V.E.R.S. S=Silence, A=Affirmations, V=Visualizations, E=Exercise, R= Reading, S= Scribing (writing). He goes into depth on how to employ these habits and supports it with inspiring stories. It’s a good book to jump start your commitment to creating positive morning rituals.

Moving From Theory To Action

To support you in reflecting on creating a positive morning ritual, here are some reflection questions:

– Why would creating a morning ritual be important to you?

– Which of the suggestions above most resonated? Are there any subtle shifts that could have a big impact for you?

-How much time are you willing to dedicate to morning practices? Are there any practices you are already doing that you could put more intention toward? (i.e. you already shower- could you practice setting an intention or saying something your grateful for?)

-What do you need to shift in your evening routine in order to have time for your morning routine? With whom do you need to communicate with?

-How will you track your morning routine successes? Who can be your buddy? (Tracking and having someone support you increase the likelihood of accomplishing ones goals).

-When will you begin?

The Importance of Morning Rituals

Fall is always a get-back-into-the-routine kind of season. The more relaxed feel of summer fades as kids go back to school and work projects ramp up. For me, morning rituals are an important part of starting my day off on the right foot, and it’s something that I strongly encourage my clients to consider. Everything we do each day is a practice whether we’re conscious of it or not, so if the first thing I do is check email even before getting out of bed, that’s a practice. And unfortunately, research shows that that practice will likely negatively impact your whole day. At the same time, if I take the first moments of my day to engage in positive rituals such as reading an inspiring quotation, meditating, gentle stretching, and/or setting an intention for the day, I’m setting a foundation for a more positive day.

If you do an internet search you’ll find lots of suggestions on the best rituals to start your mornings. The intention is to create a routine that gives you energy, creates a positive mindset, and sets a successful tone for the day. I’ll offer a few that resonate with me.

Practice gratitude: There is a great deal of research on how gratitude increases well-being, relationships, optimism, physical and mental health and overall happiness, so practicing gratitude is a no-brainer. In my life, Jon and I wake up and cuddle for a few minutes then share something we’re grateful for. Another option suggested is to write in a gratitude journal.

Read something inspiring: Whether it is as short as reading a powerful quotation or a chapter of a book, daily learning and reflection is important. About a year ago, Jon and I started a practice of sharing a morning reading together (one of those books that has 365 days of wisdom) and we really enjoy it.

Be silent: Actively meditating, praying or breathing can be helpful in this fast-paced world. Most mornings, I light a candle, say my personal commitment to myself and then sit for 10-20 minutes. In the summer I do a walking meditation in my labyrinth outside.

Set an intention for the day: “What good shall I do this day?” is the question Benjamin Franklin asked himself each morning. I often ask clients to say their leadership commitment in the morning as a way to remind themselves of what they care about and what they want to pay attention to. You could also reflect on something you’re looking forward to or plan for possible challenges.

Make your bed: In the Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg claims that making your bed is a “keystone habit” correlated with better productivity and a greater sense of well-being. It’s an initial positive action that starts a chain reaction for other good habits take hold. We use a duvet cover to make it quick and easy!

Exercise: Exercise improves blood circulation, builds energy and improves your cognitive skills. I typically do the 7-minute workout and my physical therapy exercises before breakfast. Some people (e.g., Barak Obama) swear by doing their exercise first thing in the morning as a way to make sure it happens.

Connect with loved ones: Research shows that people who have positive relationships live longer- a kiss or hug before leaving for work is good for us. For myself, in addition to the morning kiss goodbye to Jon, I also try to be in the kitchen for the fifteen minutes when the girls are eating breakfast as a way to be available and have a little conversation before they go back into their rooms to get ready for the day. (They’re no longer into the hug and kiss goodbye like they were when they were five.)

Cup of coffee or tea: One can’t deny the popularity of a morning beverage as a worldwide ritual. The familiarity, the comfort, the small joy it brings can be an important way to start the day. For me, after the kids are at school I enjoy my first cup of coffee while preparing for the day at my computer. Other people may use morning coffee as a time to connect with family, a quiet, reflective individual time, a pleasant treat while driving to work, or as a way to say hello to neighbors in the coffee shop.

Eat breakfast: The book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, recounts a research study where a group of children were told to skip breakfast, and then at school, half the students received breakfast and half did not. Guess what happened? Those children who got breakfast learned more and misbehaved less, and then after all the children got a snack, the differences dissipated. Think you’re above that as an adult? Think again.

Worst thing first: We tend to have more self-control in the morning, so before getting on email, Facebook, etc. spend the first 20-30 minutes of your day doing your most important task that you’re likely to procrastinate on. I find that when I choose the task the evening before and write it down, the next morning when I get to my computer I jump right into it (sometimes I even open the document the night before) and it creates enormous positive momentum for the day. Mark Twain called this, “Eat your frog.”

Delay getting on email: What you don’t do can be as important as what you choose to do. Studies show that email is a stresser and negatively impacts productivity– so by staying off of it, you’re helping to manage your mood from the start.

Here are a few other things to consider: brush your teeth right when you get up, make your bed, drink a glass of water to rehydrate, get outside even for a few minutes, set your intentions before bed the night before, put your alarm clock across the room to avoid the “snooze” button, get dressed right away, end your shower with a blast of cold water (invigorating!), say a daily affirmation, journal (“morning pages” as described in “”The Artist’sWay” by Julia Cameron is an exercise many people love),

Clearly, there are a lot of choices on ways to start your day.  Join me in reflecting on what intentional morning rituals you want to try out.

Book Review: The Art of Saying No

By: Damon Zahariades

For those who really want to master the art of saying no, this book can transform your way of thinking. It’s broken down into three sections. Part 1: The psychology of assertiveness and the importance of asserting your needs. Part 2: The reasons we struggle to say no. Part 3: Concrete strategies for saying no (brilliant-they give you the language to say it!), Part 4: How to say know to certain groups of people (spouse, boss, children, clients, yourself, etc.) Insightful and pragmatic. Highly recommend.

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