Take a Break

Originally published 7/9/2016. Lead image via Pexels.com.

Refreshing your mind and body to overcome obstacles and solve problems

You’ve been climbing a mountain for days. You’ve made good progress so far, but you come across a gravel-strewn slope and cannot for the life of you get a foothold. Your progress comes to a halt. You are stuck, constantly moving your feet but getting no where. You look around desperately for another path to the top, but you’ve already come so far on this route…

So why does everyone keep trying to climb the gravel?

In case you hadn’t realized, the mountain is a metaphor for a problem you need to solve. I know that it’s not a very original metaphor, but it helps to illustrate one particular point. You know that gravel you keep trying to walk through? Well, the more you keep straining, the more your legs and feet hurt. After all, you’ve been climbing for days, perhaps weeks at this point. What makes you think that climbing the gravely slope with ever-tiring legs is going to do anything?

Metaphors have a tendency to make an issue almost too obvious. Of course you would think to rest or find another route at this point! But when it comes to mental/philosophical/emotional problems, people rarely do.

Give your mind, and not your body, some rest. 
You’ve already been thinking about this problem with no luck. Yes, you may have solved similar problems in the past, but you are not going to find the answer by pushing and pushing and pushing. If you don’t solve your problem by brute force within 2 days, just stop. Do NOT think about it for 3 more days. Do not give it any consideration at all. This can be tricky, since the problem obviously feels urgent. Which is why you have to keep your body active. Whenever I feel troubled or guilty, I tend to give myself “sick days,” only to find that I feel the opposite of rested at the end. So for three days, just get up and do something. Exercise, read a book, go to the pool, visit a friend’s house, but whatever you do, do not think about your problem at all. It helps to do something active, like creating something or playing a game, rather than something passive like watching a movie.

You’ve been climbing that slope for days. You are tired. So give yourself a rest. If you’re ever going to push past this obstacle, it will be when you feel energetic and refreshed.

Why does this work so well, for both me and the family and friends I’ve suggested it to?

1. Worry feeds off of your emotions: by making yourself feel refreshed, you may find that the problem doesn’t even feel distressing anymore. This in itself has another advantage: if you feel more comfortable with your problem, it becomes easier to describe it to others and ask their advice.

2. On the fourth day, when you take another look at your problem, you will find that it is often very easy to solve. The elusive solution is suddenly staring you in the face. Or perhaps the mountain you’ve been climbing turns out to have been a molehill the entire time. This is the most common occurrence for me: it was in my head the entire time.

3. Being up and doing things to busy yourself has the metaphorical equivalent of looking at a map for other routes. The world is full of answers if you go out and experience them. You’ll never believe some of the answers I’ve gotten just by going to a museum or watching a movie instead of putting lots of time and energy into directly thinking about the problem. But consider this: while you were trying to solve that problem, you were constantly using the same X number of facts you already knew. But by going out and experiencing more of the world, you learn Y number of more facts that you can use in your mental crusade.


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