Here’s some welcome advice for a long weekend: your business will be better off if you step away and stop thinking about it for a few days.
You may think running away from your problems won’t make them go away. New research suggests that’s simply not the case—as long as it’s only a brief abdication of responsibility.
In a recent paper, PhD candidate Bonnie Hayden Cheng and associate professor Julie McCarthy (both of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto) reveal that there can be big benefits to temporarily shirking your responsibilities.
Cheng and McCarthy studied a group of university students juggling work, family and academic responsibilities. Those participants who actively took their minds off their troubles were better able to manage the tasks at hand than those participants who simply hoped their problems would disappear—they felt more satisfaction, too.
Why? The answer lies in the concept of cognitive disengagement—that is, removing one’s thoughts from the challenges at hand and onto something totally unrelated.
“Our resources are finite and need to be replenished,” says McCarthy. And traditional methods of blowing off steam—think: exercise—might not provide sufficient mental recovery. “It’s not enough to just go for a jog or a bike ride to relieve stress if you keep ruminating about everything you have to do at work or at home,” McCarthy explains. “In that case, you are still not mentally disengaged.”
So, how do you unplug from the daily grind? Unplug the BlackBerry at night. Take a hard look at how much you’re working and ask yourself whether it’s really necessary. Take up an immersive hobby that actually allows you to completely mentally disengage from work, such as fly-fishing, race-car driving, scuba diving or wildlife photography.
No matter what you do, the goal is to completely shift your thoughts from the stressors at play. Sound counterproductive? Not so, says Cheng: “Avoidance in terms of taking a mental break is so crucial to managing multiple responsibilities—as long as it doesn’t cross over into wishful thinking.”
Furthermore, Cheng adds, it’s far more dangerous to simply hope issues will disappear: “Wishing for our problems to go away is counterproductive because there’s an element of learned helplessness, of having no control over our responsibilities.”
When you find a way to step away for a while, the results will astound you. According to McCarthy, “making the most of that time in your life when you can mentally disengage is so critical for family and personal well-being.”