How do you take a break?

It’s a pretty common thing that working people do. They’ll exhaust their paid leave at the end of the year or take a sabbatical for a few months. Sometimes they just take a day off in the middle of the week because their brain’s batteries have run out.

But what are you supposed to do when you’re on a ‘break’? I know it sounds ridiculous but I am asking it earnestly – how do you take a break?!

From what I know, people travel, do touristy stuff, engage in hobbies, write, read, start a side project, go live in a monastery, hang out with family, or just live from one day to the next aka the retired life.

This makes sense if your regular life forbids you from it. But mine doesn’t. Due to the nature of my work and through my own disposition, I routinely engage in these activities. I do creative writing, I make music, I solve the crossword (now Wordle!), I read, I talk to friends and family, I take up new hobbies regularly (juggling, skateboarding, baking!), I work on side projects (like all the time), I make tea for my family pretty much every evening, I cook often, and I play with my dog.

I am unable to let my brain be unoccupied.

As my brother put it – “while you are awake, you have great bias towards action.” There’s an overdose of action with my brain. The damned thing is always churning. Even when I take a day off from work I end up working because I don’t know what else to do!

This “bias towards action” is the basis of my mindset. It’s the core of why I don’t find therapy useful (for myself), because I feel that “an explanation is not a solution.” I said it before in another newsletter.

I am always looking for things to do. And not just for myself for others too. Like, this week, I had built a little something for work that my mom thought would be useful for her work so I spent a whole evening repurposing that tool for her. I could’ve gone out or watched TV but I chose to do that instead because that would give me considerably more pleasure.

Why do I derive pleasure out of working? 100 points to whoever helps me figure this one out. (I know there’s an ironic joke about therapy in here)

<the author takes a pause here, you should too>

I don’t travel much. Maybe I should try that. The problem I face with travelling is that once you reach the destination, the same question of “what now?” resurfaces. Or maybe I am just thinking about it wrong.

I think I need to learn how to focus. Like really put horse blinders on my brain and stick to one task for extended periods of time.

Only when I am driving is my focus on the task at hand for somewhat longer durations. My brain is still churning - constantly thinking of new schemes or extending old ones - but I can’t do anything about it because well, I am driving. It feels oddly meditative.

When I am writing or making music or writing code for a side project, I am able to get this intense focus for short bursts of time. I know there’s studies saying that humans really only have short-lasting attention spans but the constant distraction through memes and messages feels immensely overburdening. This is why I keep taking breaks from the hyper-connectivity of social media. My brain becomes a hot mess of cute dogs and funny jingles if I am on Twitter or Instagram for too long.

Lately I have got quite sick of digital screens and the digital space in general. I have always harboured Luddite emotion but of late my head and my eyes genuinely hurt from looking at screens all day. As unavoidable as they are, I now try to do most of my thinking and writing using a pen and paper. This has helped my complaint of eye strain, and surprisingly, since I can only write at 1/20th the speed at which I can type, it has slowed the churning of my brain a bit as well. The tactile nature of a notebook and pen allows me to be engrossed in the task and not be distracted by the ever-ON digital world. And I can do it without a wall socket!1

The has solved one part of my workaholic problem.

But the core remains – how do I take a break? What does a break even mean for me? Should I take up gardening or woodworking?

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  1. My laptop’s battery doesn’t work anymore, so I have to have it plugged in at all times :( ↩︎

Last modified: Feb 12, 2022