I’m not a smoker and don’t like cigarette smoke.

I would have sworn I could never learn anything about inner peace or productivity from a smoker.

But I read an article by Kim Tranell in the February 2013 edition of The Oprah Magazine called “What Do We Want? Inner Peace! When Do We Want It? Now!” Tranell quotes Dr. Julian Ford, professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and coauthor of Hijacked by Your Brain: How to Free Yourself When Stress Takes Over:

“In a way, smokers have the right idea. When they step outside to light up, they’re doing one of the most important—and hardest—parts of de-stressing: taking a break.”

It’s hard to make myself take a break!

I can look up from my work and realize it’s two hours later than I thought and sometimes I haven’t moved from my chair in three or four hours. I’ve started setting an alarm to remind me to at least stand up and stretch every hour. It helps me to step outside, breath deeply, and express my gratitude to God for this day and this hour, but it doesn’t come naturally. Even when I remember it’s time to take a break, I sometimes feel annoyed I have to stop and interrupt the flow of whatever I have going on.

Taking breaks from work makes us more productive.

This is so counterintuitive, but there is a tremendous amount of evidence that it’s true and that virtually all high achievers practice the art of intentional resting or break-taking. If this interests you, you’ll enjoy these articles:

“Why Taking Breaks is Good for your Brain” by Starre Vartan for Mother Nature Network. The author reminds us “Breaks are really important. And I’m talking about get-up-from-your-desk, walk-around or stare-out-the-window breaks, not Facebooking or answering a personal email. Because, it turns out that breaks are very beneficial to productivity, overall mental happiness, and even brain health.”

“Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime” by Ferris Jabr for Scientific American. This is an outstanding and very comprehensive article. In summary: “Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity.” The article author quotes essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Practice taking breaks.

If you, too, find it difficult to take breaks, the research shows that it gets easier with practice. So today I challenge you to take small steps towards adding a little break time to your day. Set a timer if you must, but at least every one to two hours,  get up, stretch, go outside (or at least to a window) and breathe deeply for a few minutes. It’s a gift to being your best self.

Come on. We can DO this!

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