It turns out that the advice Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) gave Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) in the 1991 hit movie “What about Bob?” was more than the premise of a funny movie.
In the hit comedy, therapist Dr. Leo Marvin tells patient Bob Wiley to “take a vacation from his problems.”
And sure enough, while vacationing in New Hampshire, Wiley finds the answer to his greatest problems.
We’ve all been stumped by a problem at work, or a personal problem, that seemingly has no good answer or solution. In that moment we conclude that we’ve approached it from every angle, and yet there is no apparent solution so we worry, fret and dread the outcome.
During those stressful moments we find ourselves in the weeds -- no longer seeing the forest for the trees. Our minds become hyper focused on what’s in front of us and begins to shut down. We convince ourselves that we just need to put in longer hours at work, but more often than not that is the wrong approach.
Our professional and personal lives are routinely interrupted by extraordinary challenges, and while it may seem counterintuitive, that is when we need to create space, and distance ourselves from the problem.
Don’t take it from me, take it from NASA. In 1993, NASA suffered extra pressure and great stress when the Hubble Space Telescope broke down. The agency faced the daunting task of figuring out how to go up in space and fix the distorted mirror inside the telescope. For months the brightest minds in NASA couldn’t identify a solution.
Then one day NASA engineer Jim Crocker was taking a shower in a hotel and noticed how the shower head was mounted on adjustable rods with folding arms. Eureka! The answer did not appear while working late hours in the lab but rather when Crocker was in the shower on vacation, when he created space (no pun intended) from the perplexity of his problem.
Why does creating space work? Our brain, like any muscle in the body, requires rest. Imagine lifting weights every day of the week but only using the biceps. Doing so strains and fatigues those muscles. They will repair only when given a break.
Similarly, when we are consumed by daily tackling the same challenges at work or at home, we actually lose mental energy needed to identify solutions.
That’s when it’s time to create space!
As we move through the remainder of 2020, take time, create space, and allow deep thought to happen subconsciously.
Let me be perfectly clear. I’m not suggesting kicking the can down the road or embracing an avoidance strategy. Avoidance will simply create additional problems. But like Bob Wiley, or Jim Crocker, you may find answers to your greatest problem when you take a vacation from your problems.
For me, that “vacation” is usually a bike ride along a quiet country road. When my focus is on the scenery, sweeping views of the river, cattle grazing, or windmills turning, ideas begin to pop; solutions begin to take shape.
My wife and I enjoy riding our tandem road bike and I also enjoy riding with friends, but the conversations don’t really allow for contemplation.
Some may say that 2020 has provided more than enough isolation. I get that, but setting aside time for contemplation is different than being bored or being lonely.
While activity works best for me, many folks may find that meditation or a quiet time works best for them. Find what works best for you and make a commitment to giving yourself contemplation time on a regular basis. Eureka moments can happen, but we have to create an environment for them to happen. We need it now more than ever.
Gary Adkisson is publisher of The Bismarck Tribune.
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