I gasped in recognition one afternoon, as I was reading an Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad story to my children. In the tale, Toad gets upset when his to-do list blows away.
"Hurry!" says his friend, Frog. "We will run and catch it."
"No!" shouts Toad. "I cannot do that."
"Why not?" asks Frog.
"Because," wails Toad, "running after my list is not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do!"
My children giggled at the ridiculousness of Toad's behavior, but I found myself wanting to defend him: " Gosh, that would be horrible to lose a to-do list and to be asked to do an activity not on the list . . ." I shuddered at the thought, but had the good sense to stop myself before offering my commentary, realizing it would only confirm the degree to which I can get attached, almost Velcro-ed, to my lists and plans for the day.
I used to think there'd come a moment when my to-do list would get done and then I could take a break. Of course, in time, I came to see that this open space seldom arrived on its own— that life had a way of continually filling up, unless I did something to make it otherwise.
I was inspired to change my toad-like ways when I recognized that, by definition, a break is supposed to happen between things. Just as a page break is inserted right within a book's content, so too, should a genuine break be inserted right in the midst of life's activities. In experimenting with this, I came to see that the time-cost of taking a break was almost always outweighed by the joyful reward of greater clarity and energy when returning to the tasks of the day.
Even for those of us with greater flexibility, the simple gesture of taking a break can end up not feeling so simple when our lives are busy and our schedules are filled with commitments and responsibilities. There's a certain art to taking breaks, and it often begins by identifying activities that feel restorative and rejuvenating before the moment when we're hoping to act on them. By doing this, we can more easily step into our break when the time comes, without having to first generate an idea. The sorts of break activities that work best are usually those that feel like the opposite of what we've been doing too much of: if we've been sitting inside at a computer, we need to get moving outside; if we've been doing physical labor, we need rest; if we feel inundated with mundane details or the heaviness of life's suffering, we need to take in something inspiring and fresh.
The image below offers a visual stroll through 50 ways to take a break. Use this as an inspiration to create your own list of possibilities to slip into your day or week. You may want to carry this list along with your to-do lists as a reminder of the possibility of taking a break . . . and if you're out on a windy day, we'll hope that only your to-do list gets blown away.
What's your favorite way to take a break?