01 June 2015

The Overstimulated Mind

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
--Sir John Lubbock

The cover story of the 1 June 2015 TIME magazine is entitled, “Who Killed Summer Vacation?” A companion piece might be, “Who stole your life?”
As someone observed, the U.S. is becoming known as the "no-vacation nation."  The culprits identified in the article include the rise of the service economy full of unskilled and interchangeable workers; the decline of organized labor; that vacations are expensive when wages are flat; technology that tethers you to work; and insecure workers afraid to take off a week, let alone two weeks back-to-back.
The downside to this human and economic predicament is the potential for an unsafe, unhealthy, unreflective, and unproductive workforce. 
What’s happening to us?
Over time our minds take in more than they can process--and delete. There isn’t enough space between meetings to think about the latest great idea, let alone implement it. The result—is too much stimulation and not enough assimilation.
In an excerpt from the book, The Mature Mind by H. A. Overstreet, here is what we learn about an overstimulated mind which apparently begins at an early age:
We now know that a child is likely to be halted in its growth toward psychological maturity if it is subjected to too many stimuli that call for an immediate reaction and given too little leisure and privacy to assimilate what it has experienced.
It is simply not suitable for a child to have too many toys so that it never has time deeply to love one, or to be too consistently surrounded by people, or to be too always on the go, or to have so many activities organized for it that it never has time just to be itself in a kind divine idleness.
The process of psychological maturing is more than the process of receiving impressions, one after another. Instead, it is savoring these impressions until they yield their meaning.
It is the process of letting new experiences turn around and around in the mind until they find the angle at which they want to settle down among old experiences.
We as a people are, in many respects, like children who have been exposed to too many changing stimuli in too rapid a succession; we are both excitable and emotionally fatigued; both ready for the new, whatever it is, and unready for any of its meanings that are not on the surface: both ego-centered wanters of more and more and generous givers of what we have—less in the spirit of those who will divide their last crust than in the heart of those who feel that they will soon have something better to take the place of what they give away.
Overstreet penned those insightful words in 1949.
Stress is costly
What's the antidote to partial attention? Multi-tasking? Interruptions?
A 2010 Harvard study found that people spend 47% of their days thinking about things other than what they actually do. That statistic goes a long way toward explaining why some are prone to errors, having to do the same tasks to get them right, a cost that eventually finds its way into the price of goods and services. 
Renewing the human spirit
Consider that in 2013 American workers with access to paid time off left 429 million vacation days on the table, an average of 3.2 days per worker (U.S. Travel Association).
The research also showed that while some employers allow workers to bank their time off from year to year or to receive payouts for unused time off at termination, nearly 170 million vacation days came from “use it or lose it” policies and vanished into thin air.
By not taking all the time they had coming, the study reasoned that Americans did $52.4 billion worth of work—for free. A seemingly good deal for employers, but in the end, not really.  
As summer approaches, more employers (The Motley Fool, TED Conferences, and Rand Corp.) are putting in place incentives to encourage scheduled idleness. It may not be as idyllic as "watching clouds float across the sky," but it does include going off the 24/7 grid for a time to achieve a rested body and mind. Even indispensable employees need to recharge their batteries.
A corporate HR vacation policy that helps renew one's outlook on career and life may be the most crucial bottom-line decision a business can make.

© Bredholt & Co.