In the Midwest, where I was born and raised, the phrase “well, that’s different” is a classic response to something one deems not just exceptional but also a tad weird. It’s a Minnesota-nice way of saying (with just a hint of judgment): Hmmm, that is certainly not something regular people like myself would think of doing, but I guess if you like it and it works for you — well, OK then.
You can elicit this response by doing just about anything outside the norm, from putting hot sauce on your eggs to announcing that you’re joining a traveling circus. “Oh, my,” you might hear. “Well, that’s different.”
I was born with a strong inner critic, and sometimes, when she tires of judging me, she likes to bust out and start judging other people in this way. People who wear outfits I would never wear. People who make scenes I would never make. People who take crazy risks and pursue crazy dreams and — well, far be it from me to judge. I mean, if you like it and it works for you. . . .
Happily, the older I get, the more I find myself admiring those brave souls inclined to break from convention in order to suit their own tastes. And the more I acknowledge their courageous coolness, the more willing I am to try out new and different things myself.
Ultradian Rhythm Breaks to the Rescue
One of my favorite new freaky things to do is to take little “ultradian rhythm breaks” (I call them URBs for short) a few times a day. These are 10- to 15-minute rest periods during which I sit quietly, eyes closed, and allow both my body and mind to just zone out. Ideally, I’d take a break every 90 to 120 minutes; in reality, I strive to do it whenever I start to feel a bit dull or distracted.
A solid body of research (much of it military) suggests that these little time-outs allow my system to generate fresh energy, detoxify at a cellular level, and accomplish a variety of mental filing tasks that help me return to activity with more focus and engagement.
And in real life, I’ve definitely found that taking URB’s improve my concentration, creativity and productivity while safeguarding my mood, metabolism, and immunity.
The practical value of taking breaks got some press recently when human-performance expert Tony Schwartz wrote a New York Times opinion piece about it (“Relax! You’ll Be More Productive,” Feb. 9, 2013). I’m proud to say we first covered this concept way back in 2004, and that we’ve been writing about it ever since (most recently in “Take a Break”). We also highlighted it in our “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy” (No. 89, “Pace Yourself”).
It’s only recently, though, that I’ve been working up the nerve to take ultradian breaks out in public, where other people can see. I mean who does that?
Well, me, I guess. Do I worry that grabbing an ultradian break at work may give passersby the impression I have fallen asleep at my desk? Do I worry that others may think I’m narcoleptic, lazy or just plain weird? Yes, I do.
But I worry more that if I go all day without some of these breaks, I am sacrificing my ability to do my best work, undermining my health, and doing myself, my team and my projects a disservice. Plus, if I don’t take breaks, I know that by the time I get home, I’m going to be depleted, peevish and craving potato chips. So I take the breaks and hope for the best.
The other day, while I was grabbing a manicure on the way home from a long day at work, I warned the gal doing my nails that I was going to just zone out for a little while.
She looked at me funny and asked if I was feeling OK. I briefly explained the science behind ultradian rhythms, and told her how I was doing this a few times a day as a way of taking good care of myself.
Being a good Minnesotan, she smiled politely and said, “Well, that’s sure different.” I agreed that, indeed, it was. “But it really works,” I said.
Then I closed my eyes, did my little ultradian deal, and 15 minutes later, I popped up, feeling rejuvenated and perky as can be, with snazzy-looking nails to boot. The manicurist said she thought she might try it sometime.
The Beauty of Doing Things … Differently
This is the beauty of launching your own little healthy experiments: Sometimes, they catch on. And then, not only are you no longer considered weird, but the people around you are healthier and happier than they were before, and the world is just a little bit better place.
So here’s to being as bold and “different” as you wanna be, and to giving your boring old inner critic a well-deserved break.
UPDATE: I wrote this post about ultradian rhythm breaks and also included them as one of my three favorite “Renegade Rituals” in my new book, The Healthy Deviant: A Rule Breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World.