Sunday Detox: Alone in the Woods

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As I’ve thought about the subject of detoxing and unplugging from daily life, I’ve started asking friends about their favorite method of recharging.  A lot of times I hear “Being alone in a cabin in the woods” as an ideal way to get away from it all.  It always sounded vaguely appealing to me, but when would you really ever find yourself alone in the woods on purpose?  Well, this weekend, I got my shot at it.  

After a week working in Boston, I made my way up north to Killington, Vermont to spend a weekend skiing with friends.  On the way, somehow, I managed to sprain my hand rendering it useless.  Skiing was completely out of the question.  

I quickly realized that the cozy cabin we had rented — complete with cocoa and fireplaces — was about to be my stage for this “alone in the woods” fantasy so many had touted.  I wasn’t super excited about the change in plans.  I’m not a big fan of alone time in general and even when I’m reading, writing or doing other solitary activities I like to have people around me.  Being alone is the opposite of relaxing to me.  Still, I figured that I should make the most of the opportunity and see if some solitary time by the fire could be a new way to detox.    

I woke up on Saturday morning to the sound of everyone clamoring out the door to head to the slopes early.  It was 15 degrees out, I was carless and in the middle of nowhere, so I knew that I was cabin bound. Here we go.  

Hour 1:  I turned the fire all the way up and started to reading our latest Prose and Hos(e) book, Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You. It’s a good, easy read, but slightly depressing and it wasn’t helping my current mood of being stranded in Vermont.  I needed something a little more active.

Hour 2:  I wrote an article that I needed to get finished before the end of the weekend, hoping that it would consume the rest of the day.  But without distraction, I was done in 45 minutes.  Success?  Not in this case.    

Hour 3:  I read the NYTimes and started talking to myself in reaction to some of the articles on Trump and Rubio.  Are they seriously talking about sweat and comb overs?  

Hour 4:  I found the game cabinet chock full of games from the 1970’s.  I played Scrabble with myself, and won.  It turned out to be good practice for that evening when I finally managed to beat Ben in Scrabble (by a hair and with an assist, but still).

Hour 5:  I was having an ongoing verbal dialogue with myself at this point, and needed something much more active.  I started debating with myself (yes, out loud) whether I should attempt to do forearm-based yoga with a sprained hand.  Ultimately, I decided the mental impact of sitting in one place was probably worse than the physical impact of potentially hurting my hand again.

Hour 6:  Did 90 seconds of yoga and realized that I was wrong.  Re-wrapped my poor sprained hand and realized that my inability to effectively be alone had reached new levels.

Hour 7:  They returned!  When I heard the car door slam outside I ran to the window like a lonely puppy dog.  As they piled in the house, I slowly realized that they were all exhausted and were making a bee line for the showers.  No one was up for chatting.  But somehow, it didn’t matter.  There were other people present and I was suddenly satiated.  

I went back to reading my book and the Times by the fire and it felt different and more peaceful than when I was in the house by my lonesome.  I was finally recharging.  

My husband, Ben, later turned to me and said he was envious of all the time I spent alone. A true introvert, he had a fun but entirely exhausting day full of people and wanted nothing more to have us all get out of the house and leave him to read by himself.  

So we did.  And everyone got their version of detox.  

&d

Sunday Detox: Single Tasking

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Our culture – particularly work culture – tends to fetishize multitasking.  In this always ON world, I hear a lot of people proudly tout their ability to multitask and name it as one of the reasons for their professional success or a reason they’d hire one person over another.

But, as most of us know, it’s actually physically impossible to do more than one activity at once.  There’s a ton of research on this, but if you want a quick snapshot check out this quick video.  Your brain and body are just shifting their focus from one task to the next more frequently – from email, to messaging, to reading an article, or whatever set of activities you fill your day with.  And we end up paying less attention to each task, make more mistakes, and come out of the whole situation less accomplished and fulfilled.

Sounds dumb.

But it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of demands for your time, at the same time – the pings, email notifications, phone calls, chores and obligations.  And over time, it starts to erode our ability to actually deeply focus on any one thing because we become so programmed to shifting in between different activities so quickly.  I’ve definitely felt myself in these places, where I am impatient and furiously swiping on my phone in search of…nothing.  Not good.

I try to build practices into the weekdays that help me fight the tidal wave, to varied success.  One thing that I’ve found helpful is to train, or re-train, my mind to stay in one place, on one activity, during the weekend – where my time is much more my own.

  • Half-techie shut down:  Sometimes I need to completely unplug and just shut down all technology (see Taryn’s Screenless Saturday for the benefits of that approach).  But, more often, I just need to shut down all the crap that comes my way without me asking for it – particularly email and social media.  I still want to be able to look up who Aziz Ansari’s girlfriend is after reading all about her in Modern Romance.  I still want to use Google Maps to help me find my friend’s place in Jersey.  I still want to be able to take an instantenous picture of my husband’s sudden urge to wear a bandana and run around the house screaming “I am a ninja!” But I don’t want to be hit with all the things I wasn’t planning on seeing.  So, shutting down inbound technology for a day has been my go-to reset on Sundays.
  • Marathon reading:  Sitting down with a book and reading for 2-3 straight hours is the ultimate indulgence and is a great re-training in focus.  No picking up your phone to quickly check in with your “phone world” between chapters.  No turning on the TV to see if there’s anything interesting on instead.  Just plowing through chapters of a good read.  This is a tougher one for me, so I’ve set an ambitious reading goal for the year to keep me honest.
  • Cooking cooking cooking!  If I’m feeling up for something a little more active, cooking achieves the same benefits for me.  I’ve often used Sunday as a day to cook a few good meals for the week.  The attention, coordination and creativity that it takes to make multiple meals at once is a challenge – aside from the actual space challenge presented by a small Brooklyn kitchen.  Last week it was a vat of red lentils and freekeh + granola + chocolate chip cookies.  The week before cranberry muffins + fish tacos + turkey chili.  Random combinations, but that’s where the beauty and the focus comes in.

This is definitely the winter version of this list.  Or maybe that’s the newly minted homebody in me feeling some queasiness.  Regardless, when it’s a little warmer or you have little ones running around, I’m sure there’s a different set of possibilities to help folks focus.  But for now, I’m digging these.

&d