Photo credit: @wornoutshoe on We Heart It
Returning from reading week always feels a little bit more hectic than before I left. I liken every reading week-return to be like a surfer battling to get up on a wave as fast as possible. The setup is never easy, but once you’re riding the wave, it almost seems effortless and in a state of flow. Though some years go more smoothly than others, optimistically, we search for that one wave we can ride all the way through to the beach.
Being an international student this year has marked many new challenges for me, which makes me feel like the one surfer who almost always makes it onto a perfect wave, but just as he gets on his feet, he gets knocked over by an unanticipated one. Moving from Ghana to Canada presents different challenges professionally and emotionally. In addition to these, there is the inevitable challenge of being 12,000 km away from my family for the first time. Truly, I am the amateur surfer riding on unknown waters, or a different beach with different wave characteristics and patterns. As the waves get bigger, and the school years gets tougher, I find it is very easy to get caught up in the “now” and lose sight of where I want to end up. As a surfer, it is important to take a second to look up, and ensure you are headed back to the beach you came from.
The winter reading week marked week seven of King’s University College academic year. As classes were on hold for the week, I took full advantage of my time off. The time was used mainly to put my surfboard away, and reflect, recharge, and learn the tidal directions so I didn’t go astray. And, somehow, that made me a better surfer.
I look forward to downtime for many reasons. At more busy moments in my life, I find reflecting and recharging makes me much more purposeful in managing time and planning for future events. I’ve tried many things to help be more prepared for hectic days, to better anticipate those unanticipated waves. Here are four strategies that helped to construct my recipe of surfing new waves on different beaches:
- Meditation: I have found being in environments that include perfect silence and solitude have generated the most “Aha” moments in my life. And this experience is backed up by recent research by Rock and Davis (2016) that indicated that there is a direct correlation between undisturbed time and effective decision making. A specific study in Psychological Science revealed that people "made smarter decisions after just 15 minutes of undisturbed time spent meditating because it made them more resistant to their own biases." I find that just a few moments of quiet contemplation can work wonders for me to see situations and people in a different light and resist impulsive or reactive decisions.
- Exercise: For the past two years, I’ve been fairly committed to maintaining an exercise routine (in which I am too embarrassed to share). I also find that my exercise routine has become a detox process in which I can literally feel the stress leaving my body. Though this may differ from person to person, there is no denying the countless benefits of exercise for your brain, especially in stressful times. Nothing helps me to re-charge more than exercise. I feel energized after 15-20 minutes; my thinking becomes clearer, and my mind settles down and becomes still.
- Friendships: For me, it’s scary opening up to people on a personal level. But most of the time, creating that bond with someone is always worth the effort. After developing a personal relationship with a person, casually chatting with them both professionally and personally is refreshing to me. It is said that laughter is the best medicine, and to me, the times spent doing something with people you can trust, certainly provides me with comfort and relaxation.
- Reflection through podcast or reading: To fall back on the surfing analogy, it is easy to find yourself falling into patterns you would typically do at your favourite beach. Although waves are always different when they come, they definitely have specific characteristics in certain types of beaches. Continuous exposure to only one type of beach may result in you picking up patterns and routines for your brain to almost switch into autopilot mode. Most of the time I can find a new perspective (new techniques to surf) on difficult issues (waves) if I listen to a podcast or read. Often, I find myself listening to the most obscure story and out of the blue, or some statement or comment from that broadcast causes me to think differently about other facets of my life. This is true for books as well. Thus, slowly increasing my toolkit to tackle whatever life throws at me.
I’m lucky to be in an environment that allows for time to catch my breath whenever the going gets tough. Having done these things during the reading week, I already feel like I am better prepared to take on the next set of waves in this school year, and the downtime is the primary reason for that feeling. As Henry David Thoreau says, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find eternity in each moment.” Here's hoping you have a purposeful approach to recharging and refocusing as you approach the stressors of life.