The secret art of stepping away

Earlier this week I found myself talking to a friend who is getting ready to go back to college. I gave her the usual advice that my wife and I give to all our college bound friends, make sure you take a fun class every semester.

Contrary to what some might think, we don’t give this advice just to make sure the person has fun. The reality is it helps with their other classes.

Why stepping away helps

Taking a fun class, or taking a day off from your big project to do something else, helps you because it changes your focus and lets your conscious mind rest from working on the class/project. We see the same effect with studying. You see better outcomes if you shift subjects every so often and come back later. (How long is a ‘so often’? That depends on the individual and your mileage may vary. For me it’s about an hour to two hours (for studying))

The key is to get enough in, and enough time in, to make a worthwhile step forward without spending so much time that you become counterproductive. In fact we can see the same principle in play in physics and chemistry when painting or putting a patina on metal. It is often a good idea to put on multiple thin layers rather than trying one thick layer that goes on all at once.

The multiple layers allow for better drying and damage resistance while the thick layer gets gloppy, takes longer to dry, and is more prone to chipping. Biologically multiple contacts and repetitions help build neural pathways and muscle fiber in ways that are very different from the patterns developed by the one shot approach.

Growth applications

We see the same principle in a lot of self-help and personal growth applications. This is why goals and affirmations are to be put up in visible places, so you can see them frequently and they get ingrained. It is much more effective to do it this way than the “think really hard about it once then go out for pizza” technique.

I know that this isn’t easy dear reader, but I also know it works. That’s why even though I’m up to my eyeballs in book stuff it’s a good idea to get away once in a while and do something different (even… Gasp… something that has nothing to do with writing a book!).

That’s it for today dear reader. Keep working on those projects, but remember to take some breaks along the way.

See you next week.

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