1. Leisure time is not gong to happen automatically
No one is going to assign you leisure time or pay you to do it. The two of you need to talk about a strategy to create the time. One of our administrative assistants, Marilyn, and her husband have learned to take leisure time. Both of these people have heavy schedules. Marilyn and Dwight have learned they can relax only if they get away from the house. So each Thursday is their day to go away together.
It is an inviolable time. We know that we can’t ask Marilyn to come into the office for extra help that day. They have bought two collapsible five-speed bikes, and many Thursdays they load up the bikes and head for a new place to explore. Besides giving them some healthy recreation, this recommitted time to do new and stimulating things together has given an additional spark to their marriage. But they have to plan these leisure times — they don’t just happen.
2. Plan mini-breaksI
(Jim) have been working in my office all morning on this section of the book while Sally has been in her office working on other projects. I just took a little break. Sally rubbed some lotion on my shoulders that got sunburned yesterday. Wow! That felt good — her touch, the lotion and the mental and physical break. It took only a couple of minutes, but that short recess helped both of us do our work better. If you think in terms of shorter, more casual times of leisure together, you’ll be more apt to actually take breaks.
3. Think of leisure as unorganized
Try sitting on the patio in the cool evening breeze, going for a walk or bike ride, or visiting spontaneously with neighbors. Try eating your dinner outside on the picnic table, in front of the fireplace, or around the living room coffee table while you sit on the floor leaning against the couch. Spontaneous, unorganized changes of pace are keys to leisure.
4. Split some of your vacation time into small segments
For example, take two days of your vacation and tack them onto a three-day national holiday weekend. Plan and pack ahead of time so you can leave the moment both of you are free. By the last morning, it will seem as if you’ve been gone a week. But you’ve really only used two days of your vacation time. During the worst of Jim’s midlife crisis, he was experiencing heavy burnout each spring about March and could hardly make it until his summer vacation. His doctor advised him to take his vacation in small segments rather than using it all at one time and then waiting a full year for the next vacation. By breaking up the year with min-vacations, we found the spring was not marked by such heavy symptoms of stress. The problem is still basically one of choice. You must choose to spend some leisure time together.
5. Plan what to do with your time together
You need to ask, “What is it that recharges our batteries?” Each of you should make a list of experiences, activities, places and people that give you a sense of well-being. Compare your lists and find those items that are similar. Now you’re in position to decide what you’re going to do.
It may be possible to use some of the activities that are dissimilar by combining them. For example, I (Jim) feel satisfied to sit in a sand chair on the beach and doze. Sally is nourished by reading. We both enjoy the ocean and walking along the beach. So we spend some time with Sally reading and me dozing and some time together, climbing on the rocks and walking along the beach. Sally doesn’t force me to read, and I don’t force her to doze or to climb endless miles over rocks. At the same time, we both get to experience what restores us in a setting that provides a great deal of nourishment.
6. Develop a healthy philosophy of play
We have had the privilege of doing some snorkeling in warm waters that are swarming with tropical fish. It’s unbelievable!
The creation account records that God rested on the seventh day. Was God so exhausted from work that He had to rest? No, it was a pattern set for us, saying, “It’s okay to rest, to have leisure. It’s okay to enjoy life.” We must shake off the notion that leisure, and fun and humor are wrong. The workaholic, non-leisure person is violating the Creator’s purposes.
7. Plan inexpensive leisure
Sometimes people complain that they can’t have any recreation because it costs too much. Leisure is first an attitude. This attitude results in actions. Attitudes are free, and many activities you can plan are also free. Saying that you can’t have any fun because it costs too much money is a cop-out for being too lazy to think creatively.
Sometimes the best leisure is not organized. You don’t have to be entertained. Create your own fun from simple things. The problem with TV sports is that you just watch. You aren’t involved. That can also be the problem with Little League games, church picnics and luncheons, summer camps, or retreats. If everything is organized for you, you don’t have to think or be creative. As a result, you get a small return on the leisure hours you spend.
When our three daughters were young teens, we took a vacation trip which graphically illustrates fun from free activities. On the Florida coast, one night around midnight we walked the beach with flashlights, looking for giant green turtles that were coming in to shore from the ocean to lay their eggs. It was fascinating to see these female turtles, about three feet in diameter, struggle up on the sand, turn around, and face out to sea. They each carefully scooped out a deep hole with their rear feet and then laid soft white eggs, about half the size of ping pong balls, in the hole. Momma Turtle actually seemed to be crying as she dispensed the eggs; we could see a liquid seeping from her eyes. Then she carefully covered the hole and returned to the sea. We felt we had been part of a very special secret.
We also spent many house of that vacation sunning on the beach, playing in the waves, eating fresh fruits and enjoying other delights that only visitors fresh from a Midwestern winter could fully appreciate.
8. Don’t let your leisure become work
We now own a sixteen-foot catamaran sailboat. Most of the time it’s in our garage because we’re so busy and it’s inconvenient for us to put it in the ocean, even though we now live near the California coast.
The truth is, sailing for many people is not leisure; it’s a whole lot of work. Go to a marina sometime to see how many people are caulking and painting, scraping off barnacles, keeping up with the never-ending maintenance of owning a boat.
Or what about the vacation cottage? You know, the place where you spend the whole weekend repairing the pump, building a new pier, replacing a door, or cleaning squirrels out of the chimney. It sounds so glamorous, but sometimes our leisure projects become more”project” than “leisure”.
9. Don’t put off leisure until “someday”
Frequently the person who is uncomfortable with leisure puts it off. But the explanation is, “I’m not opposed to leisure. In fact, I really enjoy it. Boy, some of the greatest times in my life have been when we’ve been able to just get away, kick back, and unwind. The problem is that right now I”ve got this project I really have to get done. But after I’m finished, boy, then we’re really going to take off and have a good time.”
Reprinted by permission by Jim Conway Ph.D. and Sally Conway, Copyright 2000. Read more from Jim and Sally at Midlife Dimensions.