Happy Hours

How the practice of tuning in to the moment can change your vacation—and your life.

Happy Hours

Woman Riding BikeIn a culture obsessed with getting things done, we do what we must: multitask, lifehack, scan instead of read. Time, after all, is our greatest asset—and, unlike money or property, we all get exactly the same amount every day. Yet, the experience of time is subjective: One day time is your ally; the next, it’s hot on your heels and bent on your destruction. It may pass in a flash on a Wednesday, whereas on vacation, it slows to a sweet, easy pace.

But because your experience of time hinges on the here and now, whether or not you make the most of yours depends on how tuned in you are. “We spend so much of our time mindlessly,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. “Time passes, whether we’re aware of where it goes or not. Thinking about how we spend our time, and how we’d like to spend our time, greatly increases the chances that we spend it in ways we find meaningful and enjoyable.” But even before you start setting priorities for your time, it’s worth doing something even bigger: changing your relationship to time by shifting the way you experience it.

The Art And Science Of Being Here Now

Mindfulness has been gaining lots of attention these days, and with good reason: Growing research into this approach to meditation has been shown to do everything from ease stress and boost immunity to improve relationships. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to feel its effect. In one study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers assigned a random group of forty undergraduate Chinese students to five days of meditation and mindfulness training. Just twenty minutes a day resulted in reduced anxiety, anger, and depression, a drop in cortisol levels, an increase in immunoreactivity, and improved attention and self-control. Now that’s what I call a vacation.

Most often described as “nonjudgmental attention,” mindfulness makes us do the opposite of what we usually do—which is either judge whatever comes up or dismiss it entirely. The concept of mindfulness, essentially, is to notice what’s happening around you, even inside of you, without deciding whether it’s good or bad. While mindfulness consists of many forms and approaches, the sitting meditation practice consists simply of observing thoughts and sensations as they arise, and then letting them go again and again. While simple in theory, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Which is why it takes practice.

“Mindfulness is a highly refined form of attentional training,” says Washington, DC–based neuropsychologist Marsha Lucas, PhD, author of Rewire Your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness. “When you can be more tuned in to the moment,” she says, “you can make better choices.” While feeling calmer or less stressed is a lovely side effect, she explains, the goal is actually to create a better relationship with your mind by unhooking your thoughts from your emotions. Because when you let your emotions dictate your behaviors, you create a cycle that starts with being hijacked by fear and ends with you bruising for a fight.

Not only that, but you end up allowing your own most precious asset—time—to be chewed up with worry. Let’s say you arrive aboard the cruise ship, electric with excitement, taken in by the beautiful view. Then you see someone in a beautiful dress and you think, “Gee, did I bring the right clothing? Should I have packed the floral dress? Did I pack the floral dress?” And just like that, your brain is off to the races. “These are the kinds of thoughts that take you out of the moment,” says Lucas. “Mindfulness is the act of compassionately bringing yourself back to the moment, again and again.”

Beat The Time

You can’t add hours to your day or days to your vacation, but you can do something far more powerful: slow down.

Here are some expert-approved strategies for getting the most of the time you have:

1Find Five Minutes

Whether you’re traveling solo or in a pack of eight, you can find at least five, if not ten or fifteen, minutes to sit and do nothing else but be there. That means, without reading, planning, or worrying about how they’re faring at home without you. Make it a point to try it every morning, and if you can, a bonus session in the afternoon or evening. Just notice your surroundings, the people, sights, smells, and feel of where you are, is the heart of mindfulness.

2Resist Time Travel

You may not be able to beam your body back in time, but your mind knows no bounds. “This is one way to make yourself crazy,” says Lucas. “Mental time travel means mulling over the past, finding mistakes, or projecting to the future, wondering, ‘What’s going to happen, will I be safe, will I do everything I hoped to do?’ Mindfulness helps you be present for what is going on in front of you, which means enjoying your vacation as it happens.” Whenever you feel yourself being drawn backwards or forwards in time, make a mental note of it and step off that train.

3Know Your Why

If you find yourself stressing over how to spend the time you have, it’s worth stepping back and asking yourself what you are saving that time for. “We focus a lot on saving it, without knowing why,” says Vanderkam. “When you do know what you wish to do with your time, it becomes easier to repurpose the random bits of it we all have in our life to accommodate these things.” Because when you’re hung up on the time you’re losing, you’re not creating anything of value. “You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself.”

4Stop Planning For A Second

How many times have you been on a trip to somewhere wonderful, and said to yourself, “Oh, we must come back here!” Before you know it, you’re trying to figure out how to return to the place you currently are. Not to mention, you’re missing out on the now. “The more you practice mindfulness, the more you quiet the mind, and the more in the moment you are,” says Lucas. “When you can pay attention more, you see colors more clearly, more brightly. And that effect can happen anywhere, not just on vacation, but long after.”

5Try The Mindfulness Meal Plan

Another great reason to tune in? To free yourself from mindless noshing. There’s an evolutionary reason why we often can’t pass up fats, sugars, and other calorically dense foods. “This kind of food wasn’t as readily available to our ancestors the way it is now, so when they came upon any, they gorged on it,” says Lucas. “We may not have to do that anymore, but we’re wired to.” When you employ the practice of mindfulness by paying close attention to the experience of eating—the colors, flavors, and textures, the act of chewing and swallowing—you’ll actually eat less and enjoy more (and possibly even lose weight). Can you think of a better way to savor your vacation?

Terri Trespicio is a Manhattan–based writer and lifestyle expert. Visit her at territrespicio.com and on Twitter @TerriT.

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