I spent a week in complete and utter silence, cut off from all communications: that means no cell phone, social media, or Internet. For seven days, I woke up at 5 am and silently spent every minute of every day meditating while mindfully walking, sitting, or eating.
Sounds a little extreme? It was. Even so, it was necessary mental therapy for recalibrating after burning out.
Just over a year ago, I left my corporate job in New York City to conduct an around-the-world social experiment on human connection that eventually led to my traveling full-time and starting a brand and life design coaching business. While I left New York City, though, New York City didn’t completely leave me – despite having complete freedom and control over my time, I still find myself working too hard and running myself to the ground.
I’m currently traveling full-time, writing a book, keeping up with a considerable social media presence, and building an online business. That’s not even to mention all the other crap that needs to be dealt with on a daily basis: emails, messages, travel logistics, general life housekeeping, the list goes on.
In an act of despair and much, much-needed self-care, I decided to screw it all and hide from all digital communication for a week. The results of being far away from the distractions of technology were astonishing. I came out of the retreat feeling like a brand-new person, recharged and with my head back on my shoulders.
My one-week digital detox taught me three important lessons that we can carry with us no matter how busy our lives get:
Your Body Is As Important As Your Mind
My time spent traveling through Asia has taught me that Western society values the mind much more than the body. From when we are children, we are trained to work hard for what we want, be persistent, and always strive for more. Intelligence, accolades, awards, and logic are valued above all. In addition, we are expected to do and be it all: great workers, parents, friends, partners, and on top of that, to also properly take care of ourselves.
Here is the thing. We are human. That means that no matter how smart, capable, and successful we are, at the end of the day we are confined to a body that needs to sleep, eat, poop, and rest – physically and mentally. There’s no way around that, at least not until technology finds a way to turn us into cyborgs.
Until then, we have to take care of our physical bodies. I didn’t notice how hard I was pushing myself until my first day at the retreat, where I found that – after being disconnected from the constant distraction of technology – all I could muster the strength to do was sleep. I took four naps that day (not including the times I fell asleep during meditation) because my body was just so damn tired of all I had been asking it to do for the past few months: travel, get up early, sleep late, eat on the go, and exercise sporadically.
If our bodies aren’t operating at full capacity, our minds won’t be able to either. We have to make an effort to consistently schedule rest, healthy meals, exercise, and alone time. Don’t ignore the well-being of your physical state, as it can have a huge impact on what you’re capable of accomplishing mentally!
It’s Never Too Late To Do What You Want
Sometimes I have mini freak-outs about where my life is going. What if my projects don’t work out? What if I spend all this time and effort into building something that just falls apart? I’m sure I’m not alone when I say, having doubts about the direction of our lives and whether we are on the right track is normal and completely human.
During meditation, we are taught not to get frustrated when our thoughts inevitably distract us. Be aware of them and, without judgment, just get back on track. As a fellow meditator once told me, every breath is a second chance to start over.
I carry that philosophy with me in both my meditation practice and my outlook on life. During my travels, I’ve met so many people who had several careers or “lives,” as they call it. Off the top of my head, there’s the American woman who gave up her successful corporate lawyer job to become a dive instructor in Bali; the Australian entrepreneur who switched careers no less than four times before creating his successful startup; the Venezuelan woman who left her family and belongings behind to build a better life in Colombia. The list is endless, and it does not discriminate against age, gender, or walk of life.
If you did not get that promotion, think you are too old to switch careers, or are not doing what you want with your life… you can still do something about it. Every day is a reset button. So long as you are alive and well, you can take action towards accomplishing your goals. Use fear to motivate, not block you.
Kindness Towards Yourself Will Make You Better At What You Do
When was the last time you made time for yourself? And I don’t mean locking yourself in the bathroom stall for ten minutes to hide from the overwhelming amount of emails, people, and tasks being thrown your way (I’ve been there). We lead such busy lives that most of our time is not our own: it’s poured into our jobs, errands, and other people. In this day and age, we aren’t even alone when we are in the toilet – we constantly have our phones glued to some part of our body!
Not only does this life pattern exhaust us emotionally, it is a form of self-disrespect. Just like we shouldn’t expect others to bend over backward and work themselves to death for us and give them nothing in return, we shouldn’t also expect the same behavior from ourselves.
As a writer, I notice a clear correlation between how well I’m taking care of myself and the quality of my writing. When I’m burnt out, the writing comes slowly and painfully at best. When I feel relaxed and at ease, it’s much easier to get in the zone and bang out content.
If we don’t give ourselves what we need, our productivity suffers. Mine increases tenfold when I make time to do what I enjoy. That means taking regular breaks to journal, meditate, or sit outdoors by myself in silence.
You don’t need to go on a weeklong silent retreat to properly disconnect (although I’d highly recommend the experience) and reclaim your well-being and productivity. Carve out some time, every day, to do something that brings you joy. Take a bubble bath, explore a hobby, have a glass of wine, or read a book. Whatever your activity of choice is, make sure to put your technology aside and be present in the moment. Your work will thank you for it.
Originally published on Forbes.