What Einstein Knew: Taking a Daily Break Isn’t Slacking Off

A colleague was recently telling me about a book that revolutionized how she eats called Intuitive Eating. It’s a book from the 70s that’s been washed over by the tides of many fad diets, but that holds an essential truth: slow down enough to appreciate what you’re eating. When you slow down enough, you’re much more attuned to what your body is telling you — whether you’re hungry enough to keep going, or to stop; or whether what you’re eating is going to be good for you. She said this idea got her to slow down enough to make conscious choices.

It was counterintuitive the first few weeks she tried to start doing this. It wasn’t natural to really make sure she sat down for proper meals where she could appreciate how the food looked and smelled, and really savor each bite. It wasn’t natural to really listen to what the wisdom of her body was telling her. But it got easier over time.

After a few weeks of “eating intuitively”, she found that she had lost the weight that she had been hoping to. She felt much better, and ultimately she felt more vibrant. It was health from the inside out. She was guided by her own inner wisdom.

What’s powerful about this story is that it raises the question: What else is our intuition telling us, but that we’re not hearing because we usually move around our days running from one thing to another?

So often at work, we believe that we need to put our nose to the grindstone to be the most productive and successful that we can be. Our culture usually tells us that the people who push themselves as hard as they can will be rewarded.

But so often insight, which is the foundation of truly deep problem solving, doesn’t have the space to grow if we’re running from meeting back to back to back. How many more breakout ideas might we have had about how to resolve a conflict with our team if we had simply taken the time to slow down? How many ideas for billion dollar startups might we have had if we had taken the time to listen to our thoughts at the back of our mind?

If we’re running around all day, we usually only can accomplish the surface things that we have time to check off our to-do list in between meetings. But to make deep progress on a project, it requires not only hard work, but also the space for intuitive problem solving to work its magic.

Einstein, we all know, was an intuitive genius. And Einstein’s teachers as a child didn’t think he would amount to anything in life because he daydreamed so much. Yet, when he appeared to be absentminded, this was often the time that Einstein did his most creative problem solving. It was the time that he took each day to slow down that eventually allowed him to consistently be the most creative and productive physicist of our time. Creativity was the key to Einstein’s productivity.

Ultimately what many of the wisdom traditions like Zen and Yoga teach are that we already have the answers to the questions we have. But to access them, we need to create space to hear them. And if we create a ritual for ourselves of taking the time to listen to ourselves, we can hear those insights more consistently.

So a two-fold challenge I leave with you is:

1. If you’re someone whose life is over scheduled, experiment with cutting back on 20% of your commitments for the week. Be ruthless about prioritizing using the 80:20 rule and freeing up this time for yourself. See what impact it has on your productivity and creativity.

2. Take a page out of the Zen playbook, and sit down for 5 minutes a day to get grounded in yourself and watch your breath*. Do this for 40 days, and see where it takes you.

You might just be surprised to see where creating space can lead.

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*If you’d like to learn more about how to meditate, the most practical and straightforward book I’ve read is Rolf Sovik’s Moving Inwards. He breaks meditation down into 5 easy steps that you don’t need to be a monk to do every day.

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