We work so hard and have a desire to play just as hard, but when we finally commit to taking time off, we are flooded with the guilt of all the things we could be doing. It’s in your nature to be massively productive with your time, but if you don’t find a way to relax during your downtime — especially when on holiday — you might as well have kept working. The trouble with that is if you work around the clock for too long, you will most certainly burn out. So what do you do?

Jim Vollett, who has coached several millionaires, shared his brilliant model for “Maximizing the Value of a Holiday” with me nearly a decade ago and I still use it to this day. As I’m about to spend a week with my family on vacation, it’s a great time to share what I’ve learned (with Jim’s permission, of course).

Step 1: External Completion — Acknowledge, Accept & Forgive Yourself
This is typically the only step that most people almost complete. This is when you do your best to finish as much as you can before you go on vacation. But, invariably, there are things that you don’t finish or that crop up just a few hours before you plan on heading out the door on vacation. So how do you “let go” of unfulfilled expectations so that you don’t stress about them and ruin your time off? A simple writing exercise that will take you no more than 30 minutes will free you of the guilt you are otherwise likely to carry around with you on vacation. Just answer these questions:

  1. What was your original expectation?
  2. How much was completed on a scale of 1-10?
  3. What did you complete?
  4. What is still incomplete?
  5. What feelings are triggered by the incompletion?
  6. What judgments about yourself and others are triggered by this incompletion?
  7. What commitment (or want) was not completed?
  8. Are you still committed to that want?
  9. Can you defer that commitment until you get back?
  10. Can you accept this the way that it is and forgive yourself?
  11. What have you learned (so that you can apply and improve in the future)?

In addition to helping you think through the things that are left undone, you can usually find ways to solve the immediate problem and learn from why you found yourself in this situation in the first place. Moreover, this process will free you up to notice what has actually been accomplished (which, it turns out, was quite a lot). Give yourself credit for what you did do instead of all the things still left undone (Hint: they will still be there when you get back).

Step 2: Internal Completion — Tell Your Story
I don’t care if you consider yourself a writer or not. One of the most therapeutic exercises you can do after completing Step 1 is to “tell your story”. Write the narrative of what’s happened (so far) this year. Do it totally free form and without judgment. You don’t have to ever show this to anyone. This is for your benefit so be brutally honest about the good, the bad and the ugly. “Just let it pour out of you”, says Jim Vollett, “it should feel like a release!” And I can attest that it feels incredible — especially if you just keep going and don’t judge what flows from your finger tips. I asked Jim Vollett why this felt so good, and he explained:

“Why this works is because in that space of time, there were many situations where the urgency of the situation brought two internal commitments into conflict, which created a lot of feelings, which you deferred. This is your time to “un-defer” those feelings and writing does just that. This is why it feels like such a release. As part of this process, you will begin to see the underlying commitments, beliefs and desires that were driving your behavior. By bringing these things into consciousness, and combining them with your updated belief in yourself, you may very well see a much easier way to accomplish these commitments, rather than coming back from holiday and doing the same things you would normally do out of habit.”

And, in my experience, this process stops the “looping” process in your head. When you feel overwhelmed by unfinished tasks, they tend to repeat themselves over and over until you do them OR write them down. The act of writing frees your subconscious mind from the responsibility of reminding you of the things you intend to do, yet have not done yet. And, as Jim Vollett says, “By the time you finish this process, you will likely have very little of your energy in the past, and will be very present”. After all, what good is taking a vacation if you’re living in the past inside your head stressing about what you haven’t done. In order to enjoy your time off, you must live in the moment.

Step 3: Fun & Celebration
It’s really important to celebrate what you have accomplished (see related article, “3 Reasons Celebrating Your Many Accomplishments Is Critical To Your Success“). Have fun on vacation, but if all you do is party without celebrating what you have accomplished, then you miss an opportunity to recognize all the great work you’ve completed. You know the saying that life is a journey, not a destination. The key is, if you never celebrate your wins, you won’t be motivated to keep going. You get frustrated by all your efforts without recognition or reward. Start by rewarding yourself and hold up and celebrate how awesome you truly are. Include people like your partner, who were there when you first declared your intention to create what you have now accomplished. They will help you see the fullness of what you have accomplished.

Step 4: Reflection and Integration — Who Have You Become?
At some point on your holiday, you will have some “quiet time”. Rather than looking for something else to fill the time, take a minute to reflect on your patterns that you would normally miss in your day-to-day routine. What’s truly unique about being on vacation is that you distance yourself from the office and with that distance comes a unique perspective to see things that you normally wouldn’t catch while urgently in the moment at work (the year sees what the days never notice).

How have you changed and grown from your last vacation? Don’t kid yourself, you have grown quite a lot even if you don’t immediately see it. What a beautiful gift to give yourself to elevate some important lessons from your unconscious mind so that you can become truly aware of what you’ve learned (both positively and negatively). As Jim Vollett says, “If you can become aware of what you learned (both the good and the bad), and internalize it, then it can never be taken away from you. Unfortunately most people do not do this, and miss a tremendous opportunity for growth.”

Take this time to see what you have become. Recognize and honor this new you. If you haven’t already done so, this is the time to eradicate your limiting beliefs. Update your internal view of yourself and see the truth of who you have become. Recognizing and internalizing your growth and strengths will honor your true self and allow you to update your own self image rather than being stuck with a previous (older) version of you before you experienced all this growth.

Step 5: Compelling Recreation
Do an activity that FORCES you to pay full attention. Recreational activates such as skiing (water or snow), surfing (regular, kite or wind) or any thrill-based action sport that demands 100% of your focus will actually help you enter a deeper level of relaxation. Jim Vollett explains that, “The purpose of compelling recreation is to require you to be present. The more present you are, the better you feel, and the more creative you are.”

By doing these high-focus activities, you interrupt your compulsive thinking. You have no time to think about anything that is not feeding your brain with information in the moment. When there is a potential to break a bone or slightly injury yourself, your brain is on full alert and crisply focused on the activity at hand. No room for negative or wandering thoughts.

Step 6: Rest
When you accomplish the previous step, you’re going to feel tired — often in the middle of the day. Do yourself a favor and sleep. Take a nap and don’t set an alarm or go to be earlier than you normally would and sleep until you wake up naturally. This is the deep sleep your body needs. You don’t get this deep level of sleep and relaxation when you’re “looping” all the things you feel compelled to get done. But when you’ve followed this process, you give your body permission to crash. You may only need one day of this deep level of rest, or you may find that you need a couple. Either way, allow your body to recovery fully and you will find yourself with all your energy back and ready to take on the world.

Step 7: Spontaneous Creation
Now you are fully alive and in the zone. “This is when I like to have a coaching session”, says Jim Vollett, “because tremendous shifts can occur.” You see, you’ve emptied your mind and refreshed your body so you find yourself in a peak state. This is the best possible time to look at where you are in your life and where you want to be. In this state, you can see clearly without any distractions or urgent tasks clouding your vision.

This phase of spontaneous creation is the ideal time to think and strategize both personally and professionally. If it took you most of your vacation to get to this stage, then block off the first few days getting back to work for strategic planning. This is the zone of infinite possibilities. You can create anything from this space. You mind and body are united with your spirit and you are ready to live your destiny.

Step 8: Re-entry
“Ironically”, says Jim Vollett, “if you do the holidays really well, re-entry can be very tough. What’s happening is that you come back from a holiday in touch with how you want your life to be, and you immediately run into the circumstances that try to push you back to the way you were.” The best way to handle re-entry is to recognize the inconsistencies between where you want to be and what you are doing now. Rather than attempting to solve the conflict immediately, take note of what must change and commit to a different outcome; a different future based on knowing what you really want.

By doing these things, you will not only enable yourself to have a “guilt free” holiday, but you will end up taking your skills to a new level. Your downtime will allow yourself to see the big picture (rather than obsessing over the individual tasks that were not completed) and this inevitably leads to new break-throughs.


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