Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


Your Next Trip Could Rewire Your Brain and Change Your Perspective

Jul 4, 2017

I’m like a certain snowman.

No, not Frosty. Olaf – from Frozen!

Olaf and I have a lot in common. We both love summer!

While we love summer for different reasons, we’re both big fans. Summer is full of unprecedented opportunities!

I love the chance to get extra time with family and friends. I love the chance to travel and explore. And I love summer blockbuster movies!

Summer is a great time to refresh your hope and renew your perspective. During the summer, some of us slow down and many of us take time away. Even if you’re living in somewhere as hot as Phoenix or Death Valley, it’s a time where you change things up!


Passing on the Opportunity (aka “I’m Gonna Keep Working”)

There’s a lot of us, though, who resist the opportunity to change our pace or step away. We don’t take time away and we don’t hit the reset button. And the consequences are severe.

An Expedia study in 2010 found that the average American uses 14 of their 18 vacation days each year. Only 38 percent of Americans used all their vacation days.

You might ask, “What’s the big deal with a few days?” According to Deborah Mulheron, a clinical psychologist, the impact is significant. She notes,

“Without time and opportunity (to relax), the neural connections that produce feelings of calm and peacefulness become weaker, making it actually more difficult to shift into less-stressed modes…What neuroscience is showing is that we require down time in order for our bodies to go through the process of restoration.”

Stepping away from your work and normal routine is essential for restoring our brain’s health. Talk about motivation for a vacation!

But even if we go on vacation, a lot of aren’t really “away.” According to a report from the American Psychological Association, 44% of working adults check their work messages every day while on vacation, while 53% of us check in every day over the weekend. And we all know how one email can take our mind back to the office while our body is on the beach.

Part of the reason we take time away from work is to refresh our perspectives and recharge our batteries. We need that time away and remaining connected doesn’t help.

open highway mountains trees new perspective pace place

A Life-Changing Formula For Renewal

In an article I read years ago, author and pastor Mark Batterson wrote something which has become a mantra for me. “Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.”

For some, this year has been a year where your hope drained out. You started the year with excitement and possibility. Whether it was the day-to-day grind or unexpected adversity, you lost sight of your hope.

During my season of burnout several years ago, I took a couple days away to just sit with my feelings and experiences. I took a journal and a book to a friend’s home which was like a palatial paradise. This family had an amazingly peaceful backyard and a beautiful guest house with an office. The 8-10 hours I spent in there transformed my perspective and began my road to healing.

I didn’t spend $1,000 on plane tickets, but a change of pace combined with a change of place led to a change of perspective.


The Power of Slow (and the Harm of Busy)

Travel and vacations not only have the power to help us catch up on sleep or disconnect from work. Taking a trip somewhere new can literally rewire your brains. In a piece for The Atlantic, Brent Crane wrote,

“In general, creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.”

When you travel or go on a vacation, you’re not only getting rest and a sunburn; you’re rewiring your brain too! (The next time someone asks you how your trip was, you can now answer, “well, I rewired my brain!”)

We not only need neurological renewal; we need spiritual renewal too. The impact of a change of pace and change of place goes down to a soul level. In his book on Sabbath-keeping entitled The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes,

One measure for whether or not you’re rested enough – besides falling asleep in board meetings – is to ask yourself this: How much do I care about the things I care about?…When we cease to laugh when our children laugh (and instead yell at them to quiet down) or weep when our spouses weep (and instead wish they didn’t get so emotional); when we hear news of trouble among our neighbors and our first thought is that we hope it isn’t going to involve us—when we stop caring about the things we care about—that’s a signal we’re too busy. We have let ourselves be consumed by the things that feed the ego but starve the soul…Busyness kills the heart.”

If any of that quote described you, it may be time for a change of pace and a change of place.


The Power of Place

I have friends who make an annual pilgrimage to the same vacation spot each year. While some of us feel that is much too predictable, I wonder if there’s a power in location. It seems like our brains could begin to connect those places with a certain habit (resting, turning off work, disconnecting from stressful situations, etc).

In the Bible, the writers of the Gospels (think biographies of Jesus’ life and teaching) each record Jesus drawing away to pray. Jesus always went to the same locations – the hills or mountain sides. He went at the same time of day – at night. It seems like Jesus understood the change of pace + change of place equation. And when he stepped away, he found the renewal and perspective he was seeking.

I know some people who have a spot in their home where they begin each day. Whether their daily habit begins with prayer or journaling or reading the Bible or meditation, they designate a location to set their perspective before turning on the world. The location seems to prime them for the experience.

The Celtic Christians had a term for these locations. They called them “thin places.” They used the term to describe places in Ireland and Scotland where people were mesmerized, experiencing God in tremendous ways. According to the Celts, “Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in these places, that distance is even shorter.”

Do you have a thin place where it seems God is nearer and you’re more at peace?

sunglasses ocean new perspective pace place

Putting The Change of Perspective Formula Into Action

If Batterson was correct, and a change of place and a change of pace combine to give us a new perspective, then how can take action? Where do we begin?

Admit we can’t sustain the same pace indefinitely.

There’s a very popular current conversation in culture about work-life balance. And I think balance is a mirage. I reject the idea of balance but I embrace the idea of work-life rhythm. We cannot sustain the same pace for longer than a season. And when the season seems to never end, it’s time to be honest with yourself and say, “I can’t sustain this. I need to make a change.”

Decide to embrace a healthy (or healthier) rhythm.

We’re responsible for our choices. We’re not in control of everything, but we do have more power than we realize. A healthier rhythm could begin with turning off your phone at night or on the weekends. It could mean setting it to “do not disturb” for certain hours each day. Maybe you could go another level and schedule a Sabbath – 24 hours where you connect with God and do what refreshes your soul. Maybe you could make a weekly commitment to step away with a family member or friend (hiking, golfing, biking, or exploring).

Get away as soon as you can, even if it’s not as long as you’d like!

The research I mentioned above about how travel and vacation impact neural plasticity indicated that even 24 hours away can have an impact. Even if that’s less than the ideal length of time, step away as soon as you can for as long as you can. Yes, you’ll long for more, but you’ll also be glad you took the time you could.

Make a commitment to take all of your vacation time this year.

To some of you, this might sound crazy. But I can promise you when you’re in your final days, lying on a bed, you’re not going to wish you responded to more email or attended more meetings.

So, what if you took all your time off this year? I have loads of empathy for the achievers, workaholics and first-born driven and ambitious readers here. I feel your pain!

A few weeks ago, in beginning to think about this post, I realized I need to take a significant amount of time (more than I realized) in the second half of this year because I didn’t take much of any in the first half. Honestly, thinking about using up that much time makes me feel a little lazy and wasteful. But isn’t that part of the problem? When taking the time to refresh and renew feels wasteful and not something to look forward to, it’s time for a reset.

Create healthier habits which allow consistent opportunities to change of place and pace

A life-changing moment happened for me in the summer of 2015. I took a week off, traveled to the opposite side of the country, and left my computer at home. I turned off the email on my phone, truly disconnecting for what felt like a long time!

This miracle didn’t happen overnight, though. In advance, I realized I needed a real vacation, without the tether of my work. To create this kind of freedom, I needed to change my previous habits. I needed to invest in people, give them authority and trust them to do what they said they would. This process of preparation was months in the making, but it led to a sense of rest and renewal I hadn’t had in years.

While it won’t be easy, I’m excited to put “change of pace + change of pace = change of perspective” into practice several times before the end of this year! How about you?

What’s Your Story?

When have you seen a change of pace and a change of place lead to a change in perspective? How have travel, vacations, and time away from your daily grind led to breakthroughs, new insights, and refreshment? What stands in your way of pursuing a renewed perspective in the next few weeks or months?

Share in the comments below!

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