A Navy SEAL's Guide to Thriving in Close Quarters, Part 5: Take Breaks

Stress is real, and it can creep up on you if you don't take a few simple steps to control it. 
A Navy SEAL's Guide to Thriving in Close Quarters, Part 5: Take Breaks
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Entrepreneur, CXO Advisor, Navy SEAL, Author and Speaker
6 min read
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The fifth action in our R.E.M.O.T.E. strategy for thriving in close quarters is as crucial as the previous four: Take Breaks. Whether you are leading special operations teams or startup squads, leaders must be on point to prevent burnout. We all need downtime, and it can be particularly difficult to get a respite when we are living in the cramped quarters of a submarine (as I have done many times) or an apartment. Maybe you aren’t living in cramped spaces but still feel stressed because you are operating in a blended work environment that now includes pets, kids and a spouse. I get it. I have four boys, two Labradors and five fish, and my “work from home” office is 10 steps from the kitchen and just big enough for me, a desk and a couple filing cabinets. Yet, the same techniques I learned while leading SEALs on submarines, along with a few I’ve picked up from starting a $100 million business from my garage (yes, my first office was really in my garage), are what I am going to share with you.

You might ask yourself, “What’s the big deal about taking breaks?” And maybe if you’re like me you would even pump your chest out a bit and say, “I don’t need breaks, I’m a grinder!” That was my response 10 years ago, as I ground my way to the emergency room because I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest and my left arm was going numb. (Incidentally, if you’re ever trying to get the attention of medical staff, just use those two symptoms; they told me to lie down and wait for ambulance! I didn’t, my wife drove me to the hospital.) The point is, stress is real, and it can creep up on you if you don’t take a few simple steps to control it. 

Related: A Navy SEAL's Guide to Thriving in Close Quarters, Part 4: Opportunity

Our brains (and bodies) need time to recharge, and the best way refresh our computing power is by changing our state of mind. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Our brains use a major amount of our energy, and if we don’t create “switches” to power them down, they will do it for us (like giving me heart-attack symptoms). Here’s the good news: When we take breaks, our sub-conscious brain power is still at work solving problems. Also, taking breaks helps us be more productive and leaves us feeling refreshed. Our brains need time to assimilate and create new associations with the information we feed it throughout the day. Those new associations can help us find that innovative twist to a new product offering that might just be the game changer your business needs. When we were developing the Perfect Ab-Carver, the idea of a spring and angled handles came to me during two different breaks: in the middle of night and on a walk.

So, how do you give your brain a break? It’s simple, but not easy. 

The key to maximizing your brain breaks is to shift your focus. You must commit to your breaks in the same way you commit to your work. And the best way to do this is to treat taking a break like work, because that’s what breaks are. Don’t fall for what I did for years and convince yourself that breaks are for the weak. Not taking breaks breaks you down — it’s makes you weak. Taking breaks build you up. It makes you stronger, more creative and more effective. The challenge is crafting breaks that truly help you switch your focus from one topic to the next. I call any break that gets you to shift your focus a “switch,” because it acts like a light switch in switching your focus. Here are a list of “switches” that work for me when it’s time to take a break:

  • Move from one space to another. In submarines, it's really hard to find your own space. Sometimes my switch was literally turning my view from looking to the back of the sub to the front.

  • Change tasks. Doing lots of analytical work? Shift to creative work, or better yet, do your creative work in a different space.

  • Listen to music. I mean really listen by closing your eyes, embracing the beat, tapping your fingers and putting yourself in the band. You’d be shocked how quickly you can change your state doing this.

  • Exercise. But please don’t exercise while multitasking. Don’t be that person who’s having a conference call while running. Commit to the exercise, focus on your breathing, feel your muscles underload, pay attention to your form.

  • Read. Only been consuming nonfiction business books? Switch it up and read the opposite. Clive Cussler or James Patterson are great at distracting you. Read fun fiction and let your mind fantastize.

  • Walk. When you walk, pay attention to your surroundings. Watch a bird in flight, see the wind move the leaves, find the beauty of nature’s design. I like walking conference calls, but I also schedule time just to observe nature; it really helps.

  • Meditate. This can be hard if you’re not used to it, but breathing and focusing just on your breath can be done in the closest of quarters and is proven to restore, refresh and de-stress.

  • Shower, Cook, Draw, Yardwork, Yoga, Bike, Hike. The list really depends on what you like to do other than the task you’ve buried yourself in for the last couple of hours.

Related: A Navy SEAL's Guide to Thriving in Close Quarters, Part 3

We may all be different at the genetic level, but I assure you we all have very similar physiological needs, and taking breaks is one. Otherwise, our brains and bodies will conspire against us to force the break, and I don’t want that to happen any of you. Plan your day with at least three breaks: one mid-morning and two in the afternoon. They don’t have to be long — 10-20 mins — but they do have to be quality. Find activities that you’ll look forward to doing; that will be an added plus to building this habit.

Giving yourself frequent breaks will not only make you more productive this summer, but you might just discover your game-changer idea. I did. Be well, stay fired up, and give yourself a break!


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