The September school break is over and the year end seems so far away. But what if you could capitalise on your holiday momentum and apply some of your novelty-seeking break from routine to, well, your daily routine?
Holidays are good for humans. A 40-year study in Finland that tracked the lives of 1,200 businessmen at risk of heart disease found recently that those who took three or fewer weeks of holiday a year were more than one-third more likely to die young. The benefits were the same whether you were in a resort or just at home.
So, here are some ways to keep the holiday spirit alive.
1. BE A HOME TOURIST
When did you last appreciate the place where you live?
“Going on a guided tour may allow us to see our immediate environment from a new angle,” says Dr Gosia Goclowska, a lecturer at the University of Bath.
“Novelty can be found by looking at one place very deeply. There is novelty on your doorstep. Whatever street you’re in, each sunset is never the same.”
2. RE-EVALUATE YOUR ROUTINE
“Holidays put us in a different environment and that change to the environment is really helpful in changing our behaviours,” says Associate Professor Rachel McCloy of the University of Reading.
“When you come back from holiday, think about the things you didn’t do when you were away.”
Of course, these will include laundry, going to work or cooking. But what else freed up your time? Be honest. Did you watch less TV? Use your phone less?
“These activities carry an opportunity cost. They are potentially stopping you making space in your day-to-day life,” says Dr McCloy.
3. CHOOSE YOUR READING
September is a busy month in publishing, with big releases and the Booker shortlist. Apply the same enthusiasm to compiling a new “book wardrobe” as you would to choosing your holiday books – and clear those “must reads” that are starting to look like “will never reads” from the bedside table.
If that feels like too much work, buy a magazine.
4. TAKE A DETOUR
Combining physical activity with the exploration of novel environments or novel social interactions – even something as simple as walking around a new city – “stimulates a lot of plasticity in the brain”, says cognitive neuroscience professor Emrah Duzel at University College London.
Even small changes could help to keep that sensation active. Try taking a different way to work or break your journey for a walk in a park.
5. DEVISE NEW HABITS
The best way to modify habits is to replace them with a new habit, says cognitive neuroscience professor Trevor Robbins at the University of Cambridge.
“The idea is that if you are in a familiar environment with all these cues that elicit habitual behaviours, instead of trying to perform the behaviour that normally goes with that stimulus, you do something a bit different.”
Try putting your track shoes next to the bed, for instance. “Maybe you will put them on and go for a spin around the block,” he says.
6. SAVOUR THE SMALL THINGS
“When we’re on holiday, we slow down. We use all our senses. We focus on one thing.”
Whether it is watching the sunset or leaning over a balcony to observe the woman who runs the ice-cream parlour, our attention operates with vigorous curiosity.
“These are techniques to bring home with us,” says Ms Miriam Akhtar, a positive psychologist and coach.
7. SCHEDULE EMPTY TIME
Ambling around or watching the clouds move; sometimes it is the release from obligation that makes time pass differently on holiday.
“Block out some unscripted time in your diary,” suggests Ms Jessica Chilvers of the Talent Keeper Specialists, which advises businesses on how to maximise the potential of employees returning from a break. “It might be your lunch hour, the hour after the children have gone to bed, but schedule that time and decide what to do with it only when it arrives.”
8. PLAN DAY TRIPS
“When you travel, you start to plan ahead,” Dr McCloy says. “You get excited about the things you might do, the places you might go, the food you might eat.”
Plan a few trips while you are still in what Dr McCloy calls “adventurous mode”. These need not be expensive or to far flung places. What is important is committing to them and putting them in the diary before your risk aversion kicks in and your plasticity gets rigor mortis.
9. RECREATE YOUR HOLIDAY SCENT
“Holidays are very sensual experiences,” Ms Chilvers says. “We are more attuned to sounds and smells when we are somewhere different.”
If you have been to Morocco, she says, “you could download some music reminiscent of the souks in Marrakech and play it when you cook or shower”.
If there’s a scent from a massage you had on holiday, burn a candle.
10. JOIN A CLUB
Always wanted to tap dance, draw or ride a horse? Sign yourself up for a short course.
You will meet new people. Even if they don’t become friends, they will provide you with the sort of novel social interactions that will nourish your holiday plasticity. Plus, the arrival in your diary of a new fixture will upset your routine in a good way.
11. MAKE A RESOLUTION
Prof Duzel, the plasticity expert, holidayed in Canada. Keen to keep up the momentum after returning, he immediately set the goal of training for a marathon.
This forces him to devise new running routes around Berlin, where he lives, to meet the distances that training requires. So, it’s the perfect combination of physical activity and novelty.
12. ACT ON YOUR EPIPHANIES
“Holiday provides time out and a chance to reflect on what is truly important to you,” says Ms Akhtar, the positive psychologist. This also applies to relationships as well as careers and the epiphanies can be “positive and negative”. You may change your life. Or an element of it. And that could feel like a holiday.
13. COOK WITH A NEW INGREDIENT
You could, of course, try to recreate a dish you particularly enjoyed on holiday. But it is easier to pick one new ingredient to use each week. Up the ante by making your novelty ingredient seasonal.
14. EAT A HOLIDAY BREAKFAST
If you walked out early for fresh bread while you were on holiday, find a baker near your home that can offer something similar.
15. GO OUTSIDE
“Paying attention to nature is a source of very positive experiences on holiday,” says the University of Bath’s Dr Goclowska.
It can be hard to replicate the awe inspired by the Grand Canyon or Mount Fuji back home, but awe is an experience of degree. Try to get outside. Sit on your balcony or in the garden with a drink.
Even if you delay switching on the TV for five minutes to squeeze in a walk around the block or notice the trees down your street, you will be holidaying in a small way.