Geoff Starling CSCS


Taking a break from your routine - whether forced or unforced - can be disruptive but creates a rare space for you to analyse some of the habits and rituals that guide your daily spin. In March I spent 18 days visiting family in Australia without my wife or kids. It was long and far enough away from my regular life to separate from a number of daily routines and shine a light on how and why I do a lot of them. Here are five things I learned or was reminded of while away from my life for two weeks.

Inconsistent Food Sucks

Sometimes I get bored with eating relatively the same thing every day but there is nothing at all to be said for the opposite. Even when you try to be relatively conscious about your menu choices or pick from what’s in front of you at a friends’ place, it is difficult to avoid at least one of the 3 B’s: Beef, Beer and Bread, when you’re at the mercy of someone else’s kitchen. Think soup and a sandwich, burger and fries, pizza and beers. Every now and then, great! But for two weeks straight, not so much. My guts were in constant turmoil from the absence of any regularity in where, when and what they were going to receive. I consult with patients on a daily basis who live this way permanently and if this is what ‘normal’ feels like then we need to talk.

Friends are Good for Your Soul

Although my digestive system wasn’t too thrilled about the constant socialising, my soul flourished with it. One of the downfalls of being heavily committed to your family and career is potentially downplaying the importance of your friendships. Starting work at 6AM is great for getting a jump on the day but preparing for bed at 8:30PM is terrible for supporting a social life. Being self employed and working in a location detached from other businesses doesn’t help either. Since returning I’ve committed to phoning a friend at least one night per week while I’m spinning around the kitchen doing dishes and making lunchboxes. It doesn’t sound like much but for me this is a 100% increase. Connect with your people folks. You need them as much as they need you.  

Waking up Without Purpose is Demoralizing

At first it was a luxury to have an open calendar when I woke up but after a few days I wanted a game plan. Not necessarily a to-do list but an objective for the day. It identified my need for structure but also gave me a glimpse into what it must be like to have an absence of direction. Many of my friends and neighbours lost the security of regular employment with the recent economic downturn and for some it has been a blessing in disguise while for others it has been a death blow. Uncertainty around your sense of purpose can be terrifying, especially when you have a family who depends on you. I can only imagine the toll it takes after 18+ months of waking up like this. Stay strong, friends. And if you’re near a phone I’ll be in the sink from 8:30-9:30MDT.

Sleep is Really REALLY Important

Something I was looking forward to most of all on this trip was to not set an alarm for 18 days. I still made my way to bed at around the same time but squared away some serious hours before rising. No ‘one ear open’ for the kids. No ‘rise and shine, it’s 5AM’. Just ‘zzzzz…’. This repaid a lot of accumulated sleep debt and after the first few days I felt like a completely new person. My energy was more steady throughout the day. My speech and decision making was more fluid. If you walk around in a fog for half the day your body is trying to tell you something. Find a way to make sleep happen.

It’s Good to Miss Your Family

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and this is especially true when it comes to your spouse and, if you have them, your kids and/or pets. Thankfully technology has come a long way in recent years and the ability to call, text and video chat from almost anywhere has eased this gap considerably. The amount of times I would be pining for one of their giggles and all I had to do was fire up FaceTime was life-changing. Despite this technological revolution there was absolutely no comparison to the running hugs I received at the airport which washed away all the stress of the trip instantly. The next two weeks were then packed with ultra-high quality time together as we reconnected over meals and playtime as they got me up-to-speed on the various events I had missed. It reminded me to never forget to make your family feel like you haven’t seen them in weeks, even if it’s only been a day.  

There was a lot I planned to do on this trip. I’d spent the previous two weeks filtering tasks to the “I’ll do this on the plane” and “I’ll take this to the beach” lists. Needless to say that almost NONE of that happened. At the time it was stressing me out that there were all these things I hadn’t got done. But then when I got home I realised that what I lost in perceived productivity I had gained in perspective. By taking a break from the details I had earned clarity on the bigger picture. It was a great opportunity to step away from to-do lists and deadlines and allow life to happen at its own pace. What did you learn the last time you took a break from your life?

Bonus Item: Timezones are Weird

Here’s a brain-scratcher for you. On my way home from Sydney I boarded a plane at 11AM and travelled for 20 hours only to land in Calgary at 12PM that same day. I barely slept on the plane and managed to stay awake until roughly 8PM that night. When you add that up, I was awake for almost 32 hours and it was March 18 the whole time. Whaaat..??

Geoff is a father of two busy kids under six. He is a writer, speaker and fitness professional living in Calgary, Canada.