Transition Time

I’m getting ready to leave on a trip out of the country, and I find myself looking forward to the airplane flight. Is it perverse to look forward to 8 hours stuck on a plane, with uncomfortable seats, so-so food and potentially irritating fellow passengers? Maybe, but the reason I’m anticipating it is because of the time it will give me to shift my perspective from the hustle and bustle of home/work/pre-trip preparation to the rhythm of days spent seeing new things and mastering unfamiliar cities.

Skipping transition time can make it more difficult to change tasks. From the toddler who has a tantrum when a play date abruptly ends, to the adult who has to go from meeting to meeting all day, everyone needs space to process change. When we don’t leave enough time before and after each activity, stress is often the result, either because we can’t stick to our hectic schedules, or because we just don’t have time to think.

When we experience stress in the emotional center of the brain, other executive functions of the brain are affected almost immediately. It’s harder to focus, we have trouble making decisions, and our ability to engage in abstract thinking is compromised. Some people can recover more quickly if they are psychologically resilient, but that usually is a result of a temperament you’re born with, or practicing stress management.

That brings me back to transition time as part of a stress management plan. It provides a psychological break between one thing and another that can allow us to process what just happened and to organize our thinking for what’s about to happen. It can also nurture our creativity. The Japanese chef and restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa travels all over the world regularly. He said in a recent interview that, “I actually prefer a longer flight to a short one. That way I have time to read a book, watch movies, and think about new dishes.” If he didn’t have that time to just relax and think, would his restaurants be as successful as they are?

In this era of 24/7 availability, it is also welcome to have time on planes to be quiet. Although the advent of WiFi on planes has made it easier (and perhaps expected) that people will work during a flight, at least there are still no ringing and buzzing cell phones. We can all have a short break from immediate access.

My time during the flight will be spent with a book, maybe a game of Sudoku, and I hope, some sleep. I will enjoy hearing the accents of the Scandinavian flight attendants, adjusting my ear to the voices I will hear when I arrive. I’ll have time to breathe, to re-set my brain, and get ready to discover what the days ahead hold for me.

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