Do you, like many of us at Selective Asia HQ, return home from your holidays in Asia full of new purpose? Invigorated with fresh determination? Certain that, from now on, you really are going to lead a better, more balanced, more satisfying lifestyle?
And then a fortnight later you’re back on the caffeine, already missing those early morning runs/yoga/pilates sessions, and gulping down sandwiches at your desk instead of going out for fresh air and interesting lunches.
It’s easy to guess at why this happens. When you’re on holiday, free from obligations, routines, time constraints and - well, work - you can explore your ideal lifestyle far more easily. Within days, even hours of being away, you start to feel the benefits: good weather, unfamiliar experiences, meeting new people, and absorbing their fascinating cultures, priorities and ways of life.
During your travels in Asia, you’ll very possibly be staying in unique hotels; inspiring environments that often adhere to traditional feng shui laws, which (whether you believe in their more esoteric claims or not) tend to create graceful, uncluttered spaces where relaxation comes naturally.
Most importantly for me is the delectable Asian cuisine I enjoy so much throughout my travels. As inspirational and delicious as it is healthy, it’s always beautifully presented, and I find myself introduced to exciting new flavours, combinations and ideas on a near daily basis.
All good stuff to take home, and integrate into our everyday lifestyles.
So why is doing that so difficult? If you’re no stranger to these positive forces, you’re probably also familiar with how quickly one tends to slump back into old routines and less purposeful/downright bad habits.
Those plans you mused on while kicking back on Hoi An’s beaches, discussed en route to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, and committed to during a morning at one of Chiang Mai’s cooking schools… the reality is that once you’re home, back on the commuter train or hustling the kids off to school, realising your ideal lifestyle becomes much harder.
Let’s pause a moment here - this is all getting a bit maudlin. It’s very important not to beat yourself up over some apparent uselessness, because the chances are that doing so will end in soothing yourself with unhealthy habits, sapping your appetite for change.
Most of us are living the way we are because we grew up with certain expectations that we - automatically, perhaps - strove to meet. Typically we reach our current state progressively, and aren’t just dropped into position. Thus, evolving in a new direction takes some time and conscious experimentation.
It’s also useful to remember that an overly familiar routine can grow boring simply because of your brain chemistry. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released when you have a rewarding experience - food, a gift, a paycheque, someone laughs at your joke - but it’s released in much higher quantities when you’re not expectingthat reward. When the reward is a dead cert, dopamine may not even be released at all. So of course life feels more rewarding when you’re off in an unfamiliar country, seeing unpredicted sights and experiencing unfamiliar sensory rewards almost every moment.
(this pleases me because it justifies my belief that we shouldn’t research our destinations too much before we visit them!)
That was the science bit. Perhaps it can help us capture that incredible surge of positivity and good intent, and bring it home with us. There is a scientific justification for regularly trying new things and continually tweaking our habits once we’re home!
It’s true that, unless you are especially commitment-phobic, some parts of your life must stay relatively stable. Selling your house and hightailing it to Cambodia may not be the answer - at least, not immediately. Anyway, your lifestyle is a product of your habits, mental and physical - moving somewhere else by no means guarantees personal change.
I find that setting goals and starting immediately are really helpful, although you may need to introduce a number of small changes gradually if they’re going to stick. This is about shifting your whole routine, and maybe your habitat, rather than trying to cram one more obligation into your schedule without making room for it.
But one change can set the whole shift in motion.
On a recent trip to Vietnam, I was running most days in the morning - through the soon to be packed market streets of Hoi An’s Old Quarter, on the near deserted beaches of Phu Quoc, as the sun rose on the horizon.
The sunrise back in Brighton is not quite as warm (and the beach certainly not as sandy) but I kept up a similar routine (although, already, it has become every other day). This one change inspired me to keep a closer eye on what I’m eating, and stick to my plans to recreate a few of the dishes I learnt at the Redbridge Cooking School in Hoi An.
If eating better was on the list, don’t expect to find what you need in the ready-meals aisle - it’s time to get in the kitchen, cook up some Thai treats, or if you can’t stomach your own efforts perhaps enrol in a local cooking course.
Many of us read a lot more than usual whilst away, and simply don’t find the time to once home - but it’s no coincidence that we also don’t watch much (if any) TV (or browse the web so much, either). Just staying away from the gadgets and gizmos can free up a surprising amount of spare time for unfamiliar experiences and developing healthier habits.
I could list all kinds of resolutions we make whilst on holiday - learn more, relax more, make more time for each other, travel more - but remember to balance “more” of the good stuff with “less” of what isn’t working for you.
If you’re struggling to maintain the ideal balance you found when you were away, perhaps this will help. I read about an interesting thought experiment the other day; instead of trying to decide what to get rid of, imagine you’ve lost everything - what would you want back?