Broken Tools and Misused Words
Category : 2021
Words are like tools. Over time, misuse, neglect, and carelessness can render a tool or a word incapable of accomplishing its original purpose.
- If you use a screwdriver as a chisel enough times, you’ll need to buy a new screwdriver.
- Repeatedly tapping in nails with a crescent wrench will get the job done—and trash the wrench.
- Cut enough of the wrong stuff with a hand saw and its only use will be as a musical instrument in a country band, next to some dude playing rhythm with a clay jug.
Common words that are shop-worn and severely damaged by misuse or outright neglect include leisure, recreation, and downtime. In our hyper-speed business culture, we tend to throw these words into one bucket of meaning, making them synonyms for the same idea, while they hold vastly different meanings—and distinct value for us.
The word leisure debuted around the 14th century meaning time at one’s disposal, freedom from necessary occupations and doing something without haste or deliberation. There is nothing new to see there. Most of us think of leisure as time remaining after priorities are cared for, after work is done, or when we have “free time.”
The deeper meaning of leisure is hidden in its French and Latin origins where the root of the word means to “be allowed.” The original intent of leisure is time we allow for ourselves or give ourselves. Leisure is allocated purposefully, deliberately, even judiciously. Leisure isn’t something we get as a reward for what we’ve done. Leisure is something we give ourselves as an investment toward what we want to achieve. Making time for leisure recognizes there are always competing priorities with voices much louder than our mind or body’s cry for relief. By engaging in leisure, we choose to ignore the Siren’s call for more activity and allow ourselves to pause and engage in other pursuits.
We throw the word recreation around like an old hammer, thinking it is indestructible, so it doesn’t require much attention or maintenance. When we hear recreation originally meant to “create again, renew, regenerate,” we smile affirmingly, telling ourselves that’s what we think recreation means, so no big deal. The disconnect comes when we look at what we do in the name of recreation.
Early use of recreation included recovery from illness, invigorating, and restoring. For many people, efforts to re-create leave them more tired and in worse shape than they started. While sitting in a stadium consuming beer and bad pizza for three hours may be fun—it misses the mark for recreation. Netflix binging provides an enjoyable, perhaps desperately-needed distraction, but it falls far from the goal of recreation. A week of late-night partying at an exclusive resort looks far more re-creative on a website than the lame attempt at restoration it offers in real-time.
Our journey through the jungle of misused words takes on new intensity when we look at the word downtime. A casual dinner with friends, a visit to a museum, reading a good book, or channel-surfing on a Friday night are all ways people say they’re getting some “downtime.” Unfortunately, those activities don’t come close to capturing the intent of this important component of a healthy life.
Downtime has its origins in industry and manufacturing, referring to deliberate, planned periods during which a computer system, machine, or assembly line is taken out of action and unavailable for use. Downtime is costly, so like people, businesses don’t allocate predictive maintenance well and this neglect is estimated to cost companies $50 billion annually. When a piece of technology or equipment is not proactively given downtime, the machine takes it—usually at a very inopportune time and with greater expense to the business.
Our minds are far more complex and sophisticated than any piece of equipment, and they require deliberate, planned periods of inactivity to operate with optimum health and efficiency. Emerging research indicates the human brain has two important systems that operate together—and distinctly different from one another.
The Task Positive Network or TPN is active during attention-demanding activities. This system includes conscious attention toward our external environment, use of our senses, awareness of our internal condition, and the execution of mental and physical action. When we are at work, juggling a myriad of responsibilities, engaged in critical thinking and decision making, and implementing our latest strategic plan, the TPN is in full operation, giving us the cognitive skills we need for these executive functions.
The Default Mode Network or DMN becomes engaged when our focus goes inward rather than on our external world or circumstances. The DMN is linked to our ethical framework, memories, creativity, and how we define our sense of self. The regions of the brain linked to DMN becomes more active when we are alert, but not focused on or processing information—when we meditate, daydream, envision the future, or recall pleasant memories.
Here is where definitions become important. Scrolling through the last wave of posts on Facebook or Instagram is not downtime. Three hours of playing video games is not downtime. Posting a dozen Tic Tok videos is not downtime. These activities all demand attention and while they may be ways to use leisure, they are not downtime.
Genuine downtime is like allocating time to predictive maintenance in a factory. Deliberately choosing to energize memory, creative thinking, and purposeful daydreaming can make a significant contribution to our effectiveness when we again focus the TPN toward cognitively challenging responsibilities. Without adding needless angst, research by the National Institutes of Health is exploring whether common neurologic challenges like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and mood disorders may have links to dysfunction or disease in the DMN.
To function at full capacity and capability, our bodies need what leisure and recreation provide. To engage with full mental strength and capability, our minds need another kind of leisure, a purposeful shift from that which demands attention to mental actions that refresh our emotional systems and ensure that when we make critical decisions in life and business, we are acting with the confidence that body and mind are working in full cooperation.