THE BLOG
07/14/2010 03:37 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Geographical: How Short Breaks Can Have Long-Term Gains

"The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken." --Samuel Johnson

Today, I was the singing praises about my current Geographical to a couch full of lovely, tanned 30-year-olds. They looked at me confused and asked, "What is a Geographical?" I was shocked. A Geographical has been a mainstay of my mental health regime for decades. I googled "Geographical" but nothing that fit my definition of the word showed up in the results.

So, let me introduce you to the Geographical.

I recently left my hometown of New York City for two weeks in Los Angeles. I left with a whole set of preoccupations that I had been chewing on for quite a while: a back pain that wouldn't go away, and a back log of tasks I felt like I was drowning under. Within two days of landing in Los Angeles, I had forgotten what was engulfing every moment of my day in New York, and I was filled with creative passion. With my sleep improved, I felt outgoing--unusual for me--and I connected with myself and everyone else in a new, exciting way. Also, I realized I needed a new pillow for my couch where I work, since my back pain disappeared even though I had been on a seven hour flight.

What happened? The Geographical or, simply put, a change in location.

When you leave the maze of everyday life for new people, places and things, you change. The minute you hit the ground somewhere new, the restrictive patterns of your day and habits break open to allow something new to emerge. Habits fill a need but not always a real one. Everyone has vestigial habits that respond to a need or a threat that is long gone. Habits, however, are often cued by environment. So if you change the place, you change the person. In fact, there's an old saying that you are a different person for every language you speak.

I am not the first person to recognize the importance of the Geographical. In fact, an article in the Boston Globe sites research that says stopping and starting a pleasurable or painful experience increases the intensity of the experience. What does this mean for you? Short, frequent, pleasurable breaks in your life can have intense rewards, especially if you commit to restructuring how you think and deal with the dysfunctional parts of your life before you leave.

Before you leave, make a plan for change. Commit to coming back home with a different attitude to a different set of circumstances. Schedule the days following your return before you leave and, when needed, ask for a little extra support. Pinpoint the stressors and structure solutions and mental shifts that can be experienced on your break. Often, simply changing what is going on around you can have an intense effect on your ability to break a bad habit you have at home. When you take a Geographical, take it with a goal that's not so overwhelming so that you ruin the pleasure, but a tiny change that you find hard to make at home.

Have you been over-focused on a problem? Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you want to start that novel or learn to flirt?

Try making the first step a Geographical, even if it is only for a weekend. The old cues built into your daily routine will be limited in a new location and you can consciously put new practices in place to break old patterns. Often the location itself does this for you because it requires you to shift from your regular routine, but the after effects can be long-lasting.

Take a Geographical that challenges the beliefs that are bothering you. Do you think you will never fall in love, be creative, find peace, or enjoy exercise? Whatever it is, go somewhere that will give you a chance to be in an environment that supports the opposite view of your current self-defeating obsession. Then get ready to wrap your head around the new experiences and your responses!

Choose someplace that's unfamiliar to you, but where you are likely to shine. For example, if you are single, female and a little older, you might find a deal on a weekend trip to Phoenix, Arizona where there's a surplus of single men. If you want to write, find a university town where coffee shop ideas flow and everyone is working on their first novel. If you need a little spirituality to answer your daily grind, try a deal in Sedona to try a free workshop at a yoga center or a spiritual retreat.

Even a short break close to home can do the trick. Find one of the little day trips tourists like to do in your own city and sign up. Cities have a tempo and being with out-of-towners, even when you live in town, can help you change your beat in a positive way and make new friends for your next Geographical.

Sometimes, you don't experience the full import of the changes and experiences you want from the Geographical while you're away. Instead, you might challenge your patterns and acquire the flexibility to create new things on your return while preparing yourself to make your next Geographical even more productive.

Although I'm taking this Geographical with my son, the next one will be alone since he will be leaving for college. When you have someone familiar with you, it's less likely you will be able to shed the old you completely for a new-and-improved version. If you have the courage to go it alone, you may discover a person within you that you are delighted to meet!

Laura Day is the New York Times best selling author of Practical Intuition and How to Rule the World From Your Couch. The Independent called her "The Psychic of Wall Street". Laura has been featured on Oprah, CNN, Good Morning America, ABC News in Newsweek, Wall Street Journal and other national and international media.