My wife and I have a trip planned. Not just any trip, but what I consider a real trip. It will be our first real trip since the beginning of the pandemic — roughly two years. And just having that trip on our schedule has made life in a chaotic, stress-filled world seem a little bit better.
No, make that a whole lot better.
When I was an executive with Prologis, and especially when I was CEO, my calendar was filled with appointments that took me away from our home in Denver. Prologis is a global company in the warehousing industry, so I travelled internationally as much as 12 times a year. Add in a few family adventures and you can see how travel got into my blood.
After I retired from Prologis, Sue and I began making a couple of bucket-list trips each year. Covid put a temporary stop to that. We’ve made one brief trip to Mexico, but otherwise we haven’t been outside the United States since 2019. So as you might image, getting the final confirmation for our trip in 2022 to Africa was a huge deal for us.
There’s something almost magical about the way a decision regarding the future can impact our attitude today. It’s not magic, of course. Our wiring as human beings draws us toward those things that involve a positive future. That’s why there’s such a huge emphasis these days on purpose, personal and organizational.
You don’t have to plan a trip to Africa to experience this positive vibe, but I highly recommend finding something – or some things, if possible – that you can point to in 2022 that you truly look forward to experiencing. And if you are a leader who shapes policies for employees, help them create some mile markers in their future, as well.
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Travel is an obvious option. Researchers tell us there are all sorts of mental benefits to vacationing somewhere new – it improves our ability to empathize with others, gives us energy, helps us focus, reduces stress, improves our mood, and increases our creativity.
But it’s not just going that boosts our spirits. A 2014 study by University of Cornwall researchers Amit Kuma, Matthew Killingsworth and Thomas Gilovich found that anticipating an experience (like a trip) makes us far happier than making an immediate material purchase. This aligns with a 2002 University of Surrey study by David Gilbert and Junaida Abdullah.
“It appears that those who are waiting to go on a holiday are much happier with their life as a whole, experience less negative or unpleasant feelings and thus enjoy an overall net positive effect or pleasant feelings,” they wrote.
Planned experiences, like travel, give us something we can talk about with other people and something to anticipate as we work through the routines of life.
“Since we know a trip has a defined start and end, our minds are prone to savor it, even before it’s started,” Killingsworth said in an interview with National Geographic. In fact, he added, we often start to experience the trip before it even begins. “In a sense, we start to ‘consume’ a trip as soon as we start thinking about it,” he said. “When we imagine eating gelato in a piazza in Rome or going water skiing with friends we don’t see as much as we’d like, we get to experience a version of those events in our mind.”
I’ve found that it’s also helpful to have work-related, forward-focused experiences on our calendars. During the pandemic, with uncertainty reigning supreme, it’s been challenging to look to the future and suggest that “this is when we will experience a period of renewal.” But people need that type of hope, or else fatigue and frustration set in. I suspect the head-down, survive-today focus during the pandemic has led to much of the personal soul-searching that has created what’s been dubbed the “great resignation.”
When we faced bankruptcy at Prologis during the Great Recession, we had a dark stretch where hope for the future was hard to see. But there came a time when we, as leaders, were able to point people toward a day when we would emerge from the darkness. For us, I knew we were out of the woods when we restructured our bond covenants with our bond holders almost a year after I took over. My CFO looked more relieved than I had seen him in a long time. His expression said it all. That’s when we began to go from survive to thrive.
That day looks different for every organization, but the sooner you can find it, define it, and share it, the sooner people can begin to experience it — even if it won’t actually happen for months.
We aren’t promised tomorrow, of course, and we can’t control what happens in the future. We need to be OK with surrendering the outcomes of life. But we can plan. We can anticipate. And we can begin to enjoy now those moments we hope to experience if providence is gracious enough to allow them to happen.