Going outside is a good way to take a break from hectic environments like work or a busy home. However, breaks are few and far between in modern life, so natural breaks such as lunch are good times to try to otherwise regain control of all the currently running threads. Below are some tips on how to turn eating outside from a few one-off events into a good habit.
Find a body of water.
Near bodies of water, even swimming pools or fountains, adults tend to talk less because the water pulls attention away. Eating is then a leisurely activity where minds can wander.
Don’t bring too much water.
First, water’s heavy. Second, not having enough water is an incentive to come back to the real world, which is necessary when eating outside. Third, drinking less water means a relaxed trip back to the real world, not a rushed trip back to the nearest restroom.
Bring a lot of napkins.
Napkins are always useful, as fake gloves, mouth wipers, bench cleaners, bug killers, moisture absorbers, drink covers, plate covers, coasters, sanitary plates, and portion size references. Environmentalists shouldn’t fret; cloth napkins, compostable napkins, all kinds of napkins are useful. Just bring a lot.
Don’t look at the ground. Instead, look at the planes.
The ground is boring. Everything interesting is either three feet below ground or three feet above ground. A good way to get out of this habit is to look way up at the planes. Planes are so cool that parents take their kids to airports just to look at the flying machines. Planes tickle the part of the imagination that sees every human in the air flying with the planes. It’s an intoxicating image that can bring pleasant, youthful emotions.
Sit in a raised area.
Sitting on the ground is good for social events because when everyone’s on the floor everyone is more willing to talk. But this is about eating outside, a naturally personal activity. Sitting on a bench of seat removes the small tick to check for bugs or dirt.
Don’t bring a book.
Part of eating outside is enjoying the moments, and those moments are hard to enjoy when immersed in a completely different environment. Books create a magentic world that is great for being in that world, but that world pulls readers away from the in-the-moment outside world that is also worth enjoying.
Listen in to conversations.
Conversations between pairs of people are always interesting and provide a lot of the ambience around eating outside. Don’t participate, but observe.
Don’t look at the runners.
Especially nowadays, there are a lot of runners and joggers outside. Don’t look at them. Their ability to work out at that time brings out feelings of shame about not working out or otherwise being productive. In reality, they found their own downtime elsewhere, but it’s hard to remember that, so just don’t look at them.
Carry a backpack or tote bag.
Invariably it’s easier than having paper bags of food. Also nobody bothers someone with a backpack and food because everyone knows that is a signal of decompression. It’s also a good way to remember to carry important emergency items like sunscreen.
Get a cheap pair of sunglasses.
They should be no more than $5. Sunglasses that are wedding favors are great examples because they are always slightly ridiculous. Even when wearing prescription glasses, sunglasses are useful when the sun finds an opening in its eternal war against the clouds.
Think any thoughts, including sad thoughts.
Everyone knows it’s OK to not think about work. But the actual point is that it’s OK to think anything. Feeling regret about not being able to have the model family, reminiscing about old flings even while married, reconsidering an irreversible decision, all of that is fine. Nobody will ask what was thought when eating outside. It’s not taboo, it’s just a boring topic and odds are high that all those thoughts from eating outside evaoprate by the time someone asks. Think of these thoughts as the steam that you release from a pressure cooker, necessary in order for what’s inside to be able to breathe.
Bring something to jot down thoughts.
Most people will say to bring paper and a pen or pencil. The goal is to be able to hang onto threads that are worth revisiting. Ruminating about work, home, or even blog posts, the written word is far more permanent and reliable than the thought word. A phone’s OK for recording thoughts too. Speaking of phones, …
It’s OK to look at a phone, but don’t engage.
“Engage” means check any video websites (YouTube) or read news. Eating outside is a personal experience, but does not have to be a lonely one. Most friends are probably not even in the same city, so it’s OK to want to check how they’re doing. Just don’t play games on the phone.
Don’t bring more than three friends.
Groups larger than four can’t handle silence. The silent moments when eating outside are the moments where all the re-X happens (recentering, recharging, rebalancing, relaxing). Having a couple of friends is nice because they’ll all know to shut up. At four, it’s tenuous and at five it’s impossible. Catch up with friends in an active fashion later; eating outside is a passive activity.
Stretch during and after eating.
Stretching helps with breathing and digestion. Also, it’s a very “outside” thing because stretching implies taking over more space than is normally owned. It’s hard to stretch inside because invariably inside space is cramped. Outside space is not, and the converse sticks too: stretching gives the feeling of being outside in the open air.
Some of this advice might contradict each other, but that’s why they’re guidelines, not rules.