Long before the concept of Happy Hour, pre-dinner cocktails were strictly tools for digestion. The word aperitif comes from the Latin word, “apreier,” which means, “to open.” It wasn’t until the summer of 1796 when Italian distiller Antonio Carpano invented vermouthd that villagers began stopping by his wine shop after work to wet their whistles and trade stories of the day.
Using his knowledge as an herbalist, Carpano infused white wine with spices to create something lighter and sweeter than the heavy reds of the time. When he stepped out of the damp wine cellar and into the sunshine with his new creation, he knew he had stumbled upon something amazing. Soon, the King himself would be ordering cases by the week and Carpano’s little wine bar would be open 24 hours a day.
Vermouth not only became a tastier tool for digestion but also ushered in a new ritual around how to end the workday. The aperitif is now an homage to transition. It signals the shift from busy afternoon to relaxed evening. It’s a dedicated intermission, punctuating the space between the end of an act and the beginning of a new train of thought.
It’s easier than ever for the sections of our day to bleed together. We can respond to pesky emails from our phone as we walk into our next meeting, take conference calls from the car, and toe the line of cognitive burnout with a scroll of the thumb. We neglect to punctuate the space between our tasks until our days become one long, run-on sentence.
If the vermouth stained pages of history can teach us anything, it’s that a few well-timed pauses can make a big difference. Attaching rituals as we transition from one block of time to the next, opens up more space. More space to exhale, to notice, and to recognize what’s been done and what still needs doing.
Sometimes more is more. And by adding space, mini-rituals, and dedicated breaks on the page, we can produce cleaner and clearer blocks of productivity than ever before.
The good news is we already have mini-rituals sprinkled between the chapters of our day. The problem is that we don’t identify them as moments of transition. They become unconscious habits rather than deliberate shifts in focus.
Shinzen Young is a meditation teacher who blends mindfulness with neuroscience at Harvard and Carnegie Melon and is the author of, The Science of Enlightenment. If you ask him about the quickest path to enlightenment he’ll tell you: Just Note Gone.
Most people are aware of the moment when a sensory event starts but seldom aware of the moment when it vanishes. We are instantly drawn to a new sound, or new sight, or a new body sensation but seldom notice when the previous [sensation] disappears.
The “Just Note Gone” technique is simple — “Whenever a sensory experience — a sound, a sight, a body sensation — suddenly disappears, make a note of it.”
If the path to enlightenment lies in the act of just noticing, a massive overhaul of our habits may not necessary. Short mental signals or physical movements can be enough to transition with awareness. Listening to the same song every day to get in the zone, a quick walk around the block, a simple mantra — these are all tools for the conscious spacing of actions and ideas.
When we separate our blocks of time with ritual, a simple coffee break becomes more than a caffeine fix. It becomes a deliberate transition and an acknowledgment of the present moment.
There’s plenty of data that reports how “disengaging” from mental work can actually increase brain activity, particularly when it comes to being creative. Those in the shower, Ah-ha moments happen because we’re giving our minds room to meander.
Rushing past the finish line of one activity only to start the next keeps our attention flowing outward. Relaxing our minds, however, gives our brain a chance to look inward and make new, insightful connections. Muscles grow between workouts, during rest periods. Our subconscious doesn’t get a chance to work it’s creative magic when we’re constantly engaged in a conscious problem-solving.
It’s in the tiny intermissions between our productivity that creative magic happens.
Perhaps the most important transition of the day is how we decide to close up shop. In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport writes about an experiment in which he gave himself a work curfew of 5 pm each day. His ritual was to stand up and proclaim in a silly robot voice, “I am now powering down.”
Newport writes that his self-imposed work curfew not only increased his productivity, but gave him more space for relaxation, creativity, and much needed mental idleness.
With vermouth, Carpano unintentionally created a new way for people to make space between their work day and home life. The afternoon cocktail became a dedicated hour of reflection, socializing, and spacing of events.
Creating min-rituals, “Just Noting Gone”, and powering down in a robot voice are just a few ways to punctuate time. Find what works for you. And if nothing else, grab the vermouth and raise a glass to the timeless art of transition.