Last year I felt like Alice in Wonderland stepping through the looking glass, and returning to think it was all a dream.

I had scheduled two very different events back to back – a conference and a trip to South America.

My husband and I celebrated twenty years of marriage by climbing Machu Picchu in Peru. It was a jaw-dropping experience, definitely one for the memory bank.

We also feel absolutely in love with the people of Peru and hope to return again some day, if only to go to Mass again at the Iglesias de Torrechayoc church in Urubamba.

We left on our trip early on a Wednesday morning, but the four days just prior to that, I attended the annual Social Media Marketing World (#SMMW16) conference in San Diego.

For the most part, I was able to compartmentalize what was happening and keep myself on track, a trick my test-pilot husband can do with expert precision but one I’m still working on.

The only downfall was I packed for our trip the night before we left and ended up with half the wrong clothes.

We always travel using only carry-on bags, which has saved us many headaches when our flights were cancelled or delayed in foreign countries.

(Of course, after spending two weeks living out of a carry-on bag I usually want to burn every, single item as soon as I get home!)

Anyway, those two very different events gave me a renewed perspective about my goals and a laser-like focus on how to make them happen.

Back Away

Anytime I step away from the daily grind, it’s like coming up for air.

Sometimes I can achieve the same result simply taking my dog to the beach and letting my mind wander. Changing the environment is always like basking in mental oxygen.

When I was stationed in Hawaii as a Naval Officer, I made it a habit to drive around the entire island at least once a month.

Oahu is a fairly big island and the trip takes an entire day, but the change in views and climates was enough to feel like I’d been gone for a week.

From the dry, desert-like west side to the lush mountains on the north shore, to the party-like hustle of Waikiki, getting out of my normal routine always renewed my soul and helped me return to work with the right mindset.

As we stood on the rocks of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains, over eleven thousand feet above the Sacred Valley, we struggled to find words to adequately describe the sense of wonder and awe we felt at that moment.

The grandeur inspired us.

Despite the normal stresses of life, we felt renewed and reinvigorated to return home.

We had been refreshed and uplifted.

Turns out, that’s not an accident.

In 2012, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Minnesota published a study in the Psychological Science journal (doi: 10.1177/0956797612438731). Results from the study (called Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being) were not surprising.

Experiencing awe “brings us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions, and makes life feel more satisfying.”

And that can do wonders for our creativity.

That sense of renewal goes a long way to keeping the mental monkeys at bay.

If you work in solitude, or if your executive leadership role makes it lonely at the top, changing up your environment, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day, will help you release the crazies and renew your mental energy.

As a leader, your mindset directly impacts your people.

Whether they are employees in a large corporation or your kids that sleep down the hall.

Yeah, I know the day-to-day tends to take over, we’re all crazy-busy being crazy busy. Some days I’m amazed I got anything done.

If that’s your life too, deliberately schedule a few 10 minutes breaks.

Seriously, put them on your calendar.

Set an alarm.

Force yourself to back away from whatever consumes you and go breathe in a fresh perspective. Renew that part of you that’s been buried under a sea of stress.

Anything that’s good for the soul is good for the mind.

A mindset shift will almost always lead to better decisions. And that’s just got to make you a leader others want to follow.

Dr. Ann Vertel is a personal leadership expert, business psychologist, keynote speaker, and 20-year Naval Officer who helps individuals and organizations develop positive, resilient leaders who think bigger, act bolder, and take charge. Learn more at

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  • Ann Vertel, Ph.D.

    Business Psychologist | Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Ann Vertel is a business psychologist, human behavior expert, keynote speaker, corporate trainer, leadership consultant, 20-year Naval Officer, and the Founder of American Women in Business. She works with leaders and organizations who want to leverage the power of personal development to bring out the best in their people and create a culture of excellence. Her unusual combination of encouragement, experience, and expertise will help you think bigger, act bolder, and take charge of your success. Learn more at