- ‘Reboot’ Your Brain and Refresh Your Focus in 15 Minutes or Less
- Why It’s Important to Schedule More Downtime for Your Brain
- Give Your Mind a Rest: Practice Not-Thinking
- Human thought and lifestyle within a certain time period or place is known as a
- How to Break a Bad Habit and Retrain Your Brain
- How habits form
- Breaking down a habit with these 3 easy steps
- How to improve your memory and give your brain a break
- There’s a reason you can solve problems and have great ideas when you are relaxed.
- This Image Can Break Your Brain And Alter Your Vision
- Why Your Mind Needs a Break
- Why Your Brain Needs Idle Time
- How To Give Your Brain A Break Without The Guilt
- Cerebral Congestion: Why Giving Your Brain a Break Improves Productivity
‘Reboot’ Your Brain and Refresh Your Focus in 15 Minutes or Less
October 16, 2013 4 min read Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Ever wish you could hit the reset button on your brain the way you do when you reboot your computer? Marissa Vicario, a New York-based certified health and wellness coach, says it’s not only possible; it should be a regular part of your day.
“As an entrepreneur, it’s important to take care of yourself,” she says. “If you aren’t at your best, the people you serve and the people who work for you can’t be at their best either.”
Vicario suggests building specific moments into your day to step away and clear your mind. Here are five quick things you can do to refresh your focus:
1. Take a walk outside.
When you sit still, your body systems are at rest, says Vicario. Moving your body helps wake up your mitochondria, the part of your cells that generate energy. She says taking a brisk walk several times per week can make your mitochondria double in size, which helps the body produce more energy. The combination of fresh air and exercise also stimulates blood flow to the brain so you can re-gain clarity and focus.
“If you’re stuck on a problem or are having difficulty thinking creatively, getting up and walking around can give you a completely different perspective,” says Vicario. And if you can’t get outside for a walk, do a lap or two around the office or even stretch at your desk. Just moving your body helps.
2. Drink a glass of water.
Most Americans are chronically dehydrated, says Vicario, and studies show dehydration can slow down brain function.
“If you find you’re lacking focus, taking a break for a glass of water can perk you up just like watering a plant,” she says.
Vicario suggests drinking in ounces half your body weight each day. For example, a 120-pound woman should have 60 ounces of water a day, or about eight 8-ounce glasses. If the taste bores you, add mint leaves or slices of lemon, orange, lime or cucumbers.
Related: How to Achieve a State of Total Concentration
3. Breathe in or diffuse lemon essential oil.
Keep a small bottle of lemon essential oil at your desk, suggests Vicario, and inhale it from the bottle or add a drop to a cotton ball. This will naturally refocus your mind.
“Citrus or spicy scents stimulate the nervous system and reenergize you,” says Vicario. Eucalyptus and rosemary can also have a similar effect.
4. Eat something healthy.
A healthy snack can stabilize blood sugar, stave off hunger pangs and assist with healthy brain function. Vicario suggests keeping trail mix, nuts, seeds and dried fruit in your desk. Other healthy snacks include a piece of whole grain toast with avocado, celery sticks and nut butter.
“The snack should have protein and carbohydrates, which will help balance your blood sugar,” she says. Foods that are high in sugar will cause a quick spike and drop in your blood sugar. This will create a cycle of feeling energized and then tired, which is draining over the course of the day.
5. Take a nap.
When you’re your own boss, a quick nap is something you can schedule into your day. A 20-minute nap provides significant benefits for improved alertness and performance, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While research shows that it can refresh the mind and boost creativity, you shouldn’t let yourself snooze longer.
“If you sleep longer than 20 minutes, you’ll wake up groggy,” says Vicario. “If you are constantly needing a nap, though, it’s time to get more sleep at night.”
Related: 4 Strategies to Sharpen Your Focus
Why It’s Important to Schedule More Downtime for Your Brain
Why You *Really* Need A Break
Time off is what your brain thrives on. It spends hours every day working and managing the constant streams of information and conversation that come at you from all directions. But if your brain doesn’t get a chance to chill and restore itself, your mood, performance, and health suffer. Think of this recovery as mental downtime—periods when you’re not actively focusing on and engaged in the outside world. You simply let your mind wander or daydream and it becomes reenergized in the process. (Up Next: Why Taking Extended Time Off Is Good for Your Health)
But just as we’re falling short on sleep, Americans are getting less mental downtime than ever. In a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83 percent of respondents said they spent no time during the day relaxing or thinking. “People treat themselves like machines,” says Matthew Edlund, M.D., the author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone Is Not Enough. “They consistently overschedule, overwork, and overdo.”
This is especially true for active women, who tend to go just as hard in the rest of their lives as they do in their workouts because they’re motivated and driven, says Danielle Shelov, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City. “They think the best way to succeed is by doing as many productive things as possible,” she says.
That kind of attitude can rebound on you, though. Consider the zombie-like feeling you have after a marathon meeting at work, a crazy-busy day running errands and doing chores, or a weekend filled with too many social gatherings and obligations. You can barely think straight, you end up accomplishing less than you had planned, and you become forgetful and make mistakes. A full-throttle lifestyle can chisel away at productivity, creativity, and happiness, says Stew Friedman, Ph.D., the director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Leading the Life You Want. “The mind needs rest,” he says. “Research shows that after you take a mental time-out, you are better at creative thinking and coming up with solutions and new ideas, and you feel more content.” (Here’s why burnout should be taken seriously.)
Your brain is actually designed to have regular rest periods. Overall, it has two main modes of processing. One is action-oriented and lets you concentrate on tasks, solve problems, and process incoming data—this is what you use when you’re working, watching TV, scrolling through Instagram, or otherwise managing and making sense of information. The second is called the default mode network (DMN), and it switches on whenever your mind takes a break to wander inward. If you’ve ever read a few pages of a book and then realized you haven’t absorbed anything because you were thinking about something totally unrelated, like the best place to go for tacos or what to wear tomorrow, that was your DMN taking over. (Try these superfoods that will boost your brain power.)
The DMN can switch on and off in the blink of an eye, research shows. But you can also be in it for hours, during, say, a quiet walk in the woods. Either way, spending time in your DMN every day is critical: “It creates rejuvenation in the brain, when you can chew on or consolidate information and make meaning out of what’s going on in your life,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D., an associate professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute. “It helps you make sense of who you are, what actions to do next, and what things mean, and it’s linked to well-being, intelligence, and creativity.”
The DMN gives your mind a chance to reflect and sort things out. It helps you expand on and solidify lessons you’ve learned, think about and plan for the future, and work out problems. Anytime you get stuck on something and give up on it only to be struck with an aha moment later on, you may have your DMN to thank, says Jonathan Schooler, Ph.D., a professor of psychological and brain sciences and the director of the Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In a study on writers and physicists, Schooler and his team found that 30 percent of the group’s creative ideas originated while they were thinking about or doing something unrelated to their jobs.
In addition, the DMN also plays a key role in forming memories. In fact, your brain may be busier forming memories in the quiet time right before you fall asleep (a prime DMN period) than when you’re actually sleeping, a study from the University of Bonn in Germany suggests.
Get in the Zone
It’s important to give your brain a break numerous times throughout the day, experts say. While there’s no hard-and-fast prescription, Friedman suggests aiming for a rest period about every 90 minutes or whenever you start to feel drained, are unable to concentrate, or are stuck on a problem.
No matter how busy you get, don’t sacrifice activities that really revitalize you, like a quiet bike ride in the morning, a lunch break away from your desk, or a relaxing evening at home. And don’t skip vacations or days off. “The key is to stop thinking that downtime is a luxury that’s taking away from your productivity,” Immordino-Yang says. In fact, just the opposite is true. “When you invest in downtime to consolidate information and construct meaning out of your life, you charge back into your day-to-day rejuvenated and more strategic about what you want to accomplish.”
Here are some other proven ways to get the mental refresh you need every day:
Take action. Washing dishes, gardening, going for a walk, painting a room—these types of activities are fertile ground for your DMN, Schooler says. “People have a hard time daydreaming when they’re doing absolutely nothing,” he says. “They tend to feel guilty or bored. Nondemanding tasks give you a greater mental refresh because you’re not so restless.” Next time you’re folding laundry, let your mind wander.
Ignore your phone. Like most of us, you probably pull out your phone whenever you’re bored, but that habit is robbing you of precious mental downtime. Take a screen break. When you’re running errands, stash your phone away (so that you’ll have it if you really need it), then ignore it for as long as you can. Notice how it feels to not be distracted and the way you can daydream when you’re doing things like waiting in line. Friedman, who asks his students to try this as an experiment, says people inevitably feel anxious at first. “But after a little while, they start to take deeper, more relaxing breaths and begin to observe the world around them,” he says. “Many realize how much they use their phones as a crutch whenever they’re nervous or bored.” What’s more, allowing your brain to drift at times like this may actually help you stay more focused and present when you need to be, such as during an endless but important meeting at work, Schooler says.
Be a little less connected. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat are like chocolate: Some is good for you, but too much can be trouble. “Social media is the biggest killer of downtime, period,” Shelov says. “Plus, it can work against you because you see only the perfection in people’s lives. That makes you anxious.” Even more stressful are all those upsetting news stories in your Facebook feed. Track your social media usage for a few days to see exactly how much time you’re spending on it and how it makes you feel. If necessary, set limits for yourself—no more than 45 minutes a day, for instance—or cull your friends list, saving just those people you truly enjoy keeping up with. (Did you know that Facebook and Twitter rolled out new features to protect your mental health?)
Choose nature over concrete. Letting your mind wander while you’re strolling through a park is more restorative than when you’re walking down a street, according to research from the University of Michigan. Why? Urban and suburban environments assault you with distractions—honking horns, cars, and people. But a green space has soothing sounds, such as birds chirping and trees rustling in the wind, that you can choose to pay attention to or not, giving your brain more freedom to roam where it wants to go. (BTW, there are plenty of science-backed ways getting in touch with nature boosts your health.)
Peace out. The mindfulness you get through meditation delivers important restorative benefits to your brain, studies show. But that doesn’t mean you need to carve out a half-hour to sit in a corner and chant. “There are plenty of rest and relaxation techniques that you can do in under a minute,” Dr. Edlund says. For example, focus on the tiny muscles in different areas of your body for 10 to 15 seconds each, he says. Or every time you take a drink of water, think about how it tastes and feels. Doing this is equivalent to giving your mind a mini recess, Friedman says.
Follow your bliss. DMN isn’t the only kind of mental break you benefit from. Doing things you love, even if they require some focus—reading, playing tennis or piano, going to a concert with friends—can also be rejuvenating, says Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., the director of the Media Psychology Research Center in California. “Think about which activities fulfill and energize you,” she says. “Build in time for that enjoyment and to experience the positive emotions that come from them.” (Use that list of things you love to cut out all the stuff you hate—and here’s why you should stop doing things you hate once and for all.)
- By Beth Janes
Give Your Mind a Rest: Practice Not-Thinking
“Not-thinking?” you might be asking. “Why would I want to do that?”
Of course, we need to think. If you and I weren’t thinkers, I couldn’t have written this piece and you wouldn’t be able to read it. In addition, thinking about the past and the future is essential at times so that we can make wise decisions about our lives. No one wants to—nor is able to–put an end to thinking.
That said, there are benefits to intentionally practicing what I call not-thinking.
Discursive thinking—the constant stream of one thought following another—is a deeply ingrained habit. It’s so ingrained that we often start thinking just to occupy our minds. Many years ago, I remember going on vacation and saying to myself, “It will be great not to have to think about all the stresses at work.” But it didn’t take long for other stressful thoughts to rush in to fill that void.
It’s an act of self-care to take a break from discursive thinking now and then, even during our waking hours. The practice of not-thinking is restful, calming, and restorative. In the words of Ayya Khema, one of my first Buddhist teachers:
If we didn’t give the body a rest at night, it wouldn’t function very long. The only time the mind can have a real rest is when it stops thinking and only experiences. Once verbalization stops for a moment, not only is there quiet but there is a feeling of contentment. That quiet, peaceful space is the mind’s home. It can go home and relax just as we do after a day’s work when we relax the body in an easy chair.
Here are three ways to practice not-thinking, followed by two tips to help you with the practice. All five are forms of mindfulness practice.
I hope you’ll try these suggestions for a few minutes, several times a day; almost any time and any place will do. It takes practice because we’re surprisingly addicted to discursive thinking.
1. Open your five sense doors to whatever is happening around you.
When you’re lost in thought, it’s easy to forget that there are five experiences available to you aside from analytical thinking. Those experiences are: what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling physically. Let your attention rest on whatever sensory input is most predominant at the moment. It might be the sight of an art print on the wall. It might be the murmur of a conversation nearby. It might be the smell and taste of an apple you’re eating. It might be the physical sensation on your skin of the clothes you’re wearing.
When you try this, if you drift back into discursive thinking, simply note it without aversion or judgment and return your attention to what’s going on at the five sense doors.
As you become skilled at this practice, you can get bold and instruct your mind to stop thinking by trying a practice I call “drop it” in my books. In short, when you notice that your mind is caught up in thoughts, gently but firmly say “drop it.” Then immediately direct your attention to what is happening right around you.
As an alternative to resting your attention on what is most predominant in your experience, you could try the more structured practice I wrote about in “Five Minutes of Mindfulness Magic.” In that piece, you’ll find an exercise that guides your awareness systematically from one sensory experience to another.
Left unattended, the mind tends to dwell on thoughts about the past and the future. But if you consciously put your attention on the many sensory inputs all around you, you can take yourself out of discursive thinking mode. This is relaxing and renewing on a deep level.
2. Open the hand of thought.
Zen teacher Kosho Uchiyama wrote a book called Opening the Hand of Thought. I use this phrase to practice not-thinking. When I realize I’m lost in unproductive discursive thinking, I’ll open my hand and lightly blow on my palm as if I’m dispersing the thoughts into the air like dandelion seeds. I imagine all my trivial concerns and opinions blowing out of my mind, leaving me free to experience the world without the burden of analyzing every moment of my experience. When I do this, I can feel my mind relax and, just like Ayya Khema said would happen, a feeling of contentment arises.
3. Let the world speak for itself.
I learned this from the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. She practices “letting the world speak for itself” when she’s in places like airports where she has a wait ahead of her. Instead of picking up something to read or getting lost in thoughts about the past and the future, she just sits and watches what’s going on around her.
When I find myself in a waiting room, instead of giving in to that ingrained habit of picking up a magazine, I consciously practice not-thinking by opening my five senses and taking in what’s happening around me. As I do this, I say to myself, “Let the world speak for itself.” Not only does this provide welcome relief from thinking, but I’ve discovered that a world-that-speaks-for-itself is almost always a fascinating place.
Two tips for successfully practicing not-thinking
1. Don’t let thoughts “stick.”
As you’re practicing not-thinking, an unpleasant thought might arise. Thoughts—particularly unpleasant ones—tend to stick like glue. More often than not, this leads you to spin the thought out into elaborate and stressful stories about the past or the future—stories that have little or no basis in fact. The Buddha called this tendency papanca, which translates as “proliferation of thoughts.”
Here’s an example. You’ve consciously put your attention on all the sights around you. As you’re doing this, the thought arises, “I don’t feel well.” You could stop the thinking process right there and treat “I don’t feel well” as nothing more than a factual description of how you feel at the moment.
Instead, soon you’re off on what I think of as the equivalent of a guitar riff. You take that simple “theme”—“I don’t feel well”—and the riff begins: “I’m going to have a horrible day”; “Nothing will go right”; “I may never feel well again.” Soon, the fact that you don’t feel well has colored everything about your day, making you miserable emotionally.
Consider, though, these words from the Platform Sutra of the Seventh Century Chinese Chan (Zen) master, Hui Neng:
“No-thought” is to see and to know all things with a mind free from attachment. When in use, it pervades everywhere, yet it sticks nowhere.
Hui Neng is not saying that you’ll always be able to empty your mind of thoughts. Rather, he’s suggesting that when a thought does arise—such as “I don’t feel well”—you try to respond to it without attachment, which means simply watching it until it passes out of your mind in the same way that the sound of a bird singing arises and then passes out of your mind. When thoughts “stick nowhere,” to use his words, you don’t go down that papanca road, spinning a simple, fact-based thought out into every stressful scenario you can come up with.
The Vietnamese monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh describes “not sticking” this way: “Thoughts and feelings come and go like clouds on a windy day.” I like to keep his phrase in mind when I practice not-thinking.
2. Let go of opinions and judgments.
It’s easier to practice not-thinking if you put aside opinions and judgments. Doing this also brings welcome relief from constantly passing judgment on everything around you. Most of us immediately form opinions about our environment (too hot, too cold) and about people (too talkative, too quiet). Listening to this running commentary is stressful and exhausting. When the Thai Buddhist monk, Ajahn Chah, was asked what the greatest obstacle for his students was, he replied, “opinions.” When you’re able to let go of opinions and judgments, you’re letting go of a big chunk of what’s going on in your mind.
Discursive thinking is a deeply ingrained habit, but there’s no reason to be distressed about this. “Thinking” is what minds do. These suggestions are intended to help you give your mind a rest for a few minutes throughout the day. Consciously placing your attention—without commentary—on what’s going on around you is restful, calming, and restorative.
© 2015 Toni Bernhard.
I’m the author of three books: How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers (Second Edition), How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide, and How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.
Human thought and lifestyle within a certain time period or place is known as a
Read the excerpt and answer the question sunday 14 october, west indies as soon as it dawned i ordered the ship’s boat and the launches of the caravels made ready and went north-northeast along the island in order to see what there was in the other part, which was the eastern part. and also to see the villages, and i soon saw two or three, as well as people, who all came to the beach calling to us and giving to god. some of them brought us water; others, other things to eat; others, when they saw that i did not care to go ashore, threw themselves into the sea swimming and came to us, and we understood that they were asking us if we had come from the heavens. and one old man got into the ship’s boat, and others in loud voices called to all the men and women: come see the men who came from the heavens. bring them something to eat and drink. many men came, and many women, each one with something, giving to god, throwing themselves on the ground; and they raised their hands to heaven, and afterward they called to us in loud voices to come ashore. (christopher columbus) which of the choices below best describes columbus’ initial interaction with the taino people? question 6 options: he was initially apprehensive (hesitant) to meet with them, but allowed the natives to approach him, seeing that they were so joyous to meet the explorers, thinking they were gods. he sailed immediately into the heart of their village where he set about finding their leader so that he could challenge them to single combat. while he was hesitant to meet the natives as he did not know their motives, he told his men to keep distance and fire upon any native who approached too closely. he met them with great suspicion and refused to interact with them or allow his men to meet them until he had the chance to properly arm his sailors.
How to Break a Bad Habit and Retrain Your Brain
The words said by Aristotle more than 2000 years ago still ring true:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
The world has changed much since those days, but the functions of human systems are still the same. And when it comes to habits, they rule supreme, whether it’s good ones like reading and writing or bad ones like drinking and smoking.
But it all comes down the Operating System (OS) in your brain which can be trained, untrained, and re-trained.
Since you opened this article to learn how to break a bad habit, we will focus on breaking that pesky habit that’s been bothering you. So sit comfortably and let’s jump right in.
How habits form
A habit is a nun’s clothes. Joke aside, a habit is set of automated tasks your brain does. But just as with everything in this world, a habit isn’t just a habit.
When you break it down to its smallest pieces, you actually get three distinct parts which make a habit.
There’re 2 types of habits: conscious habits and hidden habits. And plenty of your bad habits are hidden, you can try to identify your hidden habits here first.
Research done by Charles Duhigg and presented in his book The Power Of Habits shows us that a habit consists of three parts:
Cue is basically a trigger which sends the impulse to the brain that it is time to do the routine. Cues can be internal or external. An internal cue depends on your emotional state and your thoughts.
The easiest example is when you feel nervous and you start biting your nails.
The feeling of nervousness is an internal cue and your brain acknowledges that cue and goes into a routine which is to bite the nails.
One more example is showering. As soon as you step into the shower/bathtub, your mind simply goes blank and you start shampooing your body. You probably have no idea, but every single time you shampoo your body the same way.
First comes the torso, then the hands, then legs. It doesn’t even matter what the order is, but what matters is that the cue for the routine of showering is you entering the bathtub/shower.
Cues are triggers which start the automated process of a routine in our head.
This is the action that we do when we are triggered or cued up. In the example above, the routine is showering and biting your nails. Our mind does this automatically.
The routine is impregnated in our minds in the area called the basal ganglia and once the routine is set, it is impossible to forget it. That’s why you know how to ride a bike even if you haven’t sat on it for 30 years.
This is the emotional/physical/physiological response to the routine which gives us a certain high.
Every habit has a reward not only as a motivator but as a way to signal to our brain that the habit is done and that it needs to get off “autopilot.”
Now, the process of breaking down a habit is a little bit different than what it is when establishing a new habit. But still, it has only three simple steps which are above-mentioned.
We just have a different approach towards them when breaking a habit. So, let’s start with it.
Breaking down a habit with these 3 easy steps
The three easy ways to break down a habit include making certain things hard to do.
1. Make the cue invisible
We know that a cue is a trigger for the habit. Unless there is a cue, a habit won’t start. So one of the steps of breaking a habit is to make the cue invisible.
Most of the times, the habits that we make are simple to do and are triggered by simple cues.
Imagine taking a walk down the street. You do it burn off some calories and because it’s healthy for the body (and mind). But there is an ice cream stand at the bottom of the street and every single time you walk past it, you can’t help yourself but to stand and pick a chocolate chip flavored ice cream.
You did it so many times that it became a habit. The cue is spotting the ice cream stand. That triggers an emotional reaction, a craving from our side for some delicious ice cream which we then buy (routine). As soon as we take the first lick of the ice cream, we immediately feel the impeccable taste of that chocolate melting in our mouths (reward).
To make the cue invisible, you need to put yourself in a situation where you won’t trigger the cue in your head. Since you know the location of the stand, you need to win this game not at the stand, declining to act on a routine. But what you need to do is choose a different street to walk on and completely ignore this one.
That is the place where you win the battle. You win it by not entering in the battle at all.
By making the cue invisible, you can completely skip the bad habit and after enough repetitions, break it. But what if it’s impossible to make the cue invisible – like a TV set in the living room and your nasty habit of binge-watching whatever is on the TV.
That’s where we make the routine difficult.
2. Make the routine difficult
In the case above, where we want to break down the habit of watching TV endlessly as soon as we get back home, we can’t make the cue invisible. So we create the routine difficult.
If the habit is comprised of sitting on the sofa after work (cue), grabbing the remote and turning on the TV (routine), and watching entertainment (reward), we will make the routine difficult.
We will use something called the 20-second rule. The 20-second rule states that if you make an action so “difficult” that it takes us to jumpstart it, we won’t do it at all.
In the case above, you can make the routine difficult by implementing the 20-second rule by:
- Unplug the TV from the power source. So every time that you come home and sit on the sofa, you will need to get up, plug the TV in the chord and sit back down on the sofa to watch TV.
- Put the remote in the other room. Again, the same spiel applies as in the case above.
- Remove the batters from the remote and keep them stored in the basement. Again, the same example from above counts.
Even though these examples sound a bit ridiculous and you think that there is no way that this will ever work, I have a plethora of research which proves otherwise.
By the way, this also when you are creating a new, good habit. You simply reverse the 20-second rule, making the object as close/easy as possible for you to do.
Never doubt the laziness of your brain to perform a certain action.
Last but not least, we can make the end of the habit, the reward, unsatisfying.
3. Make the reward unsatisfying
Rewards have two functions. The first is to satisfy a craving. The second one is to teach us.
We will stay with the first one because that one is crucial when breaking bad habits.
Satisfy a craving
When you take habits into account, this is common sense. The reward that comes after we performed a certain routine is natural and expected.
But when breaking a habit, we need to reverse this process and make the satisfying effect unsatisfying and here is how we do that.
When we satisfy a craving, we are not, in fact, satisfying an end, we are satisfying a means to an end. This is the mindset shift we need to make to think about “rewards” in their right way.
When you are craving for that cookie even though you know that you want to lose weight, you are, in fact, not craving to eat a cookie or its flavor. You are craving for the emotions, the feelings you get from eating that cookie.
That is the part which is addictive and which closes the habit loop (the reward).
What you crave from a reward is an emotion which makes you feel good, one way or another, and the way that you make the reward unsatisfying is by finding a reward which gives you the same or bigger intensity of that emotion. Here is an example:
You like gambling and putting a big load of money on the table. The reward that you get is the feeling known as “the thrill of the action.” So what you crave isn’t putting a $100,000 on the Blackjack table, it’s the feeling of “the thrill of the action.”
What else could give you the same emotional push? Is it skydiving, scuba diving, driving a racing car or playing Counter-strike in virtual reality?
Once you try different things and figure out that you can get a bigger intensity from a different, less dangerous activity for you, you will switch the activity that you were doing because the first one will no longer give you the thrill.
Let’s take a look at another example:
You want a cookie and you want it bad. But as in the example above, you learned that the same feeling of comfort can be gained by chewing on almonds which even though they don’t taste the same, give you the same feeling of comfort.
The examples for this are endless and you just need to try a couple of different things which give you the same or greater intensity of the emotion.
There is also a second function of a reward and that is to teach us but it is not important when breaking bad habits.
Our brains are like computer programs. We can change them if we code them the way we want to. \
Bad habits are just a piece of bad coding which snuck in our brains when we weren’t watching. But there is a way to break them.
The first thing is to understand how habits form and that they are comprised of cues, routines, and rewards.
If we want to change the habits, we need to make the cues invisible, the routines hard, and the rewards unsatisfying.
All of this seems harder than it is, but in reality, it’s simple and easy to do. We just need to remember Jim Rohn’s saying when it comes to simple and easy actions:
“Simple and easy things and simple and easy to do. But simple and easy things are also simple and easy not to do.”
Consistency is the key to breaking any bad habit – don’t beat yourself up if you fail once. Just keep on pushing with simple and easy ways to break them and you will soon enough lose the bad habits and retrain your brain.
Featured photo credit: THE 5TH via unsplash.com
How to improve your memory and give your brain a break
Here’s an example of how the brain works. Have you ever been puzzling over a problem for what seems like an eternity, only to have the solution hit you in the face like a ton of bricks when you least expect it? I can’t count the number of times I have given myself a headache trying to remember where I left my cell phone (always when it’s on silent, of course) only to get busy doing something else and then bam! I can see the shelf in the pantry where I laid it when I was getting the dog’s food ready, and there it is! I have driven myself crazy trying to work through the right thing to do with friends or find a solution to a work issue only to have a flash of insight just as I’m drifting off to sleep.
There’s a reason you can solve problems and have great ideas when you are relaxed.
In the shower, just before sleep, or when you’re jogging: effort to solve problems involves a lot of brainpower. When you task your brain with a chore, it’s like standing in the middle of a busy train station with traffic going in and out, rushing around to make connections and categorize information. Throw in emotional energy of any kind and the hum of traffic turns into a deafening roar, so it’s no wonder you can’t hear the small voice of insights through all of that noise. And yet, we continually try to confront issues without even considering how our “cerebral congestion” might play a role in our ability to manage the things we must face.
Albert Einstein said it best: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” But that’s exactly what we do when we struggle to figure out what is best for ourselves when we make decisions during frenzied emotional states and don’t allow the insights to be heard over the roar of our personal thinking. Scientists are learning more and more about our brain’s “default mode network”, which is that state when we are resting but not asleep and can occur during meditation, daydreaming, or any time we are not focusing on an external task but just present at the moment. The default mode network isn’t just some excuse to sit around all day and stare at the clouds; it has scientifically been shown to help reduce stress, help with chronic pain, lessen the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases, and even increase creativity and productivity! As strange as it seems to daydream your way to better productivity, your brain is very active in helpful ways when you aren’t busy tasking it with your personal wants and needs. So when you give it a break, it gives you new ideas, fresh insight to whatever problems have been plaguing you, and access to creativity that you just can’t see when you’re stressed out or trying too hard.
Here’s how to give your brain a break and let that default mode take over:
- Stop attempting to solve all your problems. Put them down for a while instead of obsessing over what to do. Walking away allows you a chance to relax, and often a mental break is all you need to see it with fresh eyes.
- Stop doing so much at once. We live in a world of constant contact, multitasking our way through every task we have. We talk on the phone while we clean, conduct business meetings over the phone while working out at the gym, and parent our kids from behind our screens. In addition to a few of our multi-tasking ways being dangerous, running so many trains through the station at once can also lead to quick burnout. Studies show that multitasking doesn’t save time; it makes things take longer, and with more errors, so slow down!
- Take some time for yourself. It isn’t selfish to have a few minutes each day to meditate, pray, garden or just walk to unwind, relax and connect with yourself—you’ll be a better person for others if you do! Remember, an empty well can give no water, and the same is true for you!
- Watch the kids. Children are just present. They aren’t worried about Friday’s meeting or next month’s bills. They aren’t fretting over a future dinner party or rehashing last night’s arguments over laundry. They live in the moment, and that ability allows them to be fully there for whatever comes their way, which helps them absorb, learn and deal with it as it happens. We adults seem to feel naked without our cloak of worries and regrets, but the reality is worrying, and regretting has never solved anything. See how light and carefree it feels to shed that cloak for a day, and it will get harder and harder to put it back on…. so don’t!
- Breathe! Just taking 5 big breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth clears your mind, your mood and allows you to think clearly. It works every time.
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This Image Can Break Your Brain And Alter Your Vision
Ever heard of the McCollough effect? It’s this weird trick of the mind where, after staring at a colored grating (alternating lines), your brain starts to see a pinkish tinge or other colors when looking at black-and-white lines.
It’s said that to trigger the effect, you simply stare at the center of two colored “induction images” for several minutes or more, switching back and forth repeatedly. It works best with green or red lines. Then, when you look at vertical black-and-white lines, you’ll find it appears red, green, or pinkish in places.
Tilting your head 90 degrees may lessen or enhance it. In fact, rotating the induction images and staring at them again may actually reverse the effect. The longer you stare at the original induction images, the longer it’ll last – for hours, days, or even a few months in some cases.
But is that actually true, and what’s causing it if so?
The effect is named after its discoverer, US psychologist Celeste McCollough Howard. She was the first person to ever find a so-called “contingent aftereffect”, which is an illusion that affects your brain for an extended period of time.
Over the years, there have been a number of studies done on the effect. Back in 1975, two researchers tested five groups of 16 people and, amazingly, one of the groups showed no lessening of the effect after five days. In fact, the effect remained better than half strength for four groups up to 2,040 hours later – or almost three months.
You can test the effect for yourself, with the images on the next page. Note, there is a chance it can affect your vision for a while – although it only really gets triggered when you see vertical or horizontal lines afterwards. For the most part, it appears to be harmless. Up to you.
Why Your Mind Needs a Break
Summer is here—time for family vacations, barbeques, and ideally a slower pace of life. But if you’re like the majority of Americans, you will not take full advantage of the season to relax and recharge, missing out on the year’s best chance to “reboot” your brain and boost brain health.
A survey by Harris Interactive for the career Web site Glassdoor found that three out of four workers with paid vacation do not use all of their leave. The average employee, in fact, uses only half. But even those who take time off often bring the office along, via laptops, tablets, and cell phones. In the same survey, 61 percent of respondents said they work while on vacation, with cited reasons including fear of falling behind, the desire for a promotion, and concern about losing a job. In short, employees fear that time away could cost them something.
But not taking time off costs something, too.
Time away from work, school, and the stress of a busy lifestyle is crucial to revitalizing (or renewing) your brain health. By denying our brains a vacation, we diminish our ability to think creatively and strategically tackle complex problems. Our brain thinks more clearly when we get off the hamster wheel, stop rushing from one obligation to the next, and make time to relax. You have probably experienced moments of insight, or “a-ha moments,” when a creative new idea or solution to a vexing problem suddenly occurs to you. This typically happens when you are not using up your mental energy focusing on the mistakes of yesterday or the rapidly accumulating tasks of tomorrow. Breakthrough thinking commonly occurs when you just let your mind freely imagine and wander—removed from the context of your day-to-day grind—in a different environment that will not pull you into constant distractions.
The scientific explanation for this: The frontal lobe brain networks—responsible for reasoning, planning, decision-making, and judgment—work for you in creative ways when the brain is quiet, not while you are effortfully trying to find a solution to a problem. Moments of insight increase as the brain unwinds. Why? When not actively tackling a task, the brain connects random ideas and consolidates these with prior knowledge into exciting new thoughts, ideas, directions, and potential solutions.
Vacations are important because our bodies and brains are just not equipped to maintain the chronic stress that is a part of 21st-century life. When you’re under chronic stress, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol damage the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. So reducing stress is key to maximizing your brain’s performance. Proven ways to do this include exercising, getting more and better sleep, spending quality time with others, and experiencing new adventures—all more likely to happen while on vacation.
Also critical: Disconnecting from technology. Your brain needs a break from your devices. So-called multitasking—checking email while writing a report, or responding to a text message while sitting in a meeting—does not make us more productive, it actually slows down thinking and output. The human brain is not wired to perform two tasks at once. Forcing our minds to switch back and forth quickly between tasks fatigues the frontal lobe, slowing its efficiency and performance. Too much time online can even leave people feeling isolated, anxious and depressed.
But there is a simple solution, well within reach. Each of us can choose to power down and spend less time on our devices. We can take a few minutes’ break every hour; we can spend an afternoon or evening away from technological intrusions. We can put limits on our children’s cell phone use.
So do your brains—and yourselves—a favor this summer: Take a vacation. A real vacation is best, as disconnecting from your technology for a period of time will work wonders. You will return to work or school reinvigorated and calm. And your brain will be tuned-up—ready to creatively tackle the most challenging problems with fresh perspective and energy.
Copyright Sandra Bond Chapman
Why Your Brain Needs Idle Time
Your attention may be your most precious resource, and you only have so much of it to spread around each day.
Work and social obligations demand a portion of it. And it’s easy to occupy whatever is left over with stimuli of one kind or another — whether it’s listening to a podcast or watching a show. For many people, time spent in the shower or trying to fall asleep at night may be the only remaining scraps of the day when their mind is wholly free to wander.
None of this may seem like a problem. After all, why waste time doing nothing when you could be doing something fun or productive? As long as you’re occupying your mind with (mostly) high-quality content, what’s the harm?
“The research on learning is extremely clear,” says Loren Frank, a professor at the Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. “To learn something well, you need to study it for a while and then take a break.”
Frank points to the evidence on educational training, which has shown again and again that people retain new information best when their minds are given time off to encode and consolidate. Even outside of study contexts, taking small breaks after digesting new material — whether it’s a news article or an important email — appears to help your brain parse and memorize what you’ve just learned.
To better understand how brains process new information, Frank has conducted brain-scan experiments on rats. He and his colleagues have shown that when rats are allowed to rest after completing an unfamiliar maze, their brains appear to automatically replay the experience of navigating the maze. Confronted later with the same labyrinth, the rats find their way through it more quickly.
“We know the brain can get into its downtime state very quickly, and the education research suggests just a few minutes — five to 15 — are enough to aid learning.”
On the other hand, when rats are immediately confronted with a new challenge after completing a maze, their brains don’t have the chance to replay what they’ve learned, Frank says. Later, when challenged again with the same maze, these rats aren’t able to navigate it any faster than they did the first time.
Frank says the human brain seems to work in a similar way. “The brain needs free time to process new information and turn it into something more permanent,” he says.
How much free time? That depends. “We know the brain can get into its downtime state very quickly, and the education research suggests just a few minutes — five to 15 — are enough to aid learning,” he says. The amount of time a mind needs to construct a durable memory probably varies from one person to the next, and also depends on the complexity of what that person is trying to learn, he adds.
Experts say idle time likely also helps develop mental processes that are far more complicated than memory storage and retrieval. “The deeper reflective states, where you make meaning of what’s going on and connect it to self and identity and integrate knowledge together into coherent narratives — these kinds of processes only happen when you’re not focused on some in-the-moment activity,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California.
When your brain is bombarded with novel stimuli or information, she says, it can struggle to generate purposefulness and meaning. Too much of this can you leave you feeling aimless — or worse. “If you’re stuck in this feed-me stimulation loop, we know that this is associated with the feeling of being out of control,” she says. “It’s associated with anxiety and disconnectedness, and a feeling of, what’s really real?”
Mental idle time, meanwhile, seems to facilitate creativity and problem-solving. “Our research has found that mind-wandering may foster a particular kind of productivity,” says Jonathan Schooler, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara who has studied mind-wandering extensively. He says overcoming impasses — including what he calls “a-ha!” moments — often happen when people’s minds are free to roam.
“I think we need to recognize that the brain’s internal train of thought can be of value in itself.”
Schooler mentions the common experience of not being able to recall a word that’s on the tip of your tongue — no matter how hard you try to think of it. But as soon as you move onto another mental task, the word pops into your head. “I think it’s very possible that some unconscious processes are going on during mind-wandering, and the insights these processes produce then bubble up to the surface,” he says.
It’s also possible that depriving the brain of free time stifles its ability to complete this unconscious work. “I think we need to recognize that the brain’s internal train of thought can be of value in itself,” Schooler says. “In the same way we can experience a sleep deficit, I think we can experience a mind-wandering deficit.”
“Many people find it difficult or stressful to do absolutely nothing,” he adds. Instead, Schooler says “non-demanding” tasks that don’t require much mental engagement seem to be best at fostering “productive” mind-wandering. He mentions activities like going for a walk in a quiet place, doing the dishes, or folding laundry — chores that may occupy your hands or body but that don’t require much from your brain.
While a wandering mind can slip into some unhelpful and unhealthy states of rumination, that doesn’t mean blocking these thoughts with constant distraction is the way to go. “I think it’s about finding balance between being occupied and in the present and letting your mind wander — about thinking positive thoughts and thinking about obstacles that may stand in your way,” says Schooler.
There may be no optimal amount of time you can commit to mental freedom to strike that balance. But if you feel like it takes “remarkable effort” for you to disengage from all your favorite sources of mental stimulation, that’s probably a good sign you need to give your brain more free time, Immordino-Yang says. “To just sit and think is not pleasant when your brain is trained out of practicing that, but that’s really important for well-being,” she adds.
Frank recommends starting small — maybe take a 15-minute, distraction-free walk in the middle of your day. “You might find your world changes,” he says.
How To Give Your Brain A Break Without The Guilt
Giving your brain a break restores attention, encourages productivity and is essential to achieve … our highest levels of performance.
Have you noticed that lately, you have the attention span of a goldfish? According to a study by Microsoft, the average human being now has an attention span of eight seconds (yes, goldfish are believed to have an attention span of 9 seconds)—a decrease from the average attention span of 12 seconds almost 20 years ago. More distressing is the fact that a newly recognized disorder called attention deficit trait (ADT) is reaching epidemic proportions in the workplace. Marked by agitation, distractibility and impatience, ADT prevents employees from making intelligent decisions, setting priorities and managing their time. The cause of these phenomena? Human beings are bombarded with too much information.
Information overload is a major problem for society today. The onslaught of new content being created and disseminated daily via the Internet is overwhelming. So much so that Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corporation who designed the “killer application” Lotus 1-2-3, is famously quoted as saying that “getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” According to psychologist and attention expert Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D., author of Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload, information overload can cause forgetfulness, fatigue and difficulty with focus. Not only that but some sources estimate that your brain makes up to 35,000 decisions a day, leading to mental fatigue. The increased stress and anxiety we feel from trying to process too much information in today’s hyper-connected world is undeniable.
With email and social media following us wherever we go, it’s more important than ever to let our brains take a break. According to Hortense le Gentil, author of the upcoming book Aligned: Connecting Your True Self with the Leader You’re Meant to Be, “Breaks allow you to check in with yourself and refuel. Checking in helps you align with yourself as you step back, get some distance, remind yourself of your ‘why,’ and examine whether your thoughts, your words and your actions are congruent.” Gentil offers three valuable tips to reclaim mental space in your daily life so you can make room for your intuition and stay connected with your aligned self.
What gives you energy? One of Gentil’s clients learned to take breathers between meetings, allowing herself to sit down for a bit and have a coffee on her way back to the office. Alternatively, perhaps listening to music for a few minutes works for you. Other options include stepping out of the office to walk and clear your head, talking to a friend, writing in a journal or reading a good book.
An effective way to refuel and reclaim mental space is to suspend the past and future and stand in the present moment. This ability to bring yourself back to the present is known as mindfulness. Mindfulness and other forms of meditation have been scientifically proven to be among the most effective techniques to reclaim that headspace. This is why many tech firms in Silicon Valley often start meetings with a few minutes of silence. It gives everyone in the room a chance to clear their heads and focus. But like anything else, the ability to stand in the present at will is a skill that requires practice. Google started encouraging its staff to attend mindful meditation training as early as 2007, and the practice has now spread far beyond Silicon Valley to traditional Fortune 500 companies such as Goldman Sachs and General Mills.
Meditation has been shown to result in profound changes in brain structure over time, strengthening areas associated with emotional control, memory, introspection, attention and abstract thought. When your brain takes a break, it doesn’t stop working. Instead, it allows many mental processes to take place—just as essential physiological processes take place while you sleep. It makes space for the more intuitive part of your mind. Some of you may be sighing right now. “Meditation? Really?” But before you visualize yourself wearing a robe and burning incense, just know that mindfulness does not necessarily require you to sit in the lotus position for hours. It merely means to be present, fully aware of what you are doing—whether you are cooking, listening to music, walking or staring at the ceiling. All you need to do is focus on something other than your thoughts. It can be your breath or the sights or sounds around you.
Mindfulness techniques in action
One of Gentil’s clients cultivated mindfulness by going fishing, focusing on the sound of the wind rushing in the trees, the gentle ripple of the water and his fishing line flying through the air. Another chose to listen to music, focusing on each instrument and the variations in the vocalist’s voice. Steve Jobs was famous for doing much of his creative thinking while taking walks. Inventor Thomas Edison’s intuitive insights came to him when he was hovering between sleep and wakefulness. Albert Einstein and Salvador Dali also regularly wandered between sleep and full consciousness, a space where the linear and analytical part of their minds relaxed their grip, allowing intuition to flourish.
Research shows that even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working. Cerebral downtime actually restores attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity and is essential to achieve our highest levels of performance. So next time you feel guilty for sitting around “doing nothing,” just remember that you’re doing something positive for your brain.
Note: A previous version of this post stated that the human attention span decreases by 88% per year. The statistic had been misinterpreted, and the post has since been updated.
Hip Silicon Valley tech companies started the growing trend of offering their employees unique perks that seem to encourage stepping away from the desk. Google’s free massages, Twitter’s rock climbing wall, and Dropbox’s gaming tournaments come to mind. Some may dismiss these initiatives as ploys for PR or to impress new recruits, but there is solid evidence that fun creativity breaks actually improve employee productivity.
I was recently interviewed for an Entrepreneur article about how pursuing varied interests can make you a better entrepreneur, but the same basic principle applies to all employees. Human brains are not meant to focus on the same task for hours at a time, yet most Americans work at least 8 to 9 hours per day on the same thing.
The eight hour workday became the norm after the Ford Motor Company found that number resulted in maximum productivity at its factories. But there is a major problem with this: the idea of an eight-hour day with a short lunch break is based on the most effective formula for physical labor, not mental work and certainly not creative mental work. The brain is much more active – and therefore much more likely to drain – than any other muscle or organ in our bodies. Evidence shows that the brain cycles from highest attention to lowest attention approximately every 90 minutes. This suggests that you should hit the reset button about that often.
One of the best ways to recharge is to engage in something different. If you’ve been reviewing a document for 90 minutes, don’t take a break by reading news articles. Get up and do something completely different. The brain is an efficient task-switcher; it has no problem going from java programming to power yoga to basket weaving. And doing so may make you a better java programmer, since you’ve allowed your brain’s java programming circuit to rest. If you are a slave to work, then switch tasks productively, from programming to checking email to thinking about a new problem.
Here are five other ways to give your brain a break during your workday:
1. Take a moment to do something you love. This is the idea behind all the games available at those Silicon Valley campuses. Take advantage of what’s at or near your office. Being fully engaged in an activity lifts the mood and contributes to feelings of overall well-being. At Dun & Bradstreet Credibility, we encourage team members to pursue personal interests, and our employees have created clubs including whiskey club, Russian club, and running club.
2. Get in touch with nature. Being outside activates different brain regions than sitting inside, as most of us do for the majority of our workday. Simple ways to incorporate nature include taking a walk in a nearby park or regularly having lunch outside. At my office, we took it up a notch by bringing in a wildlife expert and her exotic animals during a particularly challenging week for our developers. Nothing like petting a sugar glider or a hedgehog to activate less-used parts of the brain!
3. Be physically active. Company-sponsored yoga classes and in-office gyms are becoming increasingly common, with good reason. Exercise is good for our brains. If you can’t get in a full workout, don’t fret: stretching for five minutes or even using a standing desk makes small changes that can spur creativity and recharge your batteries.
4. Nap. I’ll admit that this is the hardest to do in a typical office environment, but if you can find a way, the benefits are huge. Some offices actually have sleeping pods, but for those that don’t, slip out into your car for a power nap. Much of what happens in the brain while we sleep is still unknown, but what is certain is that people perform better in terms of memory and concentration after a nap.
5. Do nothing. If a snooze isn’t possible, then simply sit in a quiet place and allow yourself to relax for ten minutes. Just as when sleeping, important mental processes occur when we daydream.
Brain breaks can make a big difference in your ability to be productive, creative, and innovative. The paradox is that doing less often allows you to do more.
What do you do to give your brain a break, and how does your company help you do it?
Photo credit: Leland Francisco / Flickr
Cerebral Congestion: Why Giving Your Brain a Break Improves Productivity
Eureka moment often strikes when a person is taking a break, relaxing, lying down, or walking. Nevertheless, the importance of recess or downtime remains unappreciated. But does being busy truly mean being productive? What about psychological congestion? Most people, earlier or later in life, have felt the burnout effect on their work, especially when their job demands high mental involvement.
Modern research seems to support the idea that our brain needs to take frequent breaks, similar to our muscles requirements during intensive physical activity. Even short periods of downtime may improve our capabilities to comprehend, think, imagine, be creative, and come up with new ideas. It seems that modern science has started to understand why Archimedes had his Eureka moment while taking a bath.
For centuries, the idea that doing nothing has something to do with creativity or better cognition was discarded as absurd. Research in the area was boosted with the invention of electroencephalography (EEG) in the early 20th century. EEG studies revealed high activity in the brain even at rest. However, these signals were rejected, considered at best to be those being created to support basic functionalities of life like breathing, and at worst, merely random noise.
The introduction of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the mid-1990s was a revolutionary moment in neurophysiology. Now investigators could study the effect of brain activity on the profusion of blood to specific brain areas. Researchers found that the brain is continually consuming almost 20% of the body’s energy, and this demand rises only slightly when a person is focusing on a specific task. Performing some intellectual tasks were found to be associated with higher perfusion of blood into specific brain areas, and during downtime, some other parts of the brain start to get activated. Various brain centers that became active during daydreaming were named the default mode network (DMN). Researchers have further concluded that the DMN is critical for the resting state of our brain.
Now, science has realized that being at rest does not necessarily mean being idle. When a person is resting, the brain wanders and engages in default mode (DM), something that is suppressed when working or focusing on something. DM has an essential role in mental development: switching to DM helps a person to recall memories, strengthen experiences, ponder the future, contemplate social behavior, and much more. Being too busy with various tasks or being continually distracted may deprive us of constructive internal reflection. During rest periods, the brain switches to DM and thus improves its creative skills and other abilities. These moments of downtime are the periods when we form a better understanding of self, engaging in self-dialogue. These idle moments give us an opportunity to dive deep into our experiences, make conclusions, and plan for the future.
It seems that idle time is, in actual fact, a phase of memory consolidation, something that has been proven to be important in various experiments in both humans and animal models. For example, in one trial, food items were put in a maze and specific electric patterns were recorded from the mouses’ brains while the animals were looking for these food items. Similar signals were also recorded while the mice were having a rest, thus indicating that they were just consolidating the memory. These electric patterns during the rest periods are known as sharp wave ripples. Furthermore, the researchers found that if these sharp wave ripples were distorted by another electrical signal, the mice had a problem remembering the items or recalling information.
A similar memory consolidation phenomenon that occurs during downtime has been recorded in humans. In one experiment on human subjects with electrodes implanted for controlling epilepsy, researchers noticed the sharp wave ripples during downtime when the participants were shown various images. Researchers found that the ability to recall information was directly proportional to the strength of the sharp wave ripples created in the brain while having a rest, thus confirming a role in thought or memory consolidation role for mental downtime.
This phenomenon is very familiar to many people who are trying to learn new skills. Most people note sudden improvements in learning after a period of good rest. Thus, if a person is learning to play piano, he or she may notice swift progress after a rest period. In fact, it seems that the brain takes advantage of every small moment it gets to take a break by switching to DM.
These findings have several practical implications. They indicate the need to take regular breaks at work to maintain the optimal level of functionality. They tell us that working nine to five may not be the most productive way of achieving our professional goals. People would be more creative, productive, and energetic by taking more frequent breaks and vacations.
The human brain is continually depleted of its resources if it does not get enough rest. There are indications that even short naps during the day may have an excellent replenishing effect on our mental resources. Multiple studies have established the positive impact of daytime naps or “power naps”. However, one must also understand the importance of sleep inertia, meaning that longer naps would require more extended periods of recovery to reach optimal performance.
In a way, these studies further confirm the importance of practicing mindfulness. They explain how meditation can improve various mental processes. Multiple studies have proven the value of meditation for psychological revival. Studies have indicated that regular meditation may even increase the volume of different regions of the brain that are important for optimal mental abilities. Some experiments have shown that practicing mindfulness even for a week may enhance memory and concentration. One could say that meditation is a low-tech gym for the brain.
Working hard and being productive are not the same thing. It is essential that we understand the importance of downtime. These breaks when we do nothing are critical for our psychological revival and achieving those elusive Eureka moments. Take a break!
Image via Pexels/.