Challenging the 24-7 Culture
By James Greenway on October 21, 2013
If you’re agonizing over an unresolved problem or struggling to come up with a new idea, it could be that you simply need to step back and let go. New scientific research reveals some fascinating insight into the importance of setting one’s brain on a “default mode” to tap into information (and inspiration) that often lie buried in the mental clutter of external stimuli. Are you giving your brain the rest it needs for peak performance? (Hint: It doesn’t mean jumping on social media, watching TV or surfing Internet shopping sites.)
In his Fast Company article, “Albert Einstein, Warren Buffet. and Bill Gates have all loved downtime – Do you?” Drake Baer explains, “Our brains are gluttons: While they amount to only 2% of our body weight, they gobble up 20% of our calories.” What does that mean? Your brain is working hard and, like other organs and muscles, it needs good nutrition and it needs time to rest. He points us to the conclusions of a study outlining the benefits of “constructive internal reflection.” Switching to the default mode gives the brain a chance to rest, and allows us to reflect. It also gives the brain the freedom to process and “incubate” ideas by eliminating pressing stressors.
But all “downtime” is not created equal. The most effective downtime involves mentally “checking out” or taking part in simple or routine activities that permit your mind to switch off external stimuli: walking, daydreaming, relaxing in nature, gardening or even showering. Some people have “ah-ha” moments while “bored” (e.g. waiting in line), relaxed (driving through the autumn countryside), or even while sleeping (solving problems through vivid dreams). Each of us must discover what works for us … and release the guilt many experience when not fully immersed in work or technology every minute of every day.
Organizations that value innovation and creativity recognize the healing properties of downtime and its rejuvenating effect on the brain. But it’s up to employees to give themselves permission to “let go” — developing the discipline to take a deep breath, walk away from the problem, empty external distractions and invite a fresh perspective to offer creative solutions.
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