PUT YOUR HEAD IN THE CLOUDS

How pro­duc­tive men­tal down­time will make you hap­pier and health­ier.

Shape (Singapore) - - Contents -

Af­ter you take a men­tal time­out, you’re bet­ter at cre­ative think­ing and com­ing up with clever ideas and so­lu­tions.

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 “A-ha!” mo­ment later on, you may have your DMN to thank, says Jonathan Schooler, 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, Jonathan and his team found that 30 per cent 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, Stew 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 re­vi­talise 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,” Mary 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:

1. Take ac­tion. Wash­ing dishes, gar­den­ing, go­ing for a walk, paint­ing a room – these types of ac­tiv­i­ties are fer­tile ground for your DMN, Jonathan says. “Peo­ple have a hard time day­dream­ing when they’re do­ing ab­so­lutely noth­ing,” he says. “They tend to feel guilty or bored. Non-de­mand­ing tasks give you a greater men­tal re­fresh be­cause you’re not so rest­less.” Next time you’re fold­ing laun­dry, let your mind wan­der.

2. 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.

Stew, 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 re­alise 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, Jonathan says.

3. 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,” Danielle 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.

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.

4. 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,” Matthew 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, Stew says.

5. 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, the di­rec­tor of the Me­dia Psy­chol­ogy Re­search Cen­ter in Cal­i­for­nia.

“Think about which ac­tiv­i­ties ful­fil and en­er­gise you,” she says. “Build in time for that en­joy­ment and to ex­pe­ri­ence the pos­i­tive emo­tions that come from them.”

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