The Strategist

Three ways to re-focus and let your brain rest

05/31/2021 - 03:50

Excessive concentration tires the brain. It takes away energy, exhausts you, and interferes with self-control. It makes you more impulsive and less efficient. As a result, you risk making rash decisions and resisting cooperation.

Recent research has shown that both activities are important. Optimal brain function occurs when the brain switches from one state to another, allowing for greater emotional resilience, increased creativity and more effective decision-making.

When a person is distracted, the passive mode neural network is activated. In the past, such moments were thought to come when a state of doing nothing would kick in - it occurs when we stop concentrating intensively. However, the resting state consumes 20% of the body's energy (any effort requires just 5%).

The passive-mode network needs this energy because it is not actually resting. We don't realise it, but it activates old memories, switches from the past to the present and future, and finds new combinations of different ideas. Using these new, previously unavailable data, we increase our self-awareness and sense of personal significance. And we find creative possibilities and predict events, which helps us make better decisions. The passive mode network also allows us to recognise the feelings of those around us, thereby improving mutual understanding and team cohesion.

There are many simple and effective ways to activate this neural network throughout the day. Here are a few examples.

1. Positive constructive dreams

Positive Constructive Dreaming (PCD) isn't about air castles, daydreaming or dwelling on the same experiences. When you incorporate PCM into your daily reflections, it boosts creativity, strengthens leadership skills, and stimulates brain activity. To activate PCM, choose a quiet, calming activity like knitting, gardening or reading for your own enjoyment, and set out to explore the depths of your mind.

This does not mean counting crows or suffering remorse. First, imagine something pleasant, even if it's irrelevant, like jogging in the woods or sunbathing on a yacht. Then redirect your attention from the outside world to the inside world and continue your activity.

2. Time for a nap

In addition to PCM, leaders can also incorporate a formal time for a short afternoon nap into their work routine. Sleep comes in many forms. Reduced brain activity takes a toll on mental clarity and creativity. Studies show that after a 10-minute nap, our thinking becomes clearer and we become more active and attentive. However, if you have a creative task ahead of you, you'll need at least 90 minutes of sleep for a more thorough reset. The brain needs more time to get to the thoughts stuck in the farthest recesses of your mind.

3. Pretend to be someone else

If you're having a stupor and can't think of a single decent idea, it's time to take your mind off the task and reinvent yourself as a completely different person. In 2016, educational psychologists Denis Dumas and Kevin Dunbar found that a person who solves creative problems is more successful if they behave like an eccentric poet rather than a strict librarian. Test participants were asked to name as many uses for a particular object (such as a brick) as possible, and the "eccentrics" showed much more creativity. The results of the study would not change even if the same person portrayed different personality types.

If you are short of ideas, imagine that you are not you, but someone else. This will help take your mind off your thoughts and look at the task from the other person's point of view.

Based on “Focus (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)” by Daniel Goleman and others