Want to get more done? Usually, we’re told to focus.
Whether that’s by writing to-do lists or minimising distractions, there are endless pointers out there on honing concentration in order to achieve what we want in an efficient way.
Though focusing is incredibly useful, it appears our brains can only handle it for so long and focusing excessively can cause the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve: you could actually lose self-control.
Instead, choosing to actively unfocus with a nap or even daydreaming could be just what you need, according to a Harvard professor.
As with most things in life, the key here is moderation.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Dr Srini Pillay cites several studies proving that forms of focus have a positive effect. However, he also says “excessive focus exhausts the focus circuits in your brain”, and the brain actually works at its best when toggling between focus and unfocus, thereby “allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions”.
Which all sounds pretty useful at work.
In his article, Pillay reveals there’s actually a hell of a lot of energy that goes into our rest, courtesy of a brain circuit called ‘default mode network (DMN)’. It kicks in when you stop “focusing effortfully.” Yet, far from shutting everything down to relax, Pillay says once active, this circuit uses more energy than any other network in the brain, taking up a fifth of the body’s energy.
He explains: “The DMN needs this energy because it is doing anything but resting. Under the brain’s conscious radar, it activates old memories, goes back and forth between the past, present, and future, and recombines different ideas [...]
“You develop enhanced self-awareness and a sense of personal relevance. And you can imagine creative solutions or predict the future, thereby leading to better decision-making too. The DMN also helps you tune into other people’s thinking, thereby improving team understanding and cohesion.”
He suggests three different ways of activating DMN: daydreaming, napping and pretending to be someone else, all of which boost your creativity.
However, it’s not just any old daydreaming; he recommends positive constructive daydreaming that you consciously take time out for, rather than letting your mind wander. Begin by imagining yourself doing something “playful and wishful” – such as running through woods or lying on a yacht – before allowing the mind to naturally explore memories and make connections between ideas.
A 10-minute nap, meanwhile, has been shown to improve alertness, while 90-minute naps are ideal ahead of a creative task to allow your brain to form new associations and ideas in a way that relentlessly focusing on something won’t.
And finally, imagining you are someone else is, of course, good for being able to see things from someone else’s perspective and give you room to leave the limits of your own.
So now we’re not going to feel too bad about dawdling over our tea in the kitchen for 10 minutes: it’s all positive constructive daydreaming...
Read the full article here.
Images: iStock / Rex