The human brain is not meant to stay in “focused” mode for hours at a time. Prolonged attention to a single task can hinder its performance.
When your brain is active for a very long time, you’re actually blocking your access to the diffuse mode — a more relaxed state.
According to research, the brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time — its performance on the task declines.
“Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness,” says University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who led the new study.
Predictability or structure is empowering. An ideal productive routine can help you do your best work but as much as you need “focused” mode for peak performance, you also need “diffused” mode to refresh your brain for better thinking. The brain never gets a proper break. To change that, you have to intentionally give it one.
Solve problems better by imposing breaks on yourself
There is a reason people get their best ideas when they are in the shower, just before sleep, or when they’re jogging. When your brain is constantly rushing to make connections, it struggles to figure out the best possible solution. In a relaxed mode, it’s less busy and has more brain energy to focus on finding the right answers to your problems.
Albert Einstein could not have said it any better: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
When we struggle to figure out what is best for ourselves, we are often on the same busy and congested brain pathways. The effort to solve problems involves a lot of brainpower. A better approach is to step away from your problem for a little while — you will come back with a refreshed mind to solve the task in a whole new and better way.
“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done,” writes Tim Kreider in The New York Times.
A purposeful pause is exactly what you need if you constantly demand more from your brain. Everyone could use more “white space” during the week to be more creative and do better work.
Follow your bliss to create new pathways
When you rely on your brain’s existing pathways for a very long time, you hardly explore the others. The human brain is capable of changing throughout your life.
When you engage in other activities apart from your “regular” schedule, your brain takes a break from “structure” to find new paths, which gives the old paths a break to recover and perform better.
Doing things you enjoy, even if they require some focus — reading, journaling, cooking, writing, learning a new skill or technology can give you the break your brain needs.
“Think about which activities fulfill and energize you,” says Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., the director of the Media Psychology Research Center in California. “Build in time for that enjoyment and to experience the positive emotions that come from them.”
The good news is, whilst you are carving out new pathways, your brain can rest and recalibrate. You can even experience a burst of creativity when you embrace change that makes you come alive.
Create a worry window to reduce the amount of time you spend in your head
Instead of spending random times stressing about everything about your life and what to do about it, choose to think about your life issues at specific times of the day — it can be twenty minutes in the morning or the early hours of the evening.
It sounds wrong but it can help you to focus on your most important things for the day, knowing that you have planned time for your worries and what to do about them.
In “worry time”, give your full attention to your worries, take concrete steps to solve those in your control, and when that time is over, don’t think about them when you are actively getting things done.
If you start stressing at a different time, remind yourself that you have time to worry at later date.
Don’t let worry thoughts “stick.” By investing time to worry formally, you can end up reducing the amount of time you worry during the day when you should be doing your best work.
To summarize, the human is preoccupied with work much of the time even though the perpetual busyness does not translate to peak performance. Your brain requires substantial downtime to remain active and productive all the time. Plan deliberate breaks into your schedule to restore high-level thinking.
This article originally appeared on Medium.