It’s a world of Google Search, Facebook updates, endless tweeting, emails, events. Blah. Blah. Blah. These activities occupy our time and our minds from the moment we wake up to the final seconds of a looming bedtime.
Busyness or constantly engaging the mind is considered ideal. Just being in your zone ‘gathering wool’ is viewed as highly unproductive. In fact, not having something to focus on can drive some people crazy, causing them massive anxiety.
But is an idle mind really the devil’s workshop?
Ask any ardent fan of multitasking, and he will tell you that doing so many things all at once in lightning speed brings a sense of pride. Pushing the limit of time certainly makes you feel superhuman. But is your busyness making you qualitatively productive, or are you just mindlessly ‘getting things done?”
Studies on multitasking and hyper-focus show that constantly engaging the mind, without any breaks can lead to increased stress, anxiety, poor memory and diminished judgement. Invariably, those who always find something to occupy their minds with are more likely to experience higher levels of dissatisfaction with their work and with life in general. The lack of gaps or “chill out” time literally exhausts your mind and your body to a point of feeling physically sick, depressed and isolated.
In a world where there’s ‘little time’ to get anything done and where busyness is valued, it can be difficult to choose an alternative path. The relieving opposite of multitasking is doing one thing at a time and using your energy on what really matters. But most importantly, deliberately take 10 minute breaks throughout the day to just let your mind wander.
If you are a multitasking whizz, taking a break to chill out may feel awkward at first. But with deliberate practice, it is entirely possible to insert gaps of positive mindlessness or in other words, daydreaming, into an otherwise busy day.
You’ve read the stories about how great ideas were born from moments of boredom. Perhaps you have also experienced “aha moments” when silently lying on your bed, talking a lone walk or during a meditative exercise. These sudden episodes of epiphany are often the start of a creative thinking process or an answer to a problem that once seemed unsolvable.
When the mind is constantly engaged, it is as though it is locked in a tunnel vision. There’s no chance or space to see obvious solutions or to retrieve hidden memories that can help solve a problem. Locked in a tunnel vision and overwhelmed with activities to do, the mind simply cannot see possibilities.
Studies show that when the mind is at rest, when a person is not engaged in any mentally demanding activity, the part of the brain responsible for creativity and working memory become activated. This explains why people are more likely to experience Eureka or aha moments when they are not obsessively focused on other mentally demanding external activities. So instead of ruminating over that problem, you may be better off taking a walk, lying still or meditating. The solution could pop up when you least expect it.
One of the greatest sources of anxiety and stress is our lost inability to engage in silent reflection. With email pings, social media demanding our attention and long to do lists, it looks as though there’s no time to be with ourselves. The further away you get from yourself, the more anxious and isolated you feel. Allowing your mind to wander every so often lets you reconnect with yourself, it can ease your anxieties and it can bring you solutions seemingly ‘out of the blue.’
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