Why Your Brain Needs to Do Absolutely Nothing
We’re living in the age of FOMO. Modern American culture holds up the multitasking, side-hustling, live-stream-it-in-real-time-across-multiple-social-media-platforms way of life. The inertia of life offers up a consistent temptation to openly display busyness and productivity as trophies of our own worthiness and potential. Our dance cards are full. We’re in demand. Juggling is de rigueur. But what if we’re kidding ourselves? New research suggests the human brain has a certain criteria for maintaining growth and optimum cognitive function: nothing. Keep scrolling to find out why downtime might be the key to maximizing your mind’s potential.
If allowing the brain time off is the key to mental productivity, why do our lives remain compulsively hectic? Tim Kreider of The New York Times argues the issue is largely ego-driven. “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day,” writes Kreider. Staying busy ultimately becomes a beacon of significance. Could it be that the basic human needs of connection and belonging are satisfied by staying consistently occupied?
Research from Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an affective neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, cites the ability to take mental breaks as crucial to maintaining and restoring the brain’s ability to perform. The neurological benefits of brain rest are far-reaching and impressive. Immordino-Yang’s study found that meditation and reflection were key facilitators toward developing our individual personalities as well as understanding the behavior of both ourselves and others. From flooded inboxes to daily decisions, we're taking in information constantly at a breakneck pace. Our brains are oversaturated with information, both consciously and subconsciously. Without time to effectively sort things out, we lose the ability to learn from our experiences. Want to make better decisions? Chill out.
Exceptional artists and great thinkers throughout the ages were passionate proponents of solitude and rest. Both Salvidor Dalí and Albert Einstein emphasized the importance of regularly napping as integral to their ability to form new ideas and problem-solve. The brain at rest is, in fact, hard at work restocking its reserve. Allowing the visual cortex an absence of stimuli to sufficiently reboot the brain's intake of information is essential to cognitive well-being. If you have trouble zoning out, invest in a sleep mask. Depriving the mind of sufficient rest inhibits neuropathways from effectively analyzing and cataloging the ongoings of the day.
Research from Almuth McDowall at Brickbeck University in London found that solitude is the key to feeling more fulfilled both at work and in your personal life. What’s more, “me time” is a quality over quantity game. Not only is it vital to carve out time to be on your own, it’s also crucial to spend that time doing things you actually want to do. This is quite the coup for introverts. Turns out there's more than a little something to the Seinfeld approach to life. In the words of George Costanza, "Everybody's doing something. We'll do nothing." Peace of mind is an inside job. The next time you find yourself too busy for a moment of solitude, consider what the hustle really costs. From a mental perspective, the real payoff might be waiting at absolute zero.
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What do you think of the idea that we're addicted to busyness? Tell us in the comments below.