We live in remarkable times.  We really do.  We often don’t pause and reflect upon the amazing things we have created.  We have self driving cars, and we carry computers in our pockets.  It’s all pretty awesome, but it comes with a price.  The price of this ubiquity of technology and convenience is distraction.

We are more digitally distracted today than at any other time in our history, it’s all happened quite recently, and we haven’t had the time to adapt and evolve yet.

Squirrel!

Squirrel!

There’s a million things fighting for your attention and we can get more done than ever before, but we’ve forgotten how to slow down, relax, and take a break.

Our breaks now look a lot like our work.  We’re still staring at the same screens, but we may be playing a game, or scrolling through a social feed vs staring at a blinking cursor on a document or spreadsheet.

This is not how our bodies and brains have been evolved to rest.

Our systems require rest.  

Sleep is one of the key foundations for Qualia to work.  Our formulation is designed around affecting the pathways in the brain that move your memories from short to long term storage while you are in that deep sleep (delta waves), and if you are getting poor sleep, those pathways are unavailable, and Qualia will not work.

Beyond sleep, to function at our best, we require taking good breaks.  Having big audacious goals is a great thing, but we can’t hustle 24/7, as the act of creation requires some time away from work, to pause and reflect and to think about things from a different angle.

When we take breaks now, we just pick up our phones, and aren’t really getting a break at all.  Our brains are still engaged, just on the new game or tweet.  We aren’t letting ourselves recharge or refresh or have the time or opportunity to pause and look at an idea through a different lens, think about a situation from a different point of view, or reflect upon an emotion we may have not yet fully processed.

Why you suck at taking breaks

From the book “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World” authors Gazzaley and Rosen write,

“From decades of research on learning and behavior, we know that the shorter the time between reinforcements (rewards), the stronger the drive to complete that behavior and gain the reward.”(1)

This means the quick hit of dopamine you get from clicking on that next new link on Facebook or YouTube is training your brain to want that quick fix, and anytime you feel any tinge of boredom, you are trained to reach for the phone and get your fix.  

Gazzaley and Rosen suggests that we put down the phone and take better breaks that help restore the parts of our brain that we use to keep focused on those bigger goals.

Your brain requires silence.

For a lot of people, silence is very uncomfortable.  Once upon a time, I used to work on the Paramount Pictures studio lot, and they had a really nice theater on the lot for screenings and such, but it was also designed to be used as a recording space to mix scores for films.  This meant the entire theater was acoustically dead.   I would wander around the lot on my breaks and I’d pop into the theater when it was empty and quiet.  It was creepy as hell!  If nothing was happening in the theater, you could stand at one end of the theater, barely whisper, and be heard with absolute clarity on the far opposite end.   Most of us never get a chance to hear absolute silence, and especially in today’s day and age there is always something buzzing or beeping somewhere, but silence is important.

A study done on mice where they exposed them to different music produced some interesting and unexpected results.

As it turned out, even though all the sounds had short-term neurological effects, not one of them had a lasting impact. Yet to her great surprise, it was found that two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region related to the formation of memory, involving the senses.

The growth of new cells in the brain doesn’t always have health benefits. But in this case, the study showed that cells seemed to become functioning neurons. The lead researcher noted,  “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”(2)

3 tips on how to take good breaks

Get off your phone.  Put the phone down and take out the earbuds.  Your battery probably needs a recharge anyway.  Plug it in and walk away for a few minutes. If it’s uncomfortable, let that be a big warning sign to you.  Are you truly unable to be without a device you didn’t own a few years ago for just a few minutes?  Do you own the device or does it own you?

Be quiet.  Take some time to be in silence with your thoughts and emotions.  Take some deep breaths and let the thoughts and emotions run through your awareness.  Don’t judge them or try to solve every problem, but acknowledge them, see that they exist and see where that silence takes you.

Get outside.  Nature is good.  Fresh air is awesome.  Step outside and take a walk.

“Natural environments capture our attention in a bottom-up fashion because natural stimuli are so inherently compelling to us (presumably owing to evolutionary factors). They draw us in but generate minimal [prefrontal cortex] responses.”(1)

One of the many awesome things about working at Neurohacker is that we get to bring our dogs into the office with us and this forces me to take some breaks during the day and get outside to give my dog a walk. Here’s a couple of the office dogs, Teddy and Monty.

In the age of hustle, get more done and fear of missing out, it’s more important than ever to prioritize your health and get good rest.  This means getting good sleep, but also means taking good breaks.  This is the foundation to neurohacking and optimizing you to be your best.  

Here’s your permission to take a well deserved break.  Put the phone down and go take a walk outside.

Ben, Director of Community

Sources:

  1. The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World
  2. This is your brain on silence