It’s August. Are you on vacation? Are you planning some time off or have you already given your brain and body a period of rest?
Taking up the charge for regular reverie and daily downtime, the value of daydreaming is explored in an article at The New York Times.
Ready to hear why permission to daydream is granted – and more importantly – necessary?
The Importance of Daydreaming to Creativity
“Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain” points out that we are overwhelmed by a staggering amount of inputs throughout the day, but we are the happy human recipients of two modes of attention, one which focuses on the matters at hand (task-positive) and the other that encourages daydreaming (task-negative). Not only does the latter enable us to open up the imagination, but, Daniel Levitin, author and director of a cognition lab at McGill University, explains:
… The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited…
Moreover, daydreaming mode is:
… marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts… responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight…
I have noted – and likely you have as well – that one way or another, columns of this sort in The Times now appear on a regular basis, illustrating that not working – i.e. allowing the mind to wander, forcing periods of rest, fewer hours at the salt mines, less multitasking – is vital to overall productivity, better decision making, mental health, and creativity.
Cerebral Congestion. Is There a Pill for That?
Because we don’t take vacations, and when we do, we’re often reading and responding to emails, our downtime isn’t “down” at all. I might consider it quasi-remote instead, as in not at the office, not “officially” on the clock, but still connected to work tasks and the work of managing our kids, their schedules, the clothes on their backs, and the food in their mouths.
In a recent discussion with a European friend, I was reminded that August is the month many families take off – together – not only to detox, but to explore and enjoy some manner of adventure. Why a full month, or at least three weeks of it?
Think back. How long does it take you to detach from the online agenda, the incomplete checklists, the bills piling up for Junior’s braces or SAT prep class?
Scientific American reminds us that the mind needs rest – real rest. Referring to “cerebral congestion” (and a need for periodic idleness), this article on mental downtime explains:
… Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy.
Are You Paying Attention?
In addition to noting safety concerns associated with attention issues, Mr. Levitin goes beyond the usual urging for us to give it a rest: He quantifies the extraordinary number of “facts, pseudofacts,” etc. bombarding us throughout the day, some of that prettily camouflaged in Facebook feeds and Instagram imagery. And, he points out how the mind flits from stimulus to stimulus or message to message, with little attentiveness. We would be better served by segmenting our activities so that we aren’t constantly interrupted, and with potentially deleterious consequences.
Whether we realize or not, even agreeable interruptions like responding to texts and zipping around social media are tiring, aren’t they? More helpful mental meandering is achieved via a walk in the park or listening to Debussy.
Apparently, we should build into our 24-hour periods “task-negative” time, which, if you ask me, will require rapid rebranding in order to appeal to our work-driven, busyness-bound contemporary culture. Perhaps as a start we should consider alternatives to the term daydreaming. Any volunteers to participate in a focus group to “brainstorm” that one? Should we begin from a place that is “imagination-positive?”
How ridiculous that we need to constantly lecture ourselves – and with greater frequency it seems – when it comes to the necessity of resting our minds so they function properly. And most often, we are not explicitly broaching the far-reaching emotional aspects of the human psyche, but purely those in the cognitive realm.
Last Chance Beach
I return to the topic of August “off” – a foreign concept in this country, for sure – even as I rue the fact that in many regions, schools have already started back, cutting short what was once a more carefree time of year even for our children. In my own case, at most I have disconnected partially for a few days. Otherwise, there hasn’t been so much as 72 consecutive hours of non-working in the past eight months.
And no, I am neither pleased nor proud of that fact.
Last Chance Beach, anyone?
Naturally, when we’re holding down multiple jobs to keep the rent paid, when we’re immersed in some form of career reinvention, when we’re dealing with family issues that deplete our emotional, physical, and financial stores, taking time off isn’t an option. And yet wouldn’t we attack our challenges with more clarity if we could? What about a mental mini-break if nothing else, and without feeling that it’s a luxury?
I leave you with these questions, knowing myself guilty as charged: Might we not consider the imagination-positive health benefits of sending our brains to dwell in daydreams? If not a week by the sea or in the mountains (with our smartphones off), then at the very least, how about neurons given over to a midday walk that costs nothing, and is good for the physical machine as well?
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