Reboot Your Brain:
“Fridays are the hardest in some ways: you’re so close to freedom.”
~ Lauren Oliver
To support my own sanity, I’m allowing myself a “freesailing” Friday to unplug and play by reviving a Ship’s Log entry from a few months ago. The English proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” rings especially true in the digital age. After too many hours hunched over a keyboard, I feel a little like Jack Torrance, Jack Nicholson’s psychopathic writer and caretaker in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
You don’t have to be snowed in (or shut up for months on a boat) miles from civilization to get cabin fever. Taking a physical break from challenging mental effort is not only healthy for the brain and body, it’s essential to the creative process.
In a recent radio interview on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross discussed the physical effects of too much sitting with New York Times Phys Ed columnist Gretchen Reynolds. Summarizing the key points of her book, The First 20 Minutes, Reynolds said that office workers should stand up every twenty minutes, preferably for a brief walk (around the room, if that’s all time allows). She also recommended standing if possible during phone calls (she bought a music stand to hold her papers); walking outside during longer breaks; and doing squats (because they exercise the muscles that help you get out of your chair, a seemingly effortless movement that many elderly people ultimately lose the ability to perform).
As any parent can tell you, adults can learn a lot from children. Keen, Inc. The Portland, Oregon-based footwear and apparel company recently launched a “Recess is Back” campaign to provide technical and financial support for businesses to implement plans for workers to take breaks for fun and relaxation. The campaign aims to improve employees’ mental and physical well-being and address health problems associated with sedentary work.
In addition to the medical cost savings the U.S. could gain from programs like Keen’s, the latest research on creativity and the brain indicates that mental breaks could also increase productivity. During an interview with Krista Tippett for American Public Media’s On Being, neurosurgeon Rex Jung explained the state of transient hypofrontality.
In contrast to the work of knowledge acquisition performed by the frontal lobe, activity in this transient state is less direct. Our thoughts meander through the information we’ve learned to draw analogies, form hypotheses, create metaphors and form unexpected associations. Archimedes’ bath (law of displacement); Einstein’s observation of a clock on a streetcar ride (theory of relativity); and de Mestral’s dog walk (invention of burr-like velcro) all provided the mind space for scientific Eureka moments that transformed the world.
Jung points out that besides downtime, the second most important factor in determining creative success is the discipline to practice your chosen work every day, and to produce flotillas of mostly sinkable ideas along with a few seaworthy ones. For writers, that means jotting down reams of random notes and mulling over old and new ideas during everything from a quick shower or walk to a freesailing local fieldtrip or an overseas expedition. The freedom to explore makes the Eureka moments possible.Ellen Girardeau Kempler, All rights Reserved. Written For: Gold Boat Journeys