Take time to be - defrag and develop

Education, March 01, 2020

More guidelines are needed around devices especially for those under 13 years of age. Time away from screens allows rejuvenation, calms them and develops innate creativity. Our society needs unique, creative thinkers now more than ever.

One of the most precious gifts you can give yourself (and ultimately others) is time. Time to just be - to potter around the house without having to rush creating a rising anxiety and state of stress within your system. Time to reflect and contemplate the bigger picture. Many people in certain sectors of society have outsourced the so called "mundane" tasks - cooking, cleaning, and gardening so you can spend your time with more "productive" endeavors. Others are so busy trying to cram in work, and running around with little Johnny's four different after school activities (we don't want Johnny to miss out on the numerous opportunities out there) that these mundane tasks are a further source of stress on top of an already demanding schedule.

 

When we get bored or have ample time to complete tasks you ignite a network called the "default mode" in our brains. Our body gets in a kind of flow state competing the task and our brain connects ideas, helps solve niggly little issues. This is thought to be done by something called "autobiographical planning" - when we scan past experiences, take note of the most important moments, help deepen our personal story, then set goals to help us reach our potential. German neurologist Hans Berger in 1929 (with the help of a device he invested to record electrical impulses in the brain) demonstrated that the brain even during sleep or at rest is always in a "state of considerable activity." Dr. Sandi Mann (Boredom researcher) states when you start day dreaming and allow the mind to wander to start to reach into the subconscious which allows deeper connections to happen. 

 

"Our body goes on autopilot while we're folding the washing or walking to work, but actually that is when our brain gets really busy." Manoush Zomorodi.

 

This type of connection time is becoming more limited as devices start to intrude on our "chill" time - we scroll through other people's show-reels distracting our own brain from forming plans to allow us to be the star in our own life. Instead we gradually become observers and "zombie doers" rather than developing our "human being-ness". Young children are starting to view mindless short snips of video (some content is inappropriate) that are popular for a week before being replaced with further mind sucking drivel. This limits self development and can contribute to anxiety. These apps are creating a generation of pre-teen and tweens with entrenched FOMO that adults wouldn't be able to emotionally reconcile.  Dr. Daniel Levitin (Neuroscientist) states that when we shift our attention from one thing to another a switch has to take place in the brain that uses up nutrients to allow that to happen - so when you multitask you are actually quickly shifting from one thing to another rapidly depleting neural resources as you go. After sleep, work, and survival activities (eating, washing, looking after family etc) we have time left over called "white space". That's our personal time - this time is what is left to develop our self - where habits, and pursuits take place, where we can nurture relationships, where we can get creative. Having some downtime among this precious time allows time to de-stress and for your subconscious to solve problems. 

 

"The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done." Tim Kreider

 

Research has shown that 10 years ago we used to shift our attention at work every 3 min now we shift attention, creating a neural nutrient depletion switch every 45sec. The average person checks email 74 times a day, and switches tasks on the computer 566 times a day. Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) studied teen-ages who are using social media while talking to friends or doing homework and found that 2 years later they were less creative and imaginative about their futures and about solving some of the worlds big societal issues. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her co-authors concluded their research stating "downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behaviour, and instill an internal code of ethics.....it is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lifes and to swivel its powers of refection away from the external world toward itself." Taking your device away for longer periods is like removing a drug for some. It's hard at first but then life becomes more colourful, richer, and deeper. This deepness than allows you to go deeper with your connections, your pursuits, and your own self development. Doing nothing, or scheduling time to do some mundane tasks (the activity does not matter as long as it allows the mind to wander) or just go for a walk is allowing time to become your most creative and creative self - helping you move towards your most authentic purposeful life AND then helping the world solve some of it's mounting problems

 

Takeaways

 

  1. Be proactive with your device rather than reactive.
  2. Have BOUNDARIES. Keep on airplane mode in the morning until you have completed your enhancing routine (yoga, meditation, movement in nature, given your partner a hug and said good morning while giving them your FULL attention)
  3. Make sure your kids have strict guidelines on their devices - having access to snap-chat, tiktok, and other social media platforms is like letting them loose in a candy store. They will drain their neural resources along with their creativity by gorging on "fluff" content and switching repeatedly. Even Steve Jobs limited his kids use of devices understanding their danger on limiting creativity and potential. 
  4. A great rule for all of society is WHEN YOU ARE AT THE TABLE PUT YOUR DEVICE AWAY - IT IS RUDE (and neurally damaging) TO BE CHECKING YOUR DEVICE WHILE ENGAGING WITH SOMEONE FACE TO FACE. 
  5. Ask yourself if you are using your phone to distract yourself from getting the hard graft done. If the task requires deeper thinking on a problem DON'T drain neural resources with show-reel distraction, take a break by looking out the window or shut your eyes and take a couple of centering breaths. 
  6. Don't fill your children's schedules with too much organised stuff. Research is showing they need downtime for just being kids, independent playing, and developing their unique creativity.

 

References

 

How Boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas by Manoush Zomorodi, TED2017

 

Why our screens make us less happy by Adam Alter, TED 2017.

 

Teach Kids to Daydream - Mental downtime makes people more creative and less anxious by Jessica Lahey, The Atlantic Oct 2013.

 

Why your brain needs more downtime - Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity, by Ferris Jabr,  Scientific American Oct 2013.