To kick off Stress Awareness Month, Dana let her mind wander and this is what came out. – InPower Editors
I’ve been working hard lately and last week I hit a wall. My brain couldn’t take another step and it took me 20 minutes to write a two paragraph email simply because I felt so sluggish and uncreative. So three hours before I had planned to stop working I went downstairs to watch a stupid movie with my son before he went back to college. For a few moments I felt like a failure for not finishing the email, but I knew I needed to tap into my ace-in-the-hole stress reduction strategy.
When your brain plays, it creates amazing things.
The Surprise Value of Unstructured Time
I don’t remember the first half hour or so of the show (or what the movie was) but suddenly my brain woke up and I found myself laughing light-heartedly. My brain was clear! I started puttering around the room while we giggled at onscreen dumbness.
Note to self: take care of your brain with a dose of humor once in a while.
I read once that the brain takes more energy than any other human organ and I believe it. But I’ve noticed that I can’t eat my way to brain energy. Lots of downsides to that strategy! Brain energy flourishes on other things, too. Just like the rest of my body, it needs rest and work, but I find the most effective stress reduction technique—guaranteed to refresh my mental energy is simply giving it unstructured time to daydream and focus on “nothing”.
Sure, I need my ToDo lists, my intentions, and deadlines, but a few hours of puttering and cleaning or creative play seems to give my mind the kind of energy boost it needs to tap back into its creative best.
And it’s not just me. It’s you too. Psychologists call this phenomenon “incubation” when you daydream and focus on mindless tasks. Your prefrontal cortex relaxes and opens up new mental pathways to make unorthodox connections. Bam! Your brain finds its energy—and maybe some new ideas too!
After cleaning the room and laughing with my son I sat down and banged out that email in five minutes. And it was a much better email! More inspired and concise than the old version I had tried and failed to create. The three hours I hadn’t worked got done in one hour.
How Not to Undermine Your Goof-off Stress Reduction Strategy
I was lucky to be at home on the day I needed to reduce my mental stress and revive my creative mind, but when I first discovered this strategy I worked in an office. I used to reorganize my paperclips and pencil drawer when I hit the mental wall. Or a file cabinet, my reading pile or my pc desktop. That way if a colleague stopped by I looked busy. Nowadays sometimes perusing cat videos on Facebook can have the same effect if I just need a little break. So does “forcing myself” to stare out the window until I finish a cup of tea.
Is this a cop out? Is giggling at cat videos just an excuse not to work? It can be, in which case you might find yourself feeling guilty—adding stress to an already stressed brain. Don’t do this! It undermines the effectiveness of your strategic goof-off time! D
How not to feel guilty? For unstructured time and mindless tasks to give you a creative boost it’s important to choose to give your brain a break. Believe you’re investing in your ability to do a better job when you refocus and you will be!
Ironic as it sounds, it takes mental practice to believe goofing off is a strategic investment in your productivity. Conduct some mental experiments on yourself to find out what kind of daydreaming and puttering help you get more done. Be intentional about how you deploy your stupid movie time, your midday yard work, shopping or extra walks around the block.
What strategies do you find most useful to reviving a stressed out and exhausted brain? Share in comments or our coaching forums.