Why you need a brain vacation – right now!

o-BRAIN-570This summer, many of us will take time off work to go on a holiday or spend it with family and friends and most of us will feel guilty for doing so. We will worry about the work piling up at office, we will continue to compulsively check our e-mails and messages during this time off. Be careful of such false breaks.

Your brain, on an ongoing basis is assaulted with facts, pseudo-facts, news feeds and jibber jabber coming from all directions. Here are some over-whelming facts:

  • According to a 2011 study, we take in an equivalent of 174 newspapers’ worth of information on a typical day. A five-fold increase from it’s 1986 equivalent.
  • We watch an average of 5 hours of television per day.
  • For every hour of YouTube we watch, there are around 6000 hours of new video just posted.

It is important that we understand that the processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. The brain, essentially operates under two dominant modes of attention, only one of them active at one time:

  1. The task positive network or the Central Executive which is active when we are engaged in a task, focused on it and undistracted.
  2. The task negative network or the Daydreaming Mode when our mind is wandering.

There is however a third component of the attentional system – the attentional filter which basically tells you what to ignore and what to pay attention to.

Here are six things that you can start doing immediately to improve the balance in your life and to give your overworked brain a much needed reboot.

  1. Every status update on Facebook, every tweet, every message on your phone is taking up important attentional space in your brain which then begins to ignore important things like where your passport is, whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, or how best to reconcile with a close friend after an argument.
  2. If you want to have more energy and have a more productive day, make sure that your day is partitioned into project periods. The social networking should only be done during a designated time, not as a constant interruption during your day.
  3. Check your emails at designated time and reply. Turn the email program off when you have to work on something else. If you know that there is an unread message waiting for you, it saps attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it.
  4. Tame your multitasking nature. Focus on one thing at a time.
  5. Several studies have shown that a walk in the nature or listening to music can trigger the daydreaming mode of the brain acting as a reset button and providing a much needed perspective on several issues at hand.
  6. Taking breaks is biologically restorative. Naps are even better, a ten-minute zoning out improves cognitive function and vigour and decreases lethargy and fatigue.

So, make a promise to yourself to start taking regular vacations – true vacations without work.