Updated: Nov 17, 2022
One activity we all need is sufficient down time, when the brain is refreshed through being non-goal focused.
Like other organs, our neural circuits benefit from a period of recovery after being stretched.
Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and
creativity and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable
memories in everyday life.
This is space to not do anything specific and just chill out. Our minds need this. As opposed to moments when we find ourselves unintentionally getting distracted, down time involves intentionally letting our minds wander.
This might include watching a show or listening to music, drawing on a pad of paper, or simply playing with water in the sink as you do the dishes. (Maybe that’s why it takes me an hour to finish this job in the kitchen each night!)
A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future.
Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.
David Rock and Dr. Dan Siegel got together and decided to create what they call the Healthy Mind Platter. This platter has seven essential mental activities necessary for optimum mental health in daily life. These seven daily activities make up the full set of ‘mental nutrients' that your brain needs to function at its best. By engaging every day in each of these servings, you enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities, which strengthens your brain's internal connections and your connections with other people.
Seven daily essential mental activities to optimize brain matter and create well-being
When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.
When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain's relational circuitry.
When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.
When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.
When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.
When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.
Our extra efforts to get more done without a break don’t improve productivity. Instead, it lowers our performance levels and usually leads to overwhelm and burnout.
When you stop to take a walk, go to the gym, meditate for 10 minutes… you are actually being productive. Why should you encourage these activities? Because if your brain isn’t getting what it needs, it won’t function at its peak performance.
Sometimes we all need a good timeout.
What’s stopping us? Using your downtime to achieve rejuvenation requires conscious effort. Watching your favourite TV show for thirty minutes tonight may do it. But spinning your wheels channel surfing for a couple hours? Not so much. Gretchen Rubin cautions us to be mindful, even when we watch TV.
By starting these simple habits now, you begin training your brain to reduce anxiety and decrease the risk of burnout:
Make your morning count. The first hour of the day can allow time for a short meditation, a quick stretch, reading a novel. Don’t have an hour? Twenty minutes — even ten — can make or break some days.
Be in the moment. Stop to look out the window and really see the leaves on the trees, the sun hitting the branches.
Let time work for you. Don’t be a slave to the clock. Set the timer and allow yourself an extra ten minutes before bed to just chill. Sit and think about what you’re grateful for that day.
We’re all busy.
And most things — the laundry, the dictation, the email — can wait.
Devote yourself to finding and keeping downtime in your schedule, and not only are you doing your brain and high performing self a favour, but your soul will also come along for the ride.