Downtime

When I first started Graduate school I worked in an elementary school as an aide for children with pervasive developmental disorder to help them succeed in mainstream classrooms. One of the students in the classroom I worked in was a particularly happy boy who was full of life and enthusiasm. (Not the easiest qualities for the teacher to have to manage in a classroom environment, but that’s another story.)  The boy’s father used to chaperon class events frequently, and I always enjoyed talking to him about his philosophies on life. One of the things that really stuck with me about how this man approached life is that one of his “keys to his success” was that every day after work he would spend 30 minutes in the park siting in silence. While it isn’t news to most of us that down time and enjoying nature, is good for us, this was the first person I actually met who was truly dedicated to this practice.

Thirteen years later I have come across an on-line article on downtime and I wanted to share with you. It’s called, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime by Ferris Jabr.

Here are some of the highlights:

First of all, and to no surprise, the United States as a whole is terrible at taking time off. Not only do Americans have fewer vacation days than Europeans, but we also use our vacation days less and tend to stay available via smart phones and the internet while we are on our vacations.

One of the main points of the article is that “downtime” as an active and necessary process. Tim Kreider’s of The New York Times was quoted, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. 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.”

The article cites how scientists have now found that this process is in deed a biological fact of our brain functioning. There is a complex circuit in the brain that turns on when the circuits in the brain in charge of concentration on challenging tasks turns off, and vice versa. This “downtime” circuitry called default mode network (DMN), is argued to be necessary for identity formation, understanding human behavior, and instill an internal code of ethics (Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, 2012).

Additionally, downtime replenishes the brain, restores our capacity for attention and motivation, encourages creativity and inspiration, creates room for epiphanies, and is essential in our ability to form stable memories including our self concept.

The article also discusses how the positive effect of downtime is not as much dependent on the amount of downtime one experiences as much as it is the consistency that makes the biggest difference. In other words, having a daily practice of taking some form of downtime is much more beneficial than a one week vacation. In fact, the article cites studies examining how the effects of a one week vacation wear off as quickly as within one week of returning to work.

So I’d like to suggest making a commitment in the New Year to establishing some form of daily “downtime” practice in 2014.

  • 20 minutes of meditation.
  • 10, 20, or 30-minute power nap
  • A walk in nature
  • Sitting in the park for 30 minutes
  • Watching sunsets

Remember. It’s the consistency that is import. Not what you choose.

 

Have a Happy New Year Everyone,

Craig

 

To read the full length article, go to:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=mental-downtime&WT.mc_id=SA_sharetool_Twitter

 

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