Many moons ago, I had a teacher who used to tell my class that the key to learning anything was “short and frequent intervals of study.” For some reason, I’ve always remembered her words and as time goes on they seem to make more and more sense.
I’m a big believer in taking breaks — in stepping away from intense bouts of concentration and giving my mind a chance to relax and recharge. Luckily for me — and for you, too, I hope — there’s more and more evidence that this work-play approach actually fosters creativity. in fact, brain researchers believe that letting your mind wander and giving yourself mental “downtime” can be critical to innovation.
Washington University researchers have identified regions of the brain that are active when people’s brains are “idling” and they aren’t doing anything task-oriented. These regions are called “the default network” — and it’s been found that these areas are responsible for introspection, for imagining past and future events, and even for conjuring up alternate realities. In short, the parts of our brain that are active when we seem to be “doing nothing” are key to our creativity and ability to think about things in new ways.
“The brain’s capacity for processing is finite. When some regions are active, that means other regions are less active. When we engage in…hard-core cognitive control, where we’re really engaged in a particular task or goal, that means we’re doing less with our default network,” notes Adam Waytz, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. All of which seems to suggest that we writers need to be especially mentally agile and to alternate periods of intense concentration with bouts of daydreaming and relaxation. Tapping those parts of the brain that fuel our creativity requires solitude, relaxation, and the ability to let our minds “zone out” and wander.