What? Work harder in summer? But it’s the season of relaxation. To which we say: Exactly. Let us explain.
Problems are easier to solve when we stop trying so hard. A tad ironic, but true. There’s a thing in our brain called the default mode network (also known as the resting state) that activates when we’re not focusing on things, like solving a problem. In this relaxed mindset, our brain connects the dots differently, coming up with ideas that don’t occur to us when we’re making a concerted effort.
That’s why Eureka! moments occur in the shower. You’re pretty much on autopilot as you lather and rinse, so your brain shifts to a sort of neural serendipity that makes way for solutions.
This is incredibly good news for the vacation-minded. For one, it relieves the guilt that too many of us feel when we take time off. You’re not working, but your brain actually is. Take that, taskmasters! It also gives us permission to fully relax during our time off. Cramming every free minute with fun is exhausting, anyway.
But what if letting your mind wander is hard work for you? You’re certainly not alone. In a series of experiments, psychologist Timothy Wilson found that some people prefer activity to thinking so much so that they opted for an electric shock rather than to sit quietly alone in a room musing. Ouch.
For the go-getters among us, we found a few ideas on practicing acts of inertia in Tom Hodgkinson’s book, How to Be Idle.
- Don’t set an alarm. When you wake up, lie with your eyes closed and see where your mind takes you.
- Go fishing. There’s often lots of time to ponder between casting and reeling in the fish.
- Stare up at the stars (or anything else that inspires quiet awe).
And here are a few more:
- Listen to music that doesn’t demand attention with loud lyrics. Say, classical, jazz, or Gregorian chants.
- Watch some wildlife. Squirrels and pigeons count.
- Take a solo walk without a destination (use markers if you’re in unfamiliar woods).
But probably the most important rule for anyone using relaxation as a way to think more creatively is to keep expectations low. Don’t set out to solve world peace or invent a new energy source. Simply journey along with your daydreams, memories, and musings, and delight in the new connections they make.