With so many things to distract us in our hyper-technological world we miss out on the necessity for our minds to relax and decompress. This time is important for our brains to process through all of the stimulation that is hitting us throughout the day.
Default Mode Network vs. The Task Positive Network
For many people the thought of slowing down and taking time to “do nothing,” may seem incomprehensible. Some may feel like there is already too much to do as it is. How can I just do nothing.
Let me introduce two rather complex sounding neurological terms. The Default Mode Network and the Task Positive Network (DMN and TPN for short). Although they sound complex they are pretty simple. When our brain is in a more neutral state, not doing anything, it is in the DMN. When we are reading, working, surfing the web or on our phones it is in the TPN. There are great advantages to both areas of our brains.
The problem is that in our society we tend to keep our brains in the TPN most of the time. We only give ourselves a little bit of time in the DMN. We tend to take downtime by reading, listening to audio book or watching TED talks. The downtime that is being researched is less about being focused on a task. It has a more day dreaming quality to it. In their book, The Self-Driven Child, Ned Johnson and William Stixrud talk about the importance of this in neurological research.
In the mid-1990s, neuroscientist Markus Raichle noticed that certain parts of the brain go dark when we are focused on a task or goal. In 1997 he and his colleagues at Washington University grouped together and analyzed these parts of the brain and gave them a name. The Default Mode Network. It wasn’t until 2001 that Raichle published a study that shows what the DMN light up. A brain that is alert but not focused on a task. Over the past decade Raichle has led a new wave of research that suggests that the unfocused downtime that activates the Default Mode Network is absolutely critical for a healthy brain(Johnson and Stixrud, 2018).
When we allow the task oriented parts of our brain to have a break and activate the DMN a lot of important things happen that help our brains have greater well-being.
Taking time to reflect on our lives can be thought of as part of radical downtime. It is a way to just think about how things are going. Are we doing well, struggling, managing things? When we take time to self reflect three things are enhanced.
Emotional Intelligence: By listening to ourselves and taking time to notice how we are feeling we increase the possibility of being more aware of our emotions. We can notice both the bodily sensations (tightness in our chest for example) and the idea of what that means (I’m feeling anxious right now).
Integrity: When we self reflect we can take stock of our core values and consider if our current decisions are in line with what is important to us.
Confidence: Self reflection can help us to know that we are on track and if we aren’t we can easily course correct. We can sense that we have control over our lives.
When we are more self-reflective we can start to make better sense of things. For example, if someone says something that hurts your feelings you might hold that in your body for a long time. However, when we think and reflect on the event we might find more empathy for the person who said it. We might find ourselves acknowledging the hurt and feeling relieved. This allows us to move through challenging emotions.
How This Shows Up In My Life
I find it so hard to take time for myself. With two young babies, three businesses to work on and the daily duties of a household, I rarely stop. However, over the last few months I have been taking time to lie down and do nothing. I allow thoughts to come up and I notice what happens. It isn’t really meditation but just being. I’m not trying to do anything. What I have come to notice is my sleep has improved, my emotional regulation has gotten better and I’m feeling more energized and productive.
I believe that it is in resting our minds we find the rejuvenation to be our best selves. The constant pushing to get more done and have more experiences leads us to feeling overwhelmed. I felt this for several months after the babies were born. I couldn’t seem to do enough. My new approach is to do less and experience more downtime. So far it seems to be improving my well-being.
If you need help radicalizing your downtime schedule a free 30 minute consult.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!