Modern life presents countless options for multitasking. You can watch a movie at home while scrolling through social media. You can listen to a great thinker deliver a profound message in a TED talk while scrubbing your toilet. You can enjoy a reunion dinner with your oldest, dearest friends while posting live videos for all of your “followers” and the whole wide web to watch. You can pay your bills and deposit your checks while you are stuck in traffic. The list goes on and on. Even in these few examples, we can see that not all multitasking is as efficient, productive, or beneficial as others. In an era ruled by devices and distractions, we are constantly required to decide where and how to pay attention. It is possible, given this pace, that we can fill up every waking moment with something to think about or do. However, we mustn’t forget that a vital part of our development as humans requires not doing, but being… as in human being. Allowing ourselves to be requires taking intentional moments for stillness and pause.
These moments of stillness and pause are essential. For one, we find that many of our most profound insights and discoveries are experienced only after we allow time for thoughts and quandaries to incubate, a phenomenon often described as the “Aha” moment. One potential reason for this is that the invisible, unconscious cognitive processes that take place while we are seemingly "doing nothing" are astoundingly efficient and beneficial. It is during these moments when information acquired by conscious thought is analyzed through mental algorithms or heuristics that gather information to create solutions that are informed by past experience and evolutionary considerations. Research finds that problem solving by way of analysis can sometimes lead to overthinking and misjudging, while waiting for the intuitive insight (Aha) to take place results in more accurate and effective solutions .
Researchers advocate for constructive internal reflection , a time to consciously pull attention away from external events (social media, television, the news) and allow the mind to wander. Another productive means of constructive internal reflection is to engage in abstract thinking (i.e., imagining the future, finding meaning in the past). This type of thinking allows people to identify patterns and think critically about the world and the self, engaging in internal cognitive processes to make meaning (as opposed to merely adopting the opinions of others).
Let's not forget the importance of sleep! Among other variables, getting quality sleep is correlated with improved memory and cognitive functioning, increased metabolic functioning, less irritability, less accidents due to abruptly falling asleep (which can sometimes be lethal), as well as improved cardiovascular and immune system functioning .
A lifestyle of constant thinking and doing requires a lot of brain energy, which may not be sustainable long term. Imagine each thought and mental activity as a light bulb being turned on. Where multitasking requires the amount of energy needed to light the Vegas Strip, taking the time for stillness, rest, and sleep allows the brain to recharge. Making time for nothing is like installing solar panels in the mind, switching to more sustainable sources of renewable mental energy!
If you are looking for more ways to pause in your life, check out the following suggestions below.
• Schedule it. Take time first thing in the morning and/or just before sleep to reflect on your life’s meaning and purpose. Close your eyes, begin by noticing your breath and the feelings in your body, then allow the mind to reflect in stillness.
• Take 5. Take intentional breaks (5-15 minutes) before beginning and after completing tasks. Do not go online or social media. Stand up to stretch, go for a walk, or sit with eyes closed for a mini meditation.
• That's a wrap. Set boundaries in your day: clear times when your workdays and “online” hours begin and end. Turn off or limit internet notifications. You are not obligated to answer emails or messages at all hours of the day.
• Plan “should-less” days. This is a term borrowed from the actress Ellen Burstyn who famously plans days when she only engages in activities that she wants to do, escaping obligation, and escaping that critical voice that makes us feel lazy, guilty, or ashamed about taking time off. What would your should-less days look like?
1. Salvi, C., Bricolo, E., Kounios, J., Bowden, E., & Beeman, M. (2016). Insight solutions are correct more often than analytic solutions. Thinking & Reasoning, 22, 443-460.
2. Immordino-Yang, M. H., Christodoulou, J. A., & Singh, V. (2012). Rest is not idleness: Implications of the brain’s default mode for human development and education. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(4), 352-364.
3. Nicholson, C. R. (2006). Importance of Sleep: Six reasons not to scrimp on sleep. Harvard Health Online Journal. Retrieved from: URL: http://www. health. harvard. edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health.