The most emailed article on The New York Times website today is an article called Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain. It’s by Daniel Levitin of McGill University and it explains the findings of research that he did with a colleague at Stanford. The big headline is that they’ve identified a part of the brain called the insula that controls the interplay between focused attention and daydreaming. The brain has two neural networks that manage attention. One is for focus; the other is for daydreaming. They’re designed to counterbalance each other. The insula helps them do that.
As I discuss in my forthcoming book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative, with all of the input that’s coming at us in every 21st century day and all that we’re trying to cram into a 168 hour week, it’s easy for the brain to get overwhelmed. As Levitin writes in his article, “If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited.”
The research (and perhaps your personal experience) shows that you need to take regular breaks to reset your brain so that the focused attention and daydreaming networks can do their jobs. As I wrote here just a couple of weeks ago in How to Overcome Your Fear of Thinking, most people, when they reflect on it, realize that their best ideas come when they’re taking a break from their primary work. That’s the daydreaming network coming into play to give the focused attention network a rest.
What’s your go-to move for resetting your brain? Share your favorites in the comments.