Managing your brain

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Published by
Jan Hills
February 9, 2016

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I have a question for you. Do you really take a holiday or do you just access your email from a different location? Maybe one that is sunny and where your children are close by playing in the pool… I am one of those holiday makers who still access their email at least once a day, the rationale being I avoid that mass of email when I return. Whilst there is some truth in that thinking after a holiday you can come back to hundreds of mails and it is horrid getting through them. I especially hate working out if they are still relevant or if people have solved the issue themselves whilst I was out of touch, which invariably they have done. My last couple of holidays were in locations where I was unable to get internet access Try it sometime, it makes a huge difference to resting your brain.

So it struck me that a little information about the way the brain responds to a break may give you some useful input before you go.

Stopping work for a week can make a big difference to your brain. What I notice is I have loads more good ideas and problems that have been hanging around get clearer and the solutions easier. Could there be any scientific reasons for this I wondered. The answer is that there is scientific support for the notion that a complete break, a real holiday, helps your brain function better.

Work by Mark Beeman suggests that we need to allow our brain a quiet period to have greater insight. He has shown that this period allows the brain to make more distant connections thus increasing the likelihood of an Aha moment. Those moments when you suddenly solve a problem and just know it is the right solution. You can see an animated video of how this happens below.

Insight MasterMind from HHAB on Vimeo.

Other research suggests we get stuck thinking about a problem in a fixed way. We go round and round the issue rather than adopting a different perspective. Being in a different location is one way of jolting the brain out of its usual habits and bringing a new view, so to speak, on an issue. Obviously you don’t need to be on holiday to do this, you can do something as simple as take a different route to work or go to lunch at a different time but holidays tend to shake up many things and may therefore create more opportunity. A related aspect is that we just give our prefrontal cortex a rest. We let go of controlling every aspect of our day (unless that is you transfer this skill to the holiday).

By the way Beeman also believes we forget many of our insights so taking a small note book with you on holiday may be legitimate as long as you wait until you are back at work to start putting all those great ideas into action.

It is estimated that over 60% of problems are solved through insight, rather than linear problem solving so if you are a leader in a business getting more of these aha moments is pretty important and holidays seem to enhance this ability.

Happy holidays and don’t forget to turn off the internet!

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