7 Types Of Experience Your Brain Needs To Function At Its Best
By Laura Shin
David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, says that your brain needs to enjoy seven different types of experience in order to function at its best — and that ideally you’d get to all seven of these in one day.
“If you want a plant to grow, it needs the right amount of water and nutrients,” says Rock. “It’s obvious when you leave one of those out. With the brain, it’s a less obvious. The right dietary elements are only one part of this.… The basic balanced diet that you probably already know is a foundation, but there are other types of inputs that your brain needs that people tend to ignore. And these are essentially exercising different types of circuits in the brain, allowing other circuits to rest and recover.”
In an ideal day, you would experience each of these seven types:
Focusing deeply on a project is one type of thinking. We engage in it most often when we create or work on solving complex problems. While it feels to us like this kind of thinking is helping us get things done, it is actually also giving our brain much needed exercise. “It’s helpful for creating deep circuits,” says Rock “and it’s a healthful and helpful process.”
2. Connecting Time
This is connecting to anything — whether other people or nature or the wider world. “We do have a fundamental need to connect to others,” says Rock. “Being isolated socially is twice as dangerous to yourself as smoking. If you’re just working and not maintaining a social life, you’re probably impacting your health and well-being, not just your mental performance.”
3. Down Time
Down time is anything non-goal-focused: reading, a mundane task like washing the dishes, or just literally sitting on the couch, zoning out. “This is allowing yourself to mind wander and reflect,” says Rock. This will allow your brain time to recover, and you’ll get an added bonus: “You’re allowing space for your unconscious connections to come to the surface, to solve complex problems,” he says.
4. Time In
Time in can include journaling, reflecting on deep thoughts with a loved one, doing a meditation or anything that enables deep thinking.
“Time in allows your brain to, in a sense, reorganize itself through reflection,” says Rock. “It’s different from down time, which is very inactive. With time in, you’re thinking about your thinking, you’re mindful and connecting your brain in deeper ways. It’s the kind of practice that allows you to reflect on your thoughts.”
5. Play Time
Enjoy a few good laughs with your close friends, watch The Daily Show or attend a comedy night in your town, read The Onion, or play with a child. “This is all about novelty, the unexpected and fun, allowing new novel connections to form,” says Rock.
6. Physical Time
“Your brain benefits tremendously from physical activity, particularly aerobic activity. A recent study showed people were 23% more effective on days they exercised,” says Rock. “When we exercise, we’re oxygenating the brain and helping to flush out toxins, but we’re also activating regions of the brain intensely that don’t get activated otherwise, and this allows other functions to rest and helps with the overall coherence of the brain. There’s increasing evidence that thinking is very closely connected to movement, and it seems you can improve the quality of thinking by improving your effectiveness at physical activities, and it’s not just an aerobic benefit.”
“It’s not just rest,” says Rock. “It’s an active process of reorganizing your brain, strengthening and reorganizing connections. Losing a good night’s sleep you have repercussions for many days, not just the one…. Sleep is also helpful for creativity, coming up with insights, it helps to extract the gist from a lot of complexity.”
This is the second in a two-part story. Click here to read the main article, How To Perform At Your Peak Every Day: 10 Tips For Working Smarter In 2014.
Photo: North Charleston/Flickr