Executive Summary Video
You need to give yourself at least 1-2 hours of downtime a day when you should ‘do nothing’. Doing nothing means just daydreaming or letting your mind wander. It typically means doing things that don’t involve goal orientation or focussed attention. That enables your creativity or imagination. Here is the underlying neuroscience.
Our brain works and thinks in two separate networks, only one of which is active at a time:
- Task-positive network (TPN): It is also called the dorsal frontoparietal network (D-FPN). It is activated during goal-directed tasks, which need a voluntary control of visuospatial attention (self-directed attention to what you see around you).
- Default-mode network (DMN): It is also called the medial frontoparietal network (M-FPN). It is active when a person is not focussed on the outside world. It gets deactivated during goal-oriented tasks and therefore, is also called the task-negative network.
If one is busy all the time, one’s brain is in the TPN mode and the DMN does not get a chance to activate. Most of our imagination and creativity take place in the DMN. So whenever one needs to come up with fresh ideas, it is important to not think too hard or force the thoughts. That ensures that the brain stays in the DMN mode, as it is a goal-seeking activity.
- When one is watching TV or using social media, one needs focused attention. That prevents DMN activation and thereby creativity.
- When one is working out in a gym, doing yoga, or even meditation, one is doing goal-oriented tasks. In mindfulness, one is trying to control one’s mind from wandering and focus on the breath. As a result, the brain is in the TPN state and not the DMN mode.
- Any office task needing creativity will not work well if one is forced to think hard and come up with ideas. It is better to take long aimless walks in a garden for the same purpose.
- Many parents don’t like their children whiling away time and often force them to study or at least do something ‘useful’. However, the act of wasting time is the main way children allow their imagination to work.
- For most busy people, the long toilet breaks used to be such ‘free’ time but with social media on mobile phones, even that option is receding. Effectively, long showers are the only such times when people can indulge in ‘do nothing’ activities.
- Unfortunately, in Japan, we have waterproof mobile phones that allow people to check their phones during showers, too. I hope that does not become a norm in the rest of the world.
- For me, long walks or runs are similar ‘do nothing’ times as long as I don’t target a particular distance or time during the activity. That is also why I prefer to do my walks or runs alone.
- Scientists are slowly finding that the DMN can be active even in certain conceptual and internal cognitive tasks. These attention-needing tasks were earlier thought to be a part of the TPN. So the nomenclature of task-positive network itself is becoming incorrect. Who said science is easy?
To Read More
- Exploringthebusinessbrain.com: TPN vs. DMN – Neural Mechanisms and Mindfulness
- Wikipedia: Default Mode Network
- Wikipedia: Dorsal Attention Network
- Frontiers in Psychology: The Fallacy of a ‘Task-Negative’ Network
First published on: 19th December 2021
Image credit: Sergey Torbik on Pexels