The power of taking breaks and seeking perspective

2 November 2022

"If you stick with what you've already been doing, you will only accomplish what you have already done." Anna Schmohe

Have you ever considered some of your best ideas had arrived in the most unusual places, like when you're driving, trying to fall asleep or having a shower? When you relax and stop forcing your right hemisphere to develop clever ideas, you're giving your brain permission to get naturally creative. It's a great way to see things from interesting angles. So, can we help our brains take a break? What is the best way to make room for new ideas? 

The brain stuff… and why it needs time. 

There's part of the brain (the thinking part) called the Prefrontal Cortex. It's responsible for keeping you focused, logical thinking, executive function and willpower. Basically, a lot of work for a little section of your noggin. Breaks prevent fatigue, keep decision-making and reasoning on track, and restore motivation - allowing the thinky part to work towards those all-important goals.  


When we start anything new, our brain likes to connect what we're doing to previous memories (binding) and keep pressing replay like it's on a loop pedal. Processes like these ones are what allow us to file it under storage. Sound tiring? That's because it is. We need to relieve cognitive fatigue because we memorise best during rest periods. The brain uses these gaps to log its most recent learnings. 

Why different modes of thinking can lead to better ideas

Whether it's a tricky work project, something at home, or a question at the pub quiz, think again if you've considered every angle. It's widely considered there are seven types of thinking. Critical, analytical, creative, abstract, concrete, convergent and divergent. Each is about looking at things differently. Each kind of thinking has a different value 'out of the box', 'symbolic', literal etc. Divergent thinking is about finding your best crayons to colour outside the lines, but convergent thinking is using the rule book as a doorstop - not for its intention. Lateral thinking means some mighty colourful spreadsheets since it combines the two.


Some perspectives need slow-burn reasoning, some need instinctual and reactive thought but both work better for different situations. It's handy to recognise when each is most useful. For example, you probably wouldn't want to find your way with your nose pressed against a map. It would hurt your eyes, and you might miss a quicker or more exciting alternative. Thought processes are your modes of transport, if you thought walking for 9.2 hours was your only option, giving up and writing off your idea would be easy. Using new schools of thought to see your problem is looking at the whole map.   



How to take a break and find a new perspective

Whilst seeing things from a new perspective may come from a lightning strike of inspiration, it's probably more about gradually changing your thinking daily. Difficult? Yes. Worth it? Hells yeah. This probably isn't your first rodeo, so maybe you're here because you're open to fresh ideas on how to find, well, fresh ideas. So here are some ways of distancing yourself: 

  • Physical activity: heightens cognitive activity, so try a run, a swim or at least a stroll with a coffee.
  • Change your space or your routine: we're creatures of habit! Maybe shaking up your setting will mean shaking up your physical one. Try a new room for a new perspective, walk a different way home or order something other than your regular from the menu.
  • Allow yourself time to daydream without judgement. Sometimes we can get so caught up in being productive that we dismiss an idea as bad before giving it a chance. Even bad ideas can lead to great ones. Pst, here's the truth... for every ten of our ideas, one might be average or ok.
  • Clock off. Yup, giving up and walking away can do wonders. Whether it's time away, space away, social distancing (sorry) or talking to new people. Find different ways to create distance.  

Summary

No one can run on full gas, or a full battery pack (this is 2022) 24/7. Phones need charging, our wrists need to uncramp, and our brains need rest. Ploughing through your work like you're a conveyor belt in an Amazon Prime distribution centre won't work. Trust and respect your brain to do what it needs to do so beautifully when it's ready. So don't burn yourself out; give yourself and your brain a break. Sometimes you need to create space, before you create your masterpiece.  

Sophie Wembridge

As Navigate’s strategy assistant, a background in psychology, marketing and English comes in handy when asking questions (A LOT) and finding out what makes people tick. Let's stop talking small and start thinking big. 

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