The Fearless Five: Take a Break

November 2, 2021
by Timothy Wier

The Fearless Five - Take a Break

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If you’re familiar with the Broadway musical Hamilton…

(Wait, stick with me. I promise I’m not going to totally nerd out on you.)

…you’d know the song “Take a Break.” 

During the number, Eliza Hamilton pleads with her husband to spend the summer upstate with their family. 

Instead, he insists on remaining in New York City and continuing his work.

Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that decision causes bad things to ensue. 

Things would have been better if he had just taken a break.

And there’s a lesson in here for all of us.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “I can’t afford to take a break.”

Actually, you can’t afford not to. 

Because when you don’t take regular breaks, you’re less productive, make poor decisions, and can even tank your health. 

So not taking breaks actually costs you time (and money).  

In this edition of The Fearless Five, let’s walk through the importance of breaks & how to take them successfully. 

1. What happens when you rest your brain? 

So what happens when you put the phone away and allow your brain to rest?

Well, first of all, the brain doesn’t really experience a decrease in activity.

Instead, all of that activity shifts to different areas, known collectively as your Default Mode Network (DMN)

Essentially, while the prefrontal cortex is engaged, the brain looks for linear, logical solutions to problems.

But while at rest, the DMN is activated, and it looks for more intuitive or non-linear associations. 

Have you ever had an idea just “come to you” out of nowhere? 

That’s the DMN making connections & bringing them to the attention of your conscious mind. 

But unless you allow yourself to rest, and I mean really rest…

…your DMN will never have a chance to do its magic.

But wait, there’s more.

According to research from the University of Southern California, DMN activity is highly correlated with: 

  • Intelligence

  • Empathy

  • Emotional judgment

  • Overall mental health

So if you want to be healthy, productive, and more creative — rest is a no-brainer.

2. How to take better breaks. 

Now we know WHY it’s important to take breaks. So let’s look at the HOW. 

If you actually to take breaks that activate the DMN, you need three things:

  1. Detachment

  2. Positivity

  3. Consistency

Let’s walk through each of these in turn.

According to research from two German scholars (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007), psychological detachment is key to an effective break. 

Given what we just learned about the DMN, that’s not surprising.

When you take a “break” but are still plugged into work, you’re going to be distracted.

And distractions keep the DMN from activating.

So if you want the break to be completely effective, detachment is key. 

There’s also evidence to suggest that experiencing positive emotions during breaks is also important. 

By engaging in positive emotions, this increases blood flow to the areas in the brain that we use to focus (Lee et al., 2015).

Not only that, but they reverse the negative effects of work tasks (Trougakos et al, 2008).

In a sense, positivity directs your energy to where it’s needed most. 

Finally, you need to be consistent

One report from a team of Scandinavian scholars (Korpela, Kinnunen, Geurts, de Bloom and Sianoja, 2016) indicates that rest has a cumulative effect.

So just like you workout every day to improve your physical health, you need to dedicate time every day to rest so you can improve your mental health. 

It may seem tempting to skip on certain days, especially when the to-do list is piling up.

But, again, it’s only by taking breaks that you become capable of tackling all of those tasks. 

It’s counterintuitive, I know.

But most truths in life are.

To read the rest of this edition of The Fearless Five, subscribe to the newsletter on Substack. 

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