Often when we are running we say “I need to catch my breath!”
It is the same with our work – last week I found myself saying “I need to catch my thoughts!”
I am running so fast, with so many ideas, requests, demands on my time to manage, and so much work to finish that I could not think anymore. I had nothing creative or original left in me. I could follow a list, and I could complete instructions so I was busy and productive, but I could not create anything new.
My job is to be creative, so I knew I had to act, so I turned to a neuroscientific technique called mind-wandering which is an important activity for the brain. It is the ability to have spontaneous, unbounded thoughts that have nothing to do with the task we are doing. It happens when our brains are at rest – note I said brain not body!
A good way to move into mind-wandering is to do something that is repetitive, known to you and easy to do so that you reduce the use of the part of your brain called the “task-positive network” which is what we use to manage demanding, thoughtful tasks.
In my case, I walk (with or without the dogs) on routes I know well, with no roads to cross (because that takes a lot of attention and in my case concentration because I have been run over 4 times in my life and I don’t want it to happen again!)
Mind wandering is so powerful because it enables us to consolidate our thoughts and to have new ideas. I know that when I am walking I am thinking through all the things that have been happening to me, the information I have received, the people I have met, and the places I have visited. My brain sorts through these things, labelling them and categorising them, enabling me to group them, find connections between them and tidy them away. It is a form of de-cluttering that creates space for me to have new thoughts and ideas.
You do not need lots of time for this valuable re-set so you can mind-wander at any time during the week, but it also helps to find the repetitive and enjoyable task that works for you and build it into your weekends and holidays so you can be sure you are having a good mental clear out when you are away from work.
If you find these techniques helpful, join me on my last Agile Change Coach course before my summer break (yes – I will be mind-wandering!) as this course has 41 neuroscience-based techniques for building relationships, getting motivated, communicating clearly and being decisive.