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Stepping Away From Your Work Skillfully Can Trick Your Brain To Be More Productive

Stepping Away From Your Work Skillfully Can Trick Your Brain To Be More Productive

Do you work long hours believing it’s the most effective way to get your tasks completed? If you do, then you’re not alone – it’s a common perception held by many that ultimate performance is achieved through time and effort and often think this is how to be more productive in our work life.

Our productivity is like a rubber band stretching to its capacity. Working harder is adding extra stretch to the rubber band but it’s futile because the rubber band will only end up over-stretching and break. When we put so much effort and hard work in one sitting, as tempting and productive as that can seem, it is counteracting how our brains work and finally our productivity levels deteriorate over time because we do not take the necessary breaks.

Taking Breaks Is Good For Your Productivity

Vacations are something we often look forward to but how much do we take advantage of these much needed breaks? A recent study found that employees who took vacations displayed higher levels of productivity, morale and improved job satisfaction.

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A real-life story that validates the finding: Mark Douglas, the CEO of advertising and marketing company Steelhouse, wanted to boost both his employees work life satisfaction and his company’s overall success by paying his workers $2000 a year to take a vacation.

Surprisingly, through this policy, he has not only cultivated a sense of trust and increased overall happiness within his company, but he also found that people who come to work recharged are more productive!

Focused Mode And Diffused Mode

The reason taking time out for vacations and taking breaks is so great for our productivity has much to do with how our brains work. We have two types of thinking modes: focused mode and diffused mode.

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Focused mode is when we spend long amounts of time on a task. It may involve marathon sessions of work, studying, memorising and problem-solving. Our brains focus entirely on what we need to do but can often lead to cramming too much in and believing getting something done all at once is ultimately productive but can lead to counter-productivity due to us not working at our best capacity.

Diffused mode is when we’re doing something else entirely and vaguely, sometimes subconsciously, thinking about what you are trying to solve. This happens when we take breaks and go on vacation – in other words, it’s creating a space where our subconscious mind is open to inspired action and problem-solving.

So by switching back and forth between these two modes, we’ll be more productive when switching back to a focused mode after spending time in the diffused mode during our breaks.

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How To Be More Productive Through Taking Breaks

To learn how to be more productive, we actually need to adopt both modes of thinking. Switching between focused and diffused modes is where the magic happens. While it’s important for our mind to be focused by spending time retaining details, learn and concentrate at a task, we also need the space for our mind to be more free and open to let the subconscious mind take over and allowing the information to be processed more effectively.

That means you should break down your work schedule into smaller, regular sessions and make sure you take breaks in between to take advantage of the diffused mode. This could mean just switching off and taking a walk, exercising, listening to music or the ultimate break – taking a vacation.

We mustn’t underestimate the benefits we reap from taking time out and relaxing. If we make it all about focused mode we don’t take advantage of our brain’s true potential and ability to be at its most productive. So don’t shy away or judge yourself for stepping away from your work – you are doing your productivity and, ultimately, your career a massive favour.

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Featured photo credit: snapwiresnaps.tumblr.com via pexels.com

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Jenny Marchal

A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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