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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

21 Counter-Intuitive Brain Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity

21 Counter-Intuitive Brain Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity

Every self-help program talks about the importance of taking a 10-15 minute break to boost your productivity.

Breaks give us much needed time to rest our eyes, move around, stretch our stiff muscles, get more blood and oxygen flowing to our brain, to unwind and obtain a fresh outlook on complex work problems.

There is just one problem – we often forget to take them. (Note: Going to the bathroom, grabbing a cup of coffee or checking Facebook updates does not count, as these activities hardly give us enough time to energize our body and restore our concentration and productivity.)

As strange as it may sound, taking regular breaks throughout the work day requires discipline and a little bit of planning. Actually, the reason why so many people push themselves to the limit of exhaustion is simple – they just can not think of any interesting activities they can do, during their break time. So they end up working for 4-5 hours straight until their body offers them a painful reminder.

If this sounds like you, here are 21 counter-intuitive brain break ideas that help to restore your energy, sharpen your focus, boost productivity and avoid burnout at work.

1. Listen to a Guided Meditation

There are plenty of 10-15 minute meditations that allow you to trigger your creativity, let go of muscles tension and take your mind of the work at hand.

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All you have to do is put on a headset, close your eyes and enjoy peace and relaxation even in the midst of work chaos.

Here’s one for you: The Guided Morning Meditation for Beginners (That Will Change Your Day)

2. Share Your Break with a Co-Worker

Alone, you might not always have the strength to pull yourself away from the computer, but if you have a friend taking breaks with you, it is much easier to stick with your break routine. In addition, it offers a great opportunity to bond with your colleagues and get to know them better.

3. Step Outside for a Fresh Perspective

Leaving a stuffy office and letting yourself enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, the coolness of a breeze and the freshness of the spring air can do miracles to your mind and body. You will come back feeling rejuvenated and ready to approach your work with new energy and a fresh perspective.

4. Close Your Eyes and Take 10 Deep Breaths

Stand up and walk away from your desk. Find a quiet place, where you can sit down, close your eyes, smile to yourself and take a few deep breaths. Imagine tension, stress and anxiety leaving your body as you breathe out, and peacefulness, positivity and relaxation filling your mind with every breath that you take.

5. Say No to Tension Headaches

Slowly roll your neck to the right noticing a slight tension in your neck muscles. Hold this position for a count of 120 (2 minutes), then turn your head to the opposite side and repeat. Enjoy the feeling of warmth and flexibility return to your neck and shoulders.

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6. Try People-Gazing

Watching people walking down the street, chatting in a nearby café, and driving by, is meditation in itself. In addition looking outside the window helps to take the strain off the eyes.

7. Rock out to Some Great Music

Music is a great mood changer, especially if you allow yourself to get up and move with it. Just a few minutes of humming and dancing can put a smile on your face and get your blood moving.

8. Take a Thumb and Pinkie Brain Break

This is a great break idea if you need a quick distraction from the problem at hand to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Take your left hand and have your fingers in and your thumb up.
  • Then take your right hand and put all the fingers in except the pinkie. So in other words, your left thumb up and right pinkie out.
  • Now switch the roles of your hands. And now try doing it faster.

Not as simple as it looked, right?

9. Delete Some Tasks from Your To-Do List

What can be more satisfying than taking a long hard look at your do-to list and crossing off a few unimportant tasks?

10. Eat an Apple S-L-O-W-L-Y

In the middle of a busy day, when you feel rushed, take a 2-3 minute break to eat an apple (or another fruit that you like). Just do it very slowly. Notice the flavor, the texture, the freshness. Doing something at a slow pace might feel weird, even annoying at first. But after a few minutes you feel much calmer and less stressed.

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11. Say Thank you

Grab a notecard and your favorite pen and write a quick thank you to someone you appreciate. Then attach a stamp and go downstairs to put it in a mailbox. This simple act of gratitude will take your focus away from any pressing work problems and will put you in a good mood.

12. Take a “No Cell-phone Walk”

Leave your cell-phone in the office and head outside for a brisk walk. Shake off apathy and fatigue. Walk even faster, raising your heartbeat and letting the excitement and the sense of freedom re-charge your mind and body.

13. Read a Magazine or a Book

Pick a read that has nothing to do with your area of work or the latest news. Give your brain the pleasure of not to thinking, being stressed or making decisions.

14. Re-Waterize Yourself

First drink a full glass of water. Second splash some water on your face: warm to relax, cold – to wake up and energize yourself.

15. Make Animals of the Clouds

This is a great exercise to entertain your children, but it is also a great game you can play alone as it helps to tap into your creative potential and distract your mind from upcoming deadlines or customer complaints.

16. Pick up the Pace

If you feel yourself tired and sleepy, deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual. Type faster. Speak faster. Read faster. Make decisions faster. And, of course, go home sooner.

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17. Laugh off the Tension

You can start by simply saying, “Ha, ha, ha.” and keep repeating it, until you are really laughing. A few minutes of a good belly laugh help to get rid of tension, relax a lot of involuntary muscles and increase blood circulation.

18. Stretch out Stiffness

Getting up from your desk to do a set of sun salutations or this might not be an option if you work in a room full of people. But it does not mean that you should deprive yourself of the pleasure of stretching your body and getting some exercise. Try a simple stretching exercise.

  • Plant your feet firmly on the ground, lift your arms and look at your palms.
  • Stretch your spine for about 30-60 seconds, gradually increasing pressure, as if you were trying to touch the ceiling with your fingers.
  • Relax, lower your arms and feel the energy moving up your spine.

19. Do Something Artistic

Write a short, funny poem and dedicate it to your co-worker. Draw a picture for your kids. Take a few photos of your surroundings. Let your creative side shine!

20. Unclutter Your Desk

A great way to take a much needed break, while looking “busy” is to unclutter your desk. Not only is it relaxing, it also helps to activate productive energy flow.

21. Juggle

Learning to juggle isn’t particularly difficult and it could be a great exercise to take during a break (maybe not in the office itself, but in a place, where balls flying left and right will not bother anyone). Juggling requires fine muscle control, timing and concentration. But most importantly, it is fun!

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Featured photo credit: Joanna Kosinska via unsplash.com

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Arina Nikitina

The author of "Real Goal Getting guide" and she is on a mission to help people achieve goals, and keep focused and motivated.

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

 A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

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“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

“When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

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When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Silence relieves stress and tension.

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

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A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

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But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

Summation

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

Reference

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