Charles Dickens had a super-compressed workday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Then he’d depart.
“He would walk incessantly,” the Guardian reports, “and put his mind into neutral.”
Dickens routine has been validated by research: right around 2 p.m. is when our energy tends to dip.
The neutrality gained by an afternoon walk can be an advantage; new research indicates that it’s crucial to having critical insights.
“That sort of downtime, when you’re not thinking directly about what you’re trying to learn, or figure out, or write about — that downtime is a time of subconscious processing that allows you [to learn] better,” says Oakland University engineering professor Barbara Oakley, author of the new book “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Maths and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra).”
The reason for this, Oakley recently explained to Mother Jones, is that the brain has two basic gears: a focused mode (where you’re actively engaging with a problem) and a diffuse mode (where problems have a chance to percolate).
So if you never take a break, you never access that secondary mode of thinking.
“When you’re focusing, you’re actually blocking your access to the diffuse mode,” Oakley says. “And the diffuse mode, it turns out, is what you often need to be able to solve a very difficult, new problem.”
Psychologists have a name for the percolation process: incubation. Just like how you get your best ideas in the shower, going for walks allows fresh insights to emerge.
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