Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Brilliance of Spacing Out

The Big Bang Theory, "The Einstein Approximation": 

Sheldon is hit by major physicist block. He obsesses, can't sleep, and becomes even more erratic and annoying than usual. He even creeps out at night and breaks into a Funzone, desperate for visual aids. 
Eventually, he concludes that his mistake is in overtaxing his brain; when Einstein was faced with the same frustration, he took a mind-numbing job at the patent office to allow his subconscious to breathe.

Penny, the starving actress who works as a waitress, is quite stunned to discover him in the restaurant, scurrying around as a busboy. And lo, he does achieve his elusive epiphany.
According to Daniel Levitin in "Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain," the television writers weren't making up this phenomenon.
But the insight that led to [harness fire, build the pyramids, discover penicillin and decode the entire human genome] probably came from the daydreaming mode. This brain state, marked by the flow of connections among disparate ideas and thoughts, is responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight, when we’re able to solve problems that previously seemed unsolvable. You might be going for a walk or grocery shopping or doing something that doesn’t require sustained attention and suddenly — boom — the answer to a problem that had been vexing you suddenly appears. This is the mind-wandering mode, making connections among things that we didn’t previously see as connected. 
From personal experience, I know that after spending too much time focusing too much on a problem, the solution suddenly pops into my head at the oddest (and oven most inconvenient) of times. 

However (I cannot ignore an opportunity to throw the smartphone under the bus) constant pings and chirps prevents that thought process. 
Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.
If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.
Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.
The so-called yet imaginary concept known as "multi-tasking"—it doesn't exist. 
Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.
Want to solve problems? Put the phone on "Do Not Disturb" and go fold some laundry.       


Daniel Saunders said...

To meet one TV reference with another: "There’s no such thing as multi-tasking – just doing lots of things badly. The correct term is multi-failing." (Outnumbered)

I'm still not convinced Einstein took that patent office job out of choice, though. I'm pretty sure he just couldn't find any other work and the myth grew around him (like a secular gadol story).

Princess Lea said...

I'll take it, since it proves my point and sounds much cooler.

"Multi-fail" - well put.