Overextended? Here’s a PSA from your Brain

This is a message for all of you cognitive athletes out there—thinking is hard work.

But wait, you already knew that, because at the end of the day, you’re drained, and your mind is muddled, and often, you’re frazzled too, so you drop into happy hour before heading home or back to the office for a few more hours of work.

Wouldn’t it be helpful though, to know how to turn a nonstop, draining, brain-numbing day into one that’s efficient throughout, so that more gets done in less time with better quality and fewer errors, and so that work can be set aside at a reasonable hour, and you can head out for, well, wherever, feeling energized, rather than lagging, after hours of focused work?


Here’s a PSA from your brain

that will help you keep it functioning optimally—thinking clearly, emotionally stable, focused, alert, recall ready, and available to problem solve.


I’m the organ housed primarily (but not only) between your ears, and I communicate with my counterparts and the rest of your body via the nervous system.

Like your heart, I need rest and recovery after exertion. When you race to the top of the stairs, and your heart is pounding out of your chest, you slow down and let it recover. (I know; I’ve seen you do it.) When you engage me in a mental task, then move on to the next one, or several, you drain me of the resources I need to keep functioning optimally. I begin to slow down and lose my focus. Yet you plow forward, determined to answer every email, while taking calls, having meetings and getting “real” work done.

Here’s the kicker. If you were to take a mental break—a few minutes to just zone out, daydream, or meditate every now and then —you would activate my Default Mode Network. Here’s why that’s so important. Our default mode network only activates during wakeful rest, not when we’re engaged in a task that requires attention, or when we’re sleeping.


In this zone,

I do important things like process and integrate the information we were working on all morning, embed memory, problem solve, and learn new things.

When you don’t give me breaks, and you keep me up and running all the time, important stuff like devising solutions to complex problems, innovation, and remembering where you left your keys, can’t happen.

More importantly, when you do give me a brain break, I’m not idle! Tuning out for you is dynamic for me. I’m busy laying down information and generating new brain cells, preventing age-related thinning of my neocortex and regulating my emotional centers so that you’re less reactive when things go south or you’re stuck in traffic, among many other activities that I can’t do while you’ve got me engaged in cognitive tasks.

You say you don’t have time to take a mental break? I say, you don’t have time not to. Powering through is not a productivity tool. It’s exhausting and counterproductive. But don’t take just my word for it.

Stand up, gaze out the window, take a few deep-torso breaths and a couple of sips of water, and I’m ready for another round of focused work.

Thanks for listening. And take five, soon (please).