Paying attention is the most common state of our waking selves. From the time we get up in the morning until we go back to sleep at night, we are paying attention to something, whether it is reading the news, taking care of family members, driving a car, watching a television program, or working. Working, in particular, is a roller coaster of attention domination. It not only demands our attention to the tasks we need to accomplish, but it then interrupts that attention with other things that need our attention: phone calls, texts, emails, customer conversations, whatever.
This “outward attention” (which is what the psychologists call it) may seem like the essence of living. But in recent years, researchers have discovered that too much outward attention can be self-defeating. According to an editorial published on the site of the Association for Psychological Science, Helen Immordino-Yang, a foremost researcher in this area, says that time spent “mind wandering, reflecting and imagining” improves your ability to maintain outward attention. In other words, a state of constant outward attention inhibits your ability to pay attention.
In addition, research has shown that mind wandering contributes to moral thinking and reasoning. It is also linked to overall socioemotional well-being and our ability to manage ourselves in the social world. In other words, you need downtime in order to be a healthy, well-rounded human being. If you’re not satisfied with your social life, maybe you’re not getting enough mental rest.
A 2013 article in Scientific American, “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime,” makes the case for mental breaks, saying in part, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.” If you have any doubts about the value of rest, you need to read that article.
How can you get the downtime you need when there are so many demands on your outward attention? First of all, recognize that you need that downtime every bit as much as you need water and air. It is crucial to your health. Second, get control of your routine and schedule some downtime. Third, do it. You can meditate, daydream, nap, or take a nature walk.
To truly cut yourself off from moment-to-moment demands, however, I suggest you book some time at Peak Recovery & Health Center and use one of our recovery methodologies. If you use the infrared sauna, for example, there’s nothing for you to do in there but sweat. The sweating is good for you, but so is the mental break. If you use photobiomodulation, you will find yourself cut off from all outside influences (except the light) for 12 minutes. It’s an occasion for downtime, and it also contributes to your energy level by increasing your ATP at the cellular level.
But for downtime par excellence, I would recommend a sensory-deprived float pod session. The float pod cuts off all external stimuli in order to create the deepest possible state of relaxation. You are in a soundproof, lightproof tank. Heavily salted water at near body temperature allows you to float, eliminating the pull of gravity on your body and reducing your awareness of where you end and the rest of the world begins. Imagine spending an hour without having to respond to anyone or anything. The resulting state of mental and physical relaxation is far beyond what most people experience in a lifetime.