Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Opinion
 
DANIEL J. LEVITIN

Hit the reset button in your brain

Published on Aug 11, 2014 11:51 AM
 
Zoning out is not always bad; taking breaks is biologically restorative. If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations – true vacations without work – and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s big problems. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

This month, many Americans will take time off from work to go on vacation, catch up on household projects or simply be with family and friends. And many of us will feel guilty doing so. We will worry about all of the e-mails piling up at work, and in many cases continue to compulsively check e-mail during our precious time off.

But beware the false break. Make sure you have a real one. The summer vacation is more than a quaint tradition. Along with family time, mealtime and weekends, it is an important way that we can make the most of our beautiful brains.

Every day we're assaulted with facts, pseudofacts, news feeds and jibber-jabber, coming from all directions. According to a 2011 study, on a typical day, we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers' worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986. As the world's 21,274 television stations produce some 85,000 hours of original programming every day (by 2003 figures), we watch an average of five hours of television per day. For every hour of YouTube video you watch, there are 5,999 hours of new video just posted!

If you're feeling overwhelmed, there's a reason: The processing capacity of the conscious mind is limited. This is a result of how the brain's attentional system evolved. Our brains have two dominant modes of attention: the task-positive network and the task-negative network (they're called networks because they comprise distributed networks of neurons, like electrical circuits within the brain).

 
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