Why You Need To Focus Less

Why You Need To Focus Less

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We live in a time where we are all told that to do great work we must focus. Focusing techniques such as to-do lists and blocks of scheduled project time are the norm in business while we are also encouraged to practice mindfulness exercises in order to quieten the mind and develop a diamond like focus. However while focus is useful for many things it can actually hinder your creativity if taken to extremes.

You see as the as Srini Pillay explains in his new book ‘Tinker Dabble Doodle Try’, too much focus actually exhausts the focus circuits in your brain. Indeed too much focus will drain you of energy and make you lose self-control.

The latest research shows us that in order to be more creative you have to toggle between focus and unfocus. When you unfocus, you engage a part of the brain called the ‘default mode network’ or DMN. Neuroscientists use to call it the Do Mostly Nothing circuit in the brain because it only lit up when you stopped focusing on something. However when this circuit is switched off it continues to use 20% of the body’s energy, compared to only 5% that any other effort requires.

So why does this Default Mode Network in our brain need so much energy? Well this is the circuit in the brain that is jumping back and forth between old memories, the present moment experience and future ideas. It’s literally combining old memories with new future orientated scenarios. So when you are working on creative solutions or imagining what the future may look like then this DMN is activated. It’s also the network in the brain that switches on when you are working in a team setting and trying to figure out what other people are thinking.

In his book Dr Pillay breaks down a number of ways we can strengthen this circuit, whether that’s to help us be more creative or make better decisions.

The first way is to use positive constructive daydreaming or PCD. PCD is a way of letting your mind wander or as they say in my native Scotland; let your mind take a dander. Here is a link to a post in Harvard Business Review which explains in detail how to do positive constructive daydreaming.

Another way to strengthen the DMN is one I love, which is to take naps. However there are different types of naps for different types of purposes. Studies show a short 10-minute nap is great if you want in increase your alertness of clarity of mind but if you want to boost your creativity you will need to take a full 90 minutes. That’s because more creative tasks require a longer period of time in which your brain can make new associations to past, present and future ideas.

The third way is a creativity technique I’ve shared with you before where you pretend to be someone else. So the author that is stuck in her creative process can try writing in the style of J.K. Rowling, or an entrepreneur lacking confidence can try generating new business ideas while behaving more in the style of a Richard Branson or an Elon Musk. In fact educational psychologists Denis Dumas and Kevin Dunbar recently carried out a study where they gave people a test to come up with as many uses as possible for an object such as a brick. Those who put themselves in the mind of an eccentric inventor or creative genius come up with many more ideas. As they say ‘fake it till you make it’!

So my suggestion is allow yourself to switch back and forth between focused attention and unfocused time. You’ll need both to fully unleash your creativity. Thanks for watching.

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Artificial Intelligence and Creativity Skills Training?

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Focus and Unfocus
  • To-Do Lists
  • Batching Time
  • Mindfulness
  • Srini Pillay M.D.
  • Tinker Dabble Doodle Try
  • default mode network
  • DMN
  • Positive Constructive Daydreaming (PCD)
  • Denis Dumas
  • Kevin Dunbar
  • Fake It Till You Make It

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