Quiet time is a good thing, and it is something that I think is more and more difficult to find in our hectic multimedia and often over-stimulated lives. In today's world, with instant messaging, texting, tweeting, and emailing, all of which can be done at home, work, or anywhere our 'smart' phones get reception, there is no down or quiet time.
Last week (http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/11/paying-attention.html), I blogged about the importance of paying attention and focusing on tasks at hand. I briefly discussed an article by neuroscientist / columnist Jonah Lehrer relating attention to executive functioning skills and then listed activities you could do to help boost attention span, energy, focusing and executive function skills.
Jonah Lehrer, while discussing the importance of attention, focus, and executive functioning, presents an alternate argument in another essay "Against Attention" (which can be found in The Wall Street Journal February 21, 2011 or at http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/02/against-attention/). Here he argues for the need to NOT PAY ATTENTION, to 'boot down' to a "quiet" time and place, letting the mind rest and wander.
In Against Attention, Lehrer notes that:
We live in a time that worships attention... In fact, the ability to pay attention is considered such an essential life skill that the lack of it has become a widespread medical problem. Nearly 10% of American children are now diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In recent years, however, scientists have begun to outline the surprising benefits of not paying attention. Sometimes, too much focus can backfire...Lehrer then relates research indicating that:
- There is a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity—people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas.
- Employees are more productive when they’re allowed to engage in “internet leisure browsing”.
When we’re faced with a difficult problem, the most obvious solution—that first idea we focus on—is probably wrong. At such moments, it often helps to consider far-fetched possibilities, to approach the task from an unconventional perspective. And this is why distraction is helpful: People unable to focus are more likely to consider information that might seem irrelevant but will later inspire the breakthrough. When we don’t know where to look, we need to look everywhere.However, before we all go running for our "quiet" daydreaming time, and start shorting stock in Red Bull and Starbucks, Lehrer also notes that:
This doesn’t mean, of course, that attention isn’t an important mental skill, or that attention-deficit disorders aren’t a serious problem. There’s clearly nothing advantageous about struggling in the classroom, or not being able to follow instructions. (It’s also worth pointing out that these studies all involve college students, which doesn’t tell us anything about those kids with ADHD who fail to graduate from high school. Distraction might be a cognitive luxury that not everyone can afford.)His point:
"Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do when trying to solve large problems is to meditate, take a long shower, or a long walk ... The takeaway is that we need to broaden our definition of “productive” thinking."
The key as I see it is finding a balance (as with most things). We need to be able to focus on work and in school, but breaks are equally essential, and no-doze, caffeine boosts, and Red Bull may not be the best solutions. The solution, instead, may be an occasional mind trip, walks, yoga, and recess in school balanced and sandwiched between more focused work sessions.
- When making schedules. leave some quiet, meditative, "relax" time so that there is less hectic rushing and so that there is some time to use just for yourself - to think, daydream, read or walk in a park or woods.
- As a parent, this means encouraging focusing time for homework, with short breaks in between. It may mean spending half an hour or 45 minutes doing math homework, taking a 20 minute break, and then returning to do more homework. Schedule dinner as a break and outside/play time as well.
- When developing family or school projects, talk about your goals and options with others. Make notes but put those notes down, go for a walk, and come back to the project. See if other ideas have surfaced and pursue those as well.
- Discuss current events or family decisions together at the table, in the car, or when together. Brainstorm solutions and options. Allow for whacky suggestions that you pursue further - whether in jest or not.
- Model open-mindedness and the value of off-beat ideas, places, and people.
Do you easily find quiet time or is it getting more difficult in our mulit-media always-available world to 'boot down'? How do you find and make quiet time? What is it that you like doing in this quiet time and place? Please share your ideas and strategies in the comments.