What hour do we have to learn

Less stress, more success: "We have to learn to take breaks"

Lack of sleep and overwork are status symbols for people in demanding jobs. But those who plan to relax are more productive. Time for a little rest, warns the science philosopher Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Today's world is moving too fast for us to rest. The global economy runs around the clock. Innovations happen at breakneck speed, and tireless efforts seem to be a prerequisite for success.

We are always on the ball and permanently networked. Revision is a status symbol; What's more, we even consider the need for a vacation to be a weakness. But some of the most creative, productive, and high-performing people in the world have come to realize that this attitude is counterproductive. Many high-ranking scientists, artists, and writers work far fewer hours than most of us - but still produce impressive works. Top athletes know that they can be faster than the competition if they allow themselves enough rest. Pilots and sailors take care to avoid sleep deficits in order to stay alert. They all resist the siren song of the overhaul. They find ways to balance work and rest. Apparently, these people know exactly how important it is to take breaks.

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A creative mind needs time to deepen ideas

The psychologist Anders Ericsson takes the position that world-class music students stand out from the average mainly because they practice a lot and persistently: highly concentrated, high-intensity sessions lasting several hours a day. I believe that the secret of their success lies at least as much in the breaks. The rest periods give musicians the opportunity to recharge their batteries - both mentally and physically. Creative minds need time to deepen ideas and develop new ones.

Neuroscientists have found that the brain doesn't shut down when we relax. It is true that those brain networks that are responsible for attention shut down. In return, however, the idle state network becomes active. This network is ideal for calling up facts, imagining the future and making new connections. Many creative people have found that this hibernation mode also works while walking or exercising. Switching between hours of focused work - enough to delve deeply into a problem without going overboard - and conscious calm allows creative minds to continue working on problems while relaxing their conscious attention.

It can take years to master this kind of conscious rest. Some people only manage to do this in middle age; but it's worth it. Conscious rest allows better ideas to emerge faster. It helps us to lead a more balanced life. In contrast to hectic overtime, which leads to nothing but exhaustion, targeted breaks can help to learn a more productive work style in the long run. Conscious rest also helps to lead a more creative life for longer: Many people who rest consciously work well into their eighties and nineties.

Even a short rest increases vigilance

Scientists have discovered that when you sleep, the brain processes the memories of the day and breaks down toxic proteins that have been linked to dementia. Even a short nap can increase energy and alertness. Many athletes, doctors, pilots and soldiers use this scientific knowledge. In the past, sleep deprivation was seen as a professional necessity or a sign of strength.

But now they know: The reward of a specific nap is increased vigilance, shorter reaction times, better reflexes and smarter decisions. It is also amazing how many ambitious and hard-working people pursue hobbies that are time-consuming, physically demanding and even dangerous. They indulge in what I call “deep play” - deep play, immersion in game mode. Activities that are mentally and physically challenging offer similar satisfaction to work, but in a different context. Many researchers say, for example, that sport climbing is very similar to scientific work: on the rock as well as in the laboratory, it is important to break down large problems into many smaller parts and to concentrate completely.

Those who learn to use rest periods have more out of life

In addition, climbing stimulates the reward center, takes you outdoors, and lures you with the thrill of dangerous challenges - something that the laboratory cannot offer. We should reconsider our basic assumptions about the nature of rest and the relationship between rest and work. The most valuable types of rest are not passive, but active: an hour in the gym gives us more energy than an hour on the couch. Breaks are natural; using them properly is also a skill to be trained.

Just as singers learn to consciously use their breathing to support their voice, we can all learn to use rest to experience more creative days and get more out of life. It is time to see work and rest as partners rather than competitors. Only when they work together harmoniously can they help us to lead a longer, more productive and happier life.

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