Friday, November 12, 2010

The Power of Nothing

Marcia Yudkin publishes a weekly column called The Marketing Minute. It's short and pointed, fitting nicely into my busy day. November is contest season at FundsforWriters, and with 352 entries, reading consumes the day, and many normal writing duties (incuding the novel's advancement) get pushed to the background. Email is skimmed, deleted, filed or replied to, often in bulleted answers.

This week, however, Marcia brilliant, brief message spoke about a research report from the University of California, San Francisco, about rats (of course, it's always rats - that or monkeys). When exposed to a new experience, they did not absorb it and incorporate it into their knowledge banks until they'd taken a break.

The scientists worried that today's constant obsession with digital connection prohibits us from retaining our experiences. We may have learned something in class, but the second we are out of class, we hit the smart phone. People run to the gym and exercise only to talk on the phone, listen to music, flip through a magazine, read news on the Web or watch television while they pound the treadmill.

If we never take a break, we allow opporunities afforded us through new knowledge to evaporate.

As much as I'd love to hug my computer ten hours a day, I can't. My brain muddies to the point I'm clicking buttons and forgetting what I read. So I visit the chickens. Then I weed. Now there's a task that gives me time to free-think. I've redefined protagonists and searched for blog ideas as I stooped over flower beds, digging out straying Bermuda grass. Or hoed weeds between rows of field peas. Or sat on the back porch with a bourbon watching the birds on the feeder.

I never thought of relaxing to retain information. I do it for sanity's sake. I'm a firm believer that we have to slow down once a day long enough to hear silence. It's remarkable the brilliance that dares to ease up during those times I'm letting my brain do its own thing. It's so tempting to grab a notebook, and sometimes I do, but only to jot a word or two to revisit later. No sentences or pages. Just easy thought.

Maybe that's why I work in the middle of the night. I imagine that's also why I go to bed and allow a few moments to plant the seed of an issue I'm fighting in my novel. My mind seems more receptive without the competition of electronics, people and noise. On that note, the University of California did another study that showed that people who took naps after lunch practically rebooted their memories to absorb better and digest more the rest of the afternoon.

The world comes at us so fast with too many options. We feel the need to gobble up all the information at our disposal, take on every task and produce to the max. Our lives become packed with making widgets. Widget is a generic term for a manufactured item, used in business lessons. With our days packed with busy-ness, our efforts become reduced to making widgets - unidentifiable results of us running around in circles.

Slow down and do nothing . . . and accomplish more.


Ellie Garratt said...

A fascinating post about something I've been thinking for a long time. I'm going to make sure I take that time to relax every day.

Carol J. Alexander said...

Thanks for validating my afternoon nap, Hope. Just 15-20 minutes is all I need to get me going for the rest of the evening.

Jessica McCann said...

Thanks for sharing this, Hope. It makes a lot of sense. My "nothing" time comes when I paint the house. Every six months or so I tackle another room; usually a day to prep the room, and a day to paint. Because I get covered in paint flecks, I don't dare touch my computer or answer the phone. That focused effort, paying attention to painting detail, yet uninhibited by electronics, really recharges me. By the time Monday rolls back around, other than a few muscle aches and pains, I feel more refreshed and ready to work than I do after a week-long vacation. Now that I know the scientific benefits, I need to figure out a way to work in similar activities more often and in shorter bursts.

Jessica McCann
Author of the novel All Different Kinds of Free

BECKY said...

Thanks, Hope! I, too, have to have my naps, or other "nothing" time.

Kelli said...

As a mom, I often feel guilty for taking "nothing" time. If I'm not writing - or thinking about writing - I should be parenting! Thanks for permission to check out every once in awhile! :-)

Barb Hodges said...

Hope, I think you have hit upon a solution for our academic concerns. Let's take a page from the preschool manual and have students from first grade on, all take power naps right after lunch. Their attentive levels and comprehension levels just might soar.Thanks for sharing.