How taking a break from your phone can benefit your brain

How taking a break from your phone can benefit your brain

Can you remember the last time you were bored? Did you take out your mobile to check social media, the news and sports headlines, or play another level on your favourite game to pass the time? Did you multitask to engage your brain again so you could focus on the task?

There is no doubt that technology has increasingly filled our time over the past ten years. Our notifications are running 24/7, and we have that need to respond to show we are on task, communicative, alert, and have thoughts on every possible subject. Then we have the notifications to tell us how other people responded to our posts, photos, even comments on a post or photo. The more likes, thumbs up, or positive comments in response are proof of our success.

What would we do without these notifications to prove our worth?

The question we should also ask ourselves is how does this constant state of alert and multitasking affect the brain?

Dr. Daniel Levitin, the author of The Organised Mind, says:  “Every time you shift your attention from one thing to another, the brain has to engage a neurochemical switch that uses up nutrients in the brain to accomplish that. So if you’re attempting to multitask, you know, doing four or five things at once, you’re not actually doing four or five things at once, because the brain doesn’t work that way. Instead, you’re rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go.”

Multitasking – flicking between tabs on your screen, constantly checking notifications, texts, emails, headlines, and your timelines – means your brain is having to work much harder to engage the neurochemical switches. It is not giving time for the neural pathways to strengthen and build your beliefs, attitude, thoughts and habits. We are also using up the limited neural resource of glucose with each neurochemical switch.

What would be the benefits  of changing the phone habit – switching off our phones or even deleting some of our social media apps? How would this change affect the brain?

In her recent TED Talk“How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas”, Manoush Zomorodi explains how the brain reacts differently when we are bored – when we just allow ourselves to do a task we don’t need to think consciously about – when we are on autopilot. The research on our subconscious brain when we are on autopilot shows its activity is increased particularly in forming the neural pathways in creativity.
In today’s society, our brains have little time to be on autopilot. Zomorodi says:

A decade ago, we shifted our attention at work every three minutes. Now we do it every 45 seconds, and we do it all day long. The average person checks email 74 times a day, and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day.

That neurochemical switch happens every time we check our emails – every time we click on a different tab – 566 times per day our neural pathways may be stopped from strengthening as we switch tasks to check the headlines, our Twitter and Facebook feed, or check how many likes we have had in the past 30 minutes.

Zomorodi reports her research project “Bored and Brilliant” which aimed to break the vicious cycle of multitasking whenever we have an inactive moment. The individuals had to delete their favourite apps from their phone, and give themselves that time to “space out” – to procrastinate, to let their minds wander, and be bored.

By removing their favourite apps, the participants reported experiencing emotions of loss and sadness as well as anger and frustration, but they did take the power back from the apps with the removal of notifications. They had regained the control.

The results on the positive change in the quality of the participants’ lives are fascinating – the qualitative results far outweigh the actual quantitative results of the time recorded spent on their mobiles. Individuals reported feeling less stressed, sleeping more soundly, feeling happier and being more productive.

Zomorodi’s new book Bored and Brilliant: How Time Spent Doing Nothing Changes Everything discusses the research in more detail, and she provides practical advice to change our technological habits so that we can break that dependence on our phones and tablets, and reclaim our thinking time.

In our previous eshot Procrastinate to Create, we explored the importance of thinking time to stimulate ideas. Zomorodi’s research project has now provided more neurological research to support our advice on delegating time for “headspace” – to think, let our minds wander, to visualise, and create.

Take the challenge and delete one of your favourite apps, and give yourself more free time to think – even be bored, take time to visualise, and allow your thoughts to develop into creative ideas. Take a step away from multitasking and switching those neurochemicals and give time for your dendrites to strengthen!

To be successful, we need to give ourselves time to procrastinate so that we can successfully create. As research is now proving, we can actively develop these skills by changing the habit of multitasking and constantly checking notifications by removing certain apps from our phones and tablets.

Take the challenge! Delete an app, be bored, and think of a brilliant idea for the future!