The power of creative rest

I recently found myself turning to passive activities like tv too often.  I'll admit, my habit started to verge on binging. We don't have cable, but we do have subscriptions for Hulu, HBO Now, Netflix, and Amazon. This subscription bonanza means I can spend 24 hours a day watching shows without ever running out of material.

Right before I stuffed my head into the screen, I'd been working hard. Too hard. I'd spent several months working long hours to get over the hump on several projects for my business. It felt hard to pry my fingers from the keyboard.

Mentally exhausted, I turned the TV more frequently for down time. But instead of feeling rejuvenated, I felt lethargic -- creatively dry. I decided to take a break from watching any media.

When I stepped away from the cat videos and latest television series, I cultivated my yoga habit.  This newly revived practice lead to other changes. Every Sunday rather than taking the train, I walked a mile to the farmer's market. I spent the rest of my Sundays making spinach frittatas, watermelon gelato, and homemade pesto.  I felt calmer and yet more energized. Soon, ideas seem to come to me while doing mundane tasks. Creative solutions appeared for problems I faced.

Maybe you're like me. We turn to the tv in an attempt to shut our brain down. But putting our brain to sleep while we're still awake isn't the most efficient way to rejuvenate. You may not be surprised, to learn that my passive tv watching habit wasn't truly restful.

It turns out; I needed a different kind of break, one that gave me creative rest. Rather always pushing hard or passively zoning out to all six seasons of Game of Thrones, what we really need is a more active sort of rest to refocus our brain. Active rest can serve as a stimulant for imagination and creativity, while passive rest focuses on consuming the output of others' creativity and imagination.

The internet helped give birth to trends like remote work and given us outlets for creative expression. It's incredibly easy for knowledge workers like you and me to lean towards screens since our livelihood depends on them. It feels natural to put our heads into a screen for hours on end every single day. And when we need a break, rather than stepping away from the screen, we simply shift our use of it.

It seems I'm not the only one who needs a reminder to step away from the screen. A Kickstarter campaign for an app that helps you remember to drink, eat and take a break from the internet received 6,737 likes raised $50,000. 

While it's easy to push ourselves towards work, eschewing any down time, that's a mistake according to author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. "Work and rest are not polar is not work’s adversary. Rest is work’s partner. “

Working less or taking up hobbies away from the screen doesn’t mean you limit your success. In fact, some argue that it greatly contributes to it. Animator Rachel Ryle, whose animations have attracted over a million followers on Instagram and lead to collaborations on movie trailers believes it helps her do her best work.

"I think as an artist, you need time to create and break away and reset and give your mind a break from the tedious nature of what you're doing….I turn towards travel a lot for inspiration, because it allows me to see new things and experience new things that spark that imagination." Animator, Rachel Ryle

The kind of rest Pang and Ryle mention seems to activate what neuroscientist Daniel Levitin calls daydreaming or mind-wandering mode.

Putting our brain into this mode helps us to solve problems more quickly. We can shift our mind into this mode through active breaks like walking, exercise and other activities away from the computer. And, many of these activities also happen to support our physical well-being which in turn helps our brain.

Software developer Kinsey Ann Durham was looking for an activity as a way to get outside and away from her desk when she discovered fly fishing. She's found that rather than detract from her work, getting in a river to catch fish, supports it.

If you're not ready to invest in a hobby like fly fishing, there are plenty of other ways to get active rest. If you prefer to be alone, start incorporating walks into your daily routine. If you want to rejuvenate in the company of others, try a retreat like Rails Camp West or another unplugged retreat.

Whether you rejuvenate alone or with others, to truly get creative rest, you mjght want to leave the electronics behind.