behavior · brain · cognition · creativity · learning · play

Why we need play and relaxation to think

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These little guys need a break just like your muscles. Image via Wikipedia

The brain is an amazing thing. It allows us to problem solve, combine ideas, and create out of seemingly thin air. But only if we let it.

As a play advocate, I run into a lot of people grumbling that play takes away from learning; but the fact of the matter is, play is ESSENTIAL to the learning process. More and more science is showing that the brain needs that down time to process what it’s learned, digest it a little bit, in order for us to use it for any useful purpose.

People who study creativity and innovation are aware of this all too well:

Current neuroscience research confirms what creatives intuitively know about being innovative: that it usually happens in the shower. After focusing intently on a project or problem, the brain needs to fully disengage and relax in order for a “Eureka!” moment to arise. It’s often the mundane activities like taking a shower, driving, or taking a walk that lure great ideas to the surface. Composer Steve Reich, for instance, would ride the subway around New York when he was stuck.Science journalist Jonah Lehrer, referencing a landmark neuroscience study on brain activity during innovation, writes:

“The relaxation phase is crucial. That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers. … One of the surprising lessons of this research is that trying to force an insight can actually prevent the insight.”

keep reading the Developing Your Creative Practice: Tips from Brian Eno :: Tips :: The 99 Percent to hear Brian Eno’s take on creativity and how he puts his brain to work.

It’s nice to see that science is finally taking relaxation and play seriously. I just wish the rest of the world, or at least our education system, would too. I know my work would benefit greatly if I took time to just relax and contemplate things more, to relax and let my brain explore a little bit. Hmmm, another exercise to try…

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