Managing the mind

Mental malaise and brain burn: Mount Holyoke professor Marta Sabariego talked to the New York Times about how to manage your mind and train your brain.

Everyone experiences dips in mental energy that can derail even the most curated to-do lists. The urge to power through when productivity plummets is understandable, but research shows that taking a break may be the better way to get back on track – especially if your work requires creativity, Marta Sabariego, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, told the New York Times.

The brain primarily operates in two modes: one is the task-oriented, problem-solving system that uses energy to focus; the other operates when focus is not engaged, and is better suited to bursts of creativity and sudden inspiration. The trick is that when one system is engaged the other isn’t so toggling between the two is the best strategy.

So, when you are bogged down in boring, repetitive tasks, your brain doesn’t get a boost of dopamine, which acts as a chemical reward and motivator for the brain when it is engaged in more creative pursuits.

“Dopamine helps us narrow our visual and auditory world and increases our motivation,” Dr. Sabariego said. For that reason, you may need more frequent breaks when doing rote jobs.

The good news is that brains, like muscles, can be trained to sustain longer periods of exertion. Sabariego suggests building tolerance to longer periods of activity and focus.

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