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Space out. It does your brain good.

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

Taking a shower. Driving a monotonous road, and the kids aren’t asking me questions. Working out. The last few moments before drifting off to sleep.

These are all moments when I feel like I have the best ideas. Near epiphanies, sometimes. They sneak up on me like my daughter with an ice cube for the back of my shirt. In fact, I found in doing research my book that there’s scientific evidence for our brains finding its best ideas at rest.

When I sit in front of the computer, deliberately trying to remember what I need to look up or who I need to write, I’m at a loss. But give me a moment of silence when I’m about to pass out, and suddenly, all these ideas and to-dos come flooding my brain.

This isn’t accidental, actually. There’s something about letting your body rest that allows your brain to move. When you purposely allow yourself the freedom to just space out, you explore new fields and remember how to move.

Do you allow yourself the freedom to run on autopilot a few minutes each day? If you’re like me, it’s not as often as I should. Parents have so many mental balls to juggle—school schedules, dental appointments, menu plans, financial goals, discipline issues for each kid at various stages for different actions, not to mention work obligations.

Running a household and bringing up the next generation takes creativity. It requires out-of-the-box thinking to nurture hearts and guide children on the path they were meant to take. So does being an innovative thinker in your field, loving your spouse the way he or she best hears love, and being a helpful member of your community, whatever that looks like.

If you don’t give yourself the gift of downshifting a few times per day, you’ll ultimately run on auto-pilot, and your spirit will putter out. Your drive will wane. You’ll enjoy parenting less. You’ll resent all your other obligations.

I love the story of Susannah Wesley, a 17-18th century mom of 19 (Charles and John were two of her sons). At least once per day, she would put the bottom of her apron over her head so that she could “be alone” and pray. The children would still physically be around her, but they learned that once her apron covered her head, she was gone. It was normally only for five minutes or so, but somehow, those small moments got her through the day.

How could this look for us?


Photo by Luis Markovic

• Set your alarm a few minutes earlier than when you need to rise, and spend your first few waking moments mentally preparing for the day.

• Keep a notepad with you in the car and by your night stand. When you suddenly think of that great way to encourage your son to treat his little brother more respectfully, jot it down.

• Pray.

• Mediate.

• Don’t turn on the TV most nights of the week. Enjoy that blissful silence.

• Trade daytime babysitting with another mom, and spend those alone hours with a journal and coffee.

• Exercise a little every day.

Don’t try to be superwoman, and don’t forget to refuel often throughout the day. It’s hard to be a parent, and it’s hard to juggle life’s tasks. I tend to be a workaholic, so when I finish a project, my instinct is to jump right on to the next one. But you know? Sometimes it’s okay to just put up your feet with a novel and wander off.

Let your brain and your body rest often. You’ll be more creative, positive, and recharged.

I wrote a version of this post almost three years ago, and it still totally rings true for me today—so tweaking and republishing it here is just as much for me as it is for anyone. When are your daily little snippets of time that provide space for your thoughts to flow?

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Comments

  1. Excellent post! What a reminder to take the time to renew the spirit. I have experienced that multiple times but it’s so easy for me to forget and just push through the day helping the kids with all their needs.

    I’m feeling the need to chill and have been for some time today. I guess I go do that now.

  2. so so so true! whenever i’m having a conversation with someone about something and the other person can’t think of a name or a place or whatever, i always say “don’t worry, you’ll think of it at 3 in the morning” and it’s so true! drain your brain for a while each day or you’ll have brain drain – ironic isn’t it?!

  3. Once again, AWESOME! This is by far my favorite blog to read because you bring it back to where life should be. Slow it all down, and LIVE. I love it. I love how your posts put everything into perspective. THANK YOU!

  4. Lovely reminder, Tsh! I completely agree about having the best ideas when you least expect them:-) And yup, I always have a notebook to jot down what strikes me, spend the first 15-20 minutes of my morning to plan and reflect upon the day that lies ahead and yes, am working on drinking more water to stay hydrated. That one is a challenge:-)

  5. I’ve been wondering where all those clever ideas and important memories and big dreams go when I sit down to write about them. I’ll do more now to keep that notepad closer throughout the day to take advantage of quiet moments i can create. Also I love the photo of downward facing dog right smack in the middle of LIFE.   Thank you!

  6. Thank you for this important post. I’m just going to take a break this weekend. My daily snippets are mostly while blogging and reading blogs. They inspire me to think further!

  7. Most definitely! Too often, probably! you’re right though, I think it’s imperative to have a few minutes to yourself each day, even if it is just “zoning.” :)

  8. I’m a notorious notepad carrier – one for the purse, one in the car (because I hear a good quote or a book title on the radio – and need to keep reciting it to myself until I reach a stoplight), and by my Bible (since my to-do list plays in my head constantly when I try to focus on the Scriptures.) I also like to keep a piece of blank paper as a bookmark in a library book I’m reading – so when I steal blog ideas…..I’ll remember where it came from :)

    Another great practical post. thanks!

  9. There was actually a scientific study that proves what you have discovered – that people actually REQUIRE some breaks and pauses. You can Google for “Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime” New York Times article.

    Impressive that you’ve discovered this by yourself!

  10. Aaah … sigh … someone actually gives me permission to zone out?
    Wonderful! And true – inspiration sparks spontaneously when I am not pushing myself towards it.

  11. I’ve always said I get my best ideas in the shower!

  12. I always enter ideas into my smartphone. They can be little things or big realizations about life, business,… There’s no guiding principle, I just jot down whatever I feel is important enough to occupy memory space. It’s amazing how some of my biggest ideas/reflections can be traced back to a couple of keywords on my blackberry.

  13. great post! loving the blog in general.
    I am a shower thinker for sure. recently been physically closing my laptop cover to make me forget about it cause you are so right, often sitting here is the last place for good ideas!
    thanks, off to read more posts :)
    shona

  14. You are spot on once again! It is so critical to take the time to just rest. Not easy to do but very important! Our sprinklers recently decided to not work and I have been hand watering the garden. I have found that I really seem to “zone out” staring at the flowers and listening to the water!

  15. I really love this post. I need to do alot more spacing out. I know that I spend too much time in front of the TV…..and the laptop. I notice my stress levels are through the roof in relation to both. Thanks!!!!!!!! Huge Bunches!!!!!

  16. Fantastic tips! These are great things to do during your day to keep a good balance to your day busy day.

  17. I agree, this is SO important! I make it my intention to NOT fill every minute of the day with productive activity. I need time to just be present and breathe and enjoy life too. :)

  18. I’m with Angela @ Homegrown Mom – the rush of warm shower water seems to dislodge the rush of ideas in my brain. Showering is one of my favourite chill-outs of the day!

  19. I loved this post. All moms need to read it. This one really hit home for me. Thanks so much!

  20. So true . . . I love those few wonderful moments when I am laying in bed drifting off to sleep. I need to take more time during the day to “space out”. Thanks for the remider.
    cheryl

  21. My husband is a consumate shower thinker…just before going to sleep thinker,…driving the car thinker…and so on and so forth. He actually invented a waterproof notepad called AquaNotes. Take a peek at http://www.myaquanotes.com. For all of the useful insights, tips, and tidbits you share, I would love to send you one to try out. If interested, just email your address to me. Warm regards, LeAnn

  22. WOW- amazing post! This is being bookmarked- I homeschool 4 kids and teach 10 hours at the college and…. (don’t we all have ‘ands’)- I need to use these tips. Burn out is NOT an option

  23. I agree wholeheartedly with your approach; however, I struggle to take the time to do any of those things. I find myself pulled toward my tech “addictions”: my laptop and a television routine. I spend ridiculous amounts of time on my laptop, whether searching for jobs; reading decor blogs or crafty blogs for ideas; or zoning with a game of Mahjong or doing Stumbleupon.

    I find it all relaxing, mind you, but I would like to find a way to pull myself away from the computer and take time to go outside or to take time to journal and to write in a gratitude journal. I really have no idea how to do it though. Tech “addictions” are a part of me (and a part of the Gen X as a whole, really).

    I also struggle to make time for me, anyway, feeling guilty if things are left undone. Of course, in spite of being on the search for a job and intent on keeping the house very tidy, I am taking time today before cleaning to read some blogs and even comment (I usually do not have or make the time to comment, again taking time from things I need to do…). I am glad to have allowed myself to take the time even for my tech “addiction” today.

  24. Such a wonderful post, so true. Thank you.

  25. Tsh,
    Your words, “alone hours with a journal and coffee” made my heart skip a beat. Thanks for the reminder that alone time is not just time for work!
    Maura

  26. I see I’m not alone in doing my best, often stream-of-consciousness, thinking in the shower — no wonder I hate getting out!

  27. It’s so hard sometimes to find the right moment to space out. I’m a morning person so I get up an hour before everyone else so I can have a little time to myself. It’s a time to reflect, to jot down ideas, and to just chill out a moment before the day really begins. There are a lot of shower thinkers here – how cool!

  28. I love the Susanna Wesley story! My kids are mostly grown now and my issues are different, yet I still have to make myself take time to slow down, be quiet and just BE.
    Love your website!
    Bernice

  29. Excellent post. It’s too easy to forget to take that downtime when you are juggling work and family. Thanks for the reminder. I think I’m going to go do a walk around the block before I start on my next task.

  30. i love that you told us to “mediate” – a perfect typo.
    and i love that you encourage us to take space. you’re so right.
    thank you

  31. I LOVED this article. This is so true for me. It’s often during the times that I’m NOT trying to figure out a problem that the answer comes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve also gone to bed with a challenge and then after sleeping, wake up and know what to do. Thanks for a great post.

  32. I read about the “apron over the head” years ago. It made me laugh. I’ve adopted a similar practice. I hide in the pantry. There, I can think, pray, count to 10, not think, whatever… Nobody bothers me in there. They know better. :)

  33. I love that you told the story about Susannah Wesley. My mom always tells that story. I had to show her your blog. She said, “I need that. Send it to me.” LOL

    By the way, I’m not a mom, but I absolutely love your blog!

  34. Now spacing out is something I do very well. : ) I can get onboard with this. For me, it is the bathroom, funny but true. When I go in and close the door, I am alone (I hope) with my thoughts. The shower is even better, because then I also can’t hear anything outside of my own watery world.

    • I’m with you on the bathroom. I always get great ideas in there. I pray in the shower a lot too, and then I think hmm, is this appropriate?

      Oh- also driving by myself to work. Ideas flow.

      Kate

  35. I so needed to read this today. I could ramble on and on why, but I am taking your advice and I am going upstairs for a breather and brain break. Thanks for the thoughtful post.
    Pam

  36. My mom did this too when we were growing up; she would meditate for about 20 minutes and we knew better than to even try and talk to her during that time.
    I admit that I don’t have a set schedule for downtime, but I think I make up for it plenty since I actually have a pretty chill life with tons of downtime here and there. I remember sitting in my chair and my sister walked in asking what I was doing. I must have looked strange to her, just sitting in a chair staring off into space, but I like doing that, even until now, whether it’s to think or appreciate the fact that I don’t have to do anything.

  37. I really really need to wake up a bit earlier…6:30 is not that bad… I think I am spoiled by kids who wake up at 7- but this doesn’t mean I should ‘sleep in’ until 7:01…thanks for the push

  38. I discovered the “resting brain” truth in college, after spending hours trying to write papers only to go to bed, and be up again at 2 am totally inspired. That obviously doesn’t work for me now, having to be up with the kids in the morning, but I have found that I can use the early morning hours in a similar way. I usually up to nurse about 5am and can go back to be with a resting mind, and get up about a half an hour later really inspired.

    Thanks for another great post!

  39. I have my most creative ideas when I’m walking in circles on a track or watching the spin cycle on the washer.

  40. Oh, I loved this. It’s like permission to take a deep breath and live rather then just exist. It’s something I’m working on building back into my life after getting too close to burnout and the edge of dark depression.
    Good, good words.

  41. I really need to wear my apron more often. I wish I could have known Mrs. Wesley. I remember reading something else about her. She would schedule one-on-one time with each child every day. She also had a house rule that if you were honest and truthful about breaking a rule, there would be no punishment. She wanted to encourage her children to be honest and open about their wrongdoings. So wise.

  42. I don’t get through the day well without our “rest time” – an hour where everyone does a solitary quiet activity, or sleeps.

  43. You’re so right! I have my best ideas in the shower. And, I forgot my grocery list yesterday (which is pretty much the worst thing that could happen at the store besides a tantrum, right?) and it was only when I relaxed and thought about other things that I remembered my items.

  44. Great advice, which I need to follow. I’ve got Fibromyalgia and maybe-Lupus, and live in quite a bit of pain. Two medicines I’ve tried are intolerable, because of side-effects, so I’m trying to do as many things as possible to relax and reduce stress.

  45. I have never been a morning person, so I used to do my best thinking at night. Lately though, I’m so exhausted at night, I fall into a dead sleep right away- so it seems I’ve switched to doing my best thinking in the morning. I didn’t intend for it to happen that way, but my husband wakes up at 4:30 AM to go to work, and once I get him out the door, the wheels in my head start turning and I can’t go back to sleep. I’ve learned to embrace it, and I’ve had some of the best ideas and motivation for getting that long to-do list done!

  46. Taking care of yourself, meeting some of your own needs helps to re-fresh moms so they are energized and better able to meet their kids’ needs, and meet the challenges of raising kids in hectic and demanding lives. So important so that the whole family can function better and with more good humor and peace! Great advice!

  47. This is so true. When I’m driving by myself or even when showering, my best ideas are born! I now keep paper & pens in the car to quickly (& not so neatly) scribble so I don’t lose those thoughts running around my brain.

  48. I came up with the term “braincation” about three days ago, because that is exactly what I took! But I just Googled it and apparently the word already exists :) Whatever you call it, though, I highly recommend them. I spend my too much of my time with my feet on the ground, I find that if I don’t let my head into the clouds a bit, then I end up burying it in the sand instead!

  49. Tsh – this is something that’s not just “nice” to do – it’s critical. As we’ve turned into an information society with all kinds of appliances making life convenient we’re losing the automatic times to let your mind percolate. We run a farm. I find hanging clothes on the line, chopping wood, weeding are some of my best moments of revelation. Because here’s the thing – it’s not just about letting your mind wander. It seems to work best when you physically are somewhat preoccupied doing something else and your mind is half-engaged. I think this is because you’re less conscious about your thinking and less likely to self- censor. Housework and chores is a quickly disappearing source of genius that needs to be revived!

  50. I am the same way, all the ideas rush in as I drift off to sleep. A little notepad is a good idea :) or just having more consistent showers! ha

    lw

  51. Naptime. :) There’s always so much I want to cram into that precious, uninterrupted time, but I force myself to first sit and enjoy the silence for a bit before tackling the to-do list.

  52. I usually find these moments in the shower (if I’m not in too much of a hurry) and as I drive the quiet country roads around here. I always wish that I could somehow write and drive at the same time.

  53. Loved that story about Susannah Wesley! My favorite “thinking moments” are on my every-other-day runs, in the shower, and right before bed.

  54. Great post. Switching to part-time work after my kids were born, I found the best ideas for design problems at work always came seemingly out of nowhere while at the park with my kids. I would love to see the research you found and look forward to your book!

  55. avatar
    Caitlin says:

    Thank you for this post, Tsh. It really resonates with me and I find your words are so honest, non-judgmental, and comforting in all areas of being a mom, wife, friend, and just a person of society. Love this blog and look forward to your book!

  56. Totally agree, Tsh. This must explain why I get my best ideas while walking my son to school in the stroller. Not using a cellphone also helps me space out in random moments like waiting in line or watching the kids at the playground. But I find my best ideas come when I’m moving my legs. Now if I could only figure out how to write and walk at the same time…

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