While this post today is primarily directed at my own study habits which have noticeably deteriorated while at home, it reflects an increasingly prevalent issue in today’s society with everything on the internet being so readily available.
The issue is more specifically about using study breaks to consume media on Facebook or other sites, rather than actually resting our minds. It’s not a matter of whether this media is beneficial or harmful either (save that debate for another day!) – I for example enjoy reading the news as well as articles on business, tech and health to keep updated, and I’m quite happy to continue doing that.
But you see, study/work breaks are now often centred around enjoying ourselves more than being about relaxation of the mind. We treat ourselves in our breaks, whether it’s socialising with our friends, going on Facebook, or reading any other content of interest to us; rather than really relaxing our brains for more study afterwards. And intuitively, we may think that there’s nothing actually wrong with that – we’ve worked hard, so this is our chance to enjoy ourselves – we deserve it! Unfortunately though, these treats don’t always align perfectly with our brain’s rest – let me show you with an example.
Before the days of Facebook and news articles being such dominant forces in my life, I remember having used to phase out relatively often in my study sessions at home. It often occurred right after experiencing a difficult concept or feeling stuck, and I felt quite guilty about this at the time, since I was entirely focussed on being as productive I could be with my study. What I didn’t realise was that these moments of spacing out weren’t a waste of time, but were essential in helping my brain create new neural connections to better understand those concepts I was studying on a subconscious level. I only realised the hidden benefit of zoning out later on once I discontinued that habit.
Unfortunately however, with the ease and convenience of current media, my reflex reaction in those challenging situations has increasingly become to flick open a new tab on Facebook or recent news, or to pick up my phone to check for notifications. These seemingly innocent actions at the most difficult moments in our study can actually be detrimental; not only do they inhibit our brains from making those crucial connections to finally understand and get it, but they also bombard us with extra irrelevant information which overwhelms our already hard-at-work brains! It’s the equivalent of impatiently opening up a new program on a computer when it’s “Not responding” instead of just giving it a few seconds to resolve it on its own (I think we’ve all done this at least once!). In fact, the only reason we can even handle consuming more media after study is that it’s more stimulating to us, not because our brain power is exhausted – otherwise we wouldn’t even be able to absorb the content from Facebook!
When studying at uni though, my reflex instead is to get up from my seat for a quick walk, which sets me in an excellent position to restart study with a fresh brain, and is why it’s my preferred study location being far more productive for me.
I also don’t usually talk much to friends during my breaks at the risk of seeming too cool for them haha. While I thoroughly enjoy conversations, as a natural introvert I often come out feeling no more mentally refreshed than I was beforehand, even if I’m happier. Instead, those solo walks allow my brain to completely relax, to think about whatever it wants to, or to not think at all, so I can be far more refreshed once I get back.
I’ve recently decided to tackle my unproductive habits at home though in two ways; the first is simply being aware of this reflex and consciously choosing to either space out or get up for a few seconds instead of checking my phone or opening a new tab. This is much easier said than done, having had this reflex occur to me while writing almost each paragraph in this post – I thankfully overcame most of them, although I still gave in to two quick peeks on Facebook 😛 The key though is to allow your body to have that moment of rest and resist the temptation of consuming any media.
The second is a more aggressive intervention where I recently downloaded the Chrome Extenstion StayFocusd, which lets you limit the amount of time you spend on distracting sites per day – I’ve personally put Facebook and my favourite news sites in this category, although I’ve set an exception to Facebook groups where I often have things to do, and they don’t contain a lot of media. While I was initially reluctant about this because of my preference to use will-power to overcome challenges rather than tools – I changed my mind when I realised the internet is far more than a natural distraction, being an artificial tool that keeps pulling us in; as well as the fact that it still requires will-power to use the extension effectively (as always, there will be ways you can get around the extension if you really want to). This way, it serves more as a reminder to exert self-control with its timer rather than to really force me away from distractions.
So that ends this post on taking breaks to relax our brains primarily rather than just merely enjoy ourselves – although often both can come together as they do with my walks in the Auckland Domain! I also feel surprisingly fresh after having finished this post with minimal distractions and in far less time than usual – a great example to reinforce the idea behind this post!
I’d love to hear your opinions on consuming media during breaks, or any other ideas you have on the topic, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!