When was the last time you were in a room with energy-saving, motion-sensing lights? You know, the ones that turn off as soon as you get focused on what you’re reading or writing so that you have to flail your arms around to get the lights back on?
It’s more recent than you think. In fact, you’re in one of those environments right now. You brain has the neural equivalent of motion detectors that effectively turn the lights off. Even when you don’t want to switch those areas off.
Here’s why: Your brain is an energy glutton.
The brain makes up only 3% of the body’s mass, but uses up to 20% of available oxygen and glucose. So it has evolved to conserve energy by “powering down” areas that aren’t active.
Furthermore, the entire brain tends to power down when the body is not moving – because a body at rest is not likely to encounter either opportunities (food, water, other resources) to exploit or dangers to avoid.
This is fine when you’re intentionally resting or when you want to keep doing what you’re doing. But when you want to think new thoughts, consider new options or perceive a situation in an innovative way – in other words when you want to create – the brain’s energy-saving tendencies are obstacles.
When you sit down to write, the urge to pop out of your chair to do something else is usually resistance initiated by the flight part of the flight-or-fight instinct. But there may be times when it’s not an attempt to run away, but actually an instinct to help you be more creative.
Popping out of the chair and pacing moves the body, which activates more areas in your brain.
Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to turn and keep the writing lights on. Move before you attempt to write. Walk your dog (or yourself). Dance (or in my case, flail around) for 5 or 10 minutes. Traverse up, down and back up a few flights of stairs.
Consider where you could write standing up. Can you use your cell phone to record ideas while walking?
Strategize how you can intersperse movement with writing, perhaps moving or stretching for 2 or 3 minutes for every 15 minutes you sit. Resist the temptation to postpone the movement break — the longer your body is inactive, the more your brain engagement drops.
When you feel stuck, you got to move it baby. If you’re chained to your desk, doodling and writing by hand will engage more areas of your brain than keyboarding will. Using color, looking at pictures and images, adding a new scent or sound can re-engage parts of your brain.
Just don’t let yourself get distracted too long; the point is to turn the lights back on so you can write effectively and creatively again.