Nov. 8, 2012 at 2:34 PM ET
By Naomi Piercey, Women's Health
Feeling stumped? Move on to an easier task and let your thoughts wander. Distracting yourself with a mindless activity will help you feel more inspired, as well as improve your problem-solving skills, according to research published in the journal Psychological Science.
In the experiment, participants were asked to perform an "Unusual Use Task," listing as many unusual uses for an item as possible. The participants were then divided into four groups. The first group was asked to perform a demanding task, the second was asked to perform an undemanding task, the third was allowed to rest for 12 minutes, and the fourth group was not allowed rest. They were then given the "unusual use task" a second time.
Of all the groups tested, only the participants that were assigned the undemanding task improved their score on the second listing test.
Why the better performance? Study author Jonathan Schooler, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California department of psychological and brain sciences, says it's all in the mind wandering. "It seems if you have a non-demanding task, it sort of breaks things up and prevents you from getting immersed in one train of thought," he says. That's why the group that got to rest for 12 minutes didn't see any improvement--it's possible they were ruminating or obsessing, and not giving their brains a break.
Suddenly, a reason to celebrate the mundane tasks in our own lives. "There are certain kinds of activities that we thought were a waste of time, like taking a shower, or gardening, but these non-demanding tasks can be a fertile period to allow creative incubation to take place," says Schooler.
Other non-demanding tasks that will help you clear your head without rumination: Going for a run, listening to music, or putting on your favorite podcast of a person who inspires you, says Laurie Gerber, life coach and president of Handel Group Life Coaching. And, if you have the self-control, meditation with a focus on your breath can also work wonders, says Schooler.
Need help scheduling a mental break? Follow these tips for squeezing a mini meditation into your day.
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