Why Downtime Matters

by Dr. Ted Fish / March 03th 2020

For years, I worked with an expert on brain science. I watched her mesmerize audiences of teachers and parents. Sometimes, she would tell them things they didn’t know. But more often, she would tell them something they did, and that’s where the magic happened. Something in the precision she gave took their understanding to a whole new level.

So it was with an article I just read called “Rest Is Not Idleness.” The lead author was Dr. Mary Immordino-Yang, Neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, and in it she addresses one of the most pressing educational questions of our time: do young people need downtime?

It’s a vital question, because in an age with such competition, where parents want to give their child every possible advantage, many students don’t have much time. From k - 12th grade, they are always on task: classes, after school activities, then homework. We sense that it’s a problem. But here’s the urgency. The brain has two distinct systems: outward-facing and inward-facing. The former operates whenever we are busy; the latter only when there is no specific demand. It is when we daydream, when our minds wander, that we process complex moral, socio-emotional and creative thoughts. It is when we are not specifically focused on anything at all that our deepest levels of synthesis, integration and restoration occur.

Downtime is the key to growing as human beings.

Without it, we are human doings.

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