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No-Thinking Zone

written by Derrick Carpenter 22 September 2009

Derrick Carpenter, MAPP '07, is a founder of Vive Training where he coaches individuals and corporate clients on creating high-engagement lifestyles through physical and psychological wellness. Full bio.

Derrick's articles are here.

I over-think. A lot. I bet many of you can relate.

My over-analysis rarely takes me to a higher state of being. In many cases, I get caught in spirals of “What if…?” and “If it weren’t for…” that spin me around until I’m exhausted but still standing in exactly the same place. Most therapy and coaching practices ultimately focus on shifting energy from self-defeating thoughts to more self-serving ones. This is the foundation of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking (obviously) that thinking less may be an equally viable alternative. We spend our days focusing on problem solving, multitasking, relating, and reading the latest Facebook update. Maybe our minds just need more rest!

The Importance of Rest and Recovery

Our brains weren’t designed to think non-stop. They naturally shut down to recover and consolidate information while we sleep. According to David Dinges, Ph.D., a sleep expert at the University of Pennsylvania, if a research subject who’s been awake for 22 hours gets behind the wheel of a car, he will have the same ability as someone with a .08 blood-alcohol level. For those students reading this, remember that the next time you contemplate an all-nighter. Practitioners of meditation achieve additional rest as they aim to quiet their conscious minds, and anyone taking part in an activity inducing flow may experience the same results.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz train executives using models that have proven successful with high-level athletes. One of the key components of their model involves cycles of rest and recovery. A top-level athlete would never train non-stop. Intense training is completed within a carefully constructed timeframe of rest, replenishment, and recovery. The body needs these breaks in order to make the biggest gains from training sessions.

Loehr and Schwartz claim our minds work the same way. An over-scheduled CEO whose brain is constantly on its feet will benefit tremendously from incorporating mental rest periods throughout her day and week. Shifting energy from the business-minded left brain to the creative right brain provides an oscillation of energy that stimulates and rests the whole mind.

Is Thinking Always the Best Approach?

Research by Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis and his colleagues has shown that shutting down analytical thought may be advantageous in solving logic-based problems. They fed research participants in three conditions a ton of information about a series of apartments and asked each to choose the optimal apartment. Those given time to work out the solution performed better than those asked to respond right away. But the interesting finding was in the third case. These participants were pulled away immediately after hearing the apartment data to focus on another task. After working on that task a while, they were immediately asked for the optimal apartment. Although they had no time to consciously work out the numbers, they outperformed both of the other groups.

These mental shifts may be more powerful than just solving logic problems. Author of A Stroke of Insight, neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor describes the experience of having a stroke after waking up one morning. The hemorrhage in her left brain hemisphere quieted that part of her mind and opened her attention to her right brain which was filled with feelings of peace, connectedness, and oneness with the universe. While she knew she was in trouble and needed help, she was in awe of what the other half of her brain was capable of. Her talk on TED is incredibly compelling.

Meeting Your Needs

So if our analytical brains need a rest, and we can benefit greatly from that rest, how do we achieve that? I think that may vary from person to person, but any creative outlet that limits your thinking may provide the rest you need. My current choice is to reconnect with musical creativity in the form blues guitar lessons. I’ve been inspired lately by many of John Mayer’s insightful song lyrics and figure getting lost in consciousness playing bluesy guitar riffs a couple hours a day might provide me the same enlightenment. I’ll keep you posted.

Please share your favorite creative outlets for resting your analytical mind in the comments.



Dijksterhuis, A., Bos, M., Nordgren, L, & van Baaren, R. (2006). On making the right choice: The deliberation-without-attention effect. Science, 311(5763), 1005-1007.

Dinges, D. (2006). The neural basis of inter-individual variability in inhibitory efficiency following sleep deprivation. The Journal of Neuroscience 26(27), 7156-7162.

Groppel, J. & Loehr, J. (2000). The Corporate Athlete: How to Achieve Maximal Performance in Business and Life. John Wiley & Sons.

Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2001). The Making of a Corporate Athlete. Harvard Business Review, 120-128.

Taylor, J. B. (2006). My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. Lulu.com.

Over-thinking courtesy of striatic
Roger Federer courtesy of y.caradec
No-thinking zone courtesy of chris.corwin
John Mayer courtesy of P.Kelgan

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1 comment

prakash beth 27 May 2014 - 3:08 am

Excellent Article.

The whole problem is thought is the only instrument to understand a thought.

To understand a thought, everything created by thought should be whipped out.

Thought is basically memories, stored from experience, knowledge and society.

As one observes one’s thought as it arises (not analyzing later) the division between the observed and observer is broken, only one exists.


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