Is Your Brain Friend or Foe? Make It Your Friend with Positive Intelligence

Is Your Brain Friend or Foe? Make It Your Friend with Positive Intelligence

“If you spend a lot of time in your own head, you’re spending time in a bad neighborhood.”


I was deep in a bit of worry and self-doubt when my friend uttered that sentence.  Immediately, my mind conjured an image of falling gown building, boarded up doors and windows, overgrown yards, and empty streets (basically downtown Cleveland in the 1980s).


“Man, I do not want to be here!” I said, probably a bit too loudly.


Everyone I know spends a lot of time in their bad neighborhoods.  It’s a consequence of the world we live in – more demands, responsibilities, and expectations running into greater uncertainty, fewer options, and weaker safety nets.


There are lots of ways to spruce up our neighborhoods, cultivating a Growth Mindset is one.  In his book, Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours, author and executive coach Shirzad Chamine, lays out a powerful framework and action plan to build your Positive Intelligence by increasing your PQ (Positive Intelligence Quotient).


Why Should I Care about Positive Intelligence?

Because research proves that a high PQ creates better results

  • An analysis of more than 200 different scientific studies, which collectively tested more than 275,000 people, conduced that higher PQ leads to higher salary and greater success in the arenas of work, marriage, health, sociability, friendship, and creativity
  • Salespeople with higher PQ sell 37% more than their lower-PQ peers
  • Project teams managed by high-PQ managers perform 31% better
  • Doctors with a high PQ make accurate diagnoses 19% faster
  • People who demonstrated high PQ in their 20s (as evidence by journal entries) live, on average, 10 years longer

Better sales, better performance, better health, longer lives.

Seems like something worth learning more about.


What is Positive Intelligence and PQ?

Chamine defines Positive Intelligence as “an indication of the control you have over your own mind and how well your mind acts in your best interest.”  Basically, what kind of neighborhood is your mind.

PQ, your Positive Intelligence Quotient, is “the percentage of your time your mind is acting as your friend rather than your enemy.”  It’s expressed on a scale of 0 to 100 and research shows that a PQ of 75 (meaning your mind is your friend, or a good neighborhood, 75% of the time) is a tipping point.  “Above it, you are generally being uplifted by the internal dynamics of the mind, below it you are constantly being dragged down by those dynamics.”  80% of teams and individuals score below the tipping point.


How you can increase your PQ

People with high PQs use one or more of the following 3 strategies:

STRATEGY 1 – Weaken your Saboteurs:

Saboteurs, also called Inner Critics, are the voices, beliefs, and assumptions in your head that work against you.

There are 10 and every person has at least two actively chattering away

  1. Judge: The “Master” Saboteur in everyone’s head. It constantly finds faults in you, others, your circumstances, and anything else it can get its hands on.
  2. Avoider: Focuses on the positive and pleasant to avoid dealing with difficult and unpleasant tasks, conflicts, and people.
  3. Controller: Takes charge, seeking to bend people to its will because it believes that the only way to get the best outcomes from people and situations is to control them
  4. Hyper-Achiever: Relies on constant external rewards, recognition, and praise as a way to feel self-respect and self-validation
  5. Hyper-Rational: Focuses on logic and reason as the sole means through which to understand people and situations, often leading to impatience or outright dismissal of anything or person deemed not logical
  6. Hyper-Vigilant: Sees threats in every moment and is constantly on guard and preparing for the worst-case scenario
  7. Pleaser: Seeks to gain acceptance and affection by constantly helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering others
  8. Restless: Searches for the next adventure, new thing, or adrenaline rush and distracts from the relationships and work that really matter
  9. Stickler: Needs perfection, order, and organization to such an extent that it makes everyone anxious and uptight
  10. Victim: Gains attention and affection by focusing on internal feelings, especially negatives ones

To weaken your saboteurs, first identify which one is currently active, then recognize the story its telling you (often, the story will seem helpful so this part is tricky), and then either call it out (“oh, it’s you again, making up stories) or thank it (“thank you for trying to keep me safe.  I’ve got this.”)

STRATEGY 2 – Strengthen your Sage: 

The Sage perspective is essentially the opposite of the Judge.  Whereas the Judge finds everything that is (or could be wrong), the Sage accepts every single thing as a gift or opportunity.

OK, I know this sounds like some new-age woo, especially in the midst of COVID-19 and its impact on every single thing in our lives.  Chamine’s C-Suite clients are skeptical of this too, which is why he teaches them the Three Gifts technique – write down the horrible thing then write down 3 ways it could turn out to be a gift or opportunity at some point in the future.

You can strengthen your Sage by using one (or more) of its 5 powers:

  1. Empathize: When strong feelings are involved and emotional reserves are running low, picture yourself, or the person or situation causing problems, as a small child and interact with it
  2. Explore: When the situation is complex or you want more information before making a decision, pretend to be a fascinated anthropologist and seek out info by asking questions
  3. Innovate: When the usual answers aren’t working, adopt an innovator’s mentality greet ideas with “yes….and….”
  4. Navigate: When faced with multiple options, “flash forward” and imagine yourself at some point in the distant future after having taken each path and consider how you feel in that future place
  5. Activate: When your Saboteurs are in control, preempt them by writing down everything they could say and recognize, respond, and thank it.

STRATEGY 3 – Strengthen your PQ brain

Your PQ brain is comprised of the middle prefrontal cortex, the right brain, the mirror neuron system, the ACC, and the Insular Cortex (these last three areas control your empathy reaction).

Strengthening your PQ brain is as “simple” as focusing all of your attention on your physical body and/or the experience of at least one of your 5 senses, for at least 10 seconds 100 separate times per day for 21 straight days

Yes, 100 times per days sounds like a lot, so Chamine offers some tip:

  • During Daily routines, for example when you’re brushing your teeth, focus on the feeling of the toothbrush against your gums
  • While working out
  • Before or when you’re eating
  • As you listen to music
  • When you’re playing sports (including e-sports)
  • Being with friends and family


Bottom Line

The data proves that Positive Intelligence has a real and tangible impact on your performance at work, in your relationships, and in life.  This book contains a variety of case stories to show the power of Positive Intelligence in action.  Even better, it offers an easy to understand framework and totally do-able approach to make Positive Intelligence work for you.



To learn more about Positive Intelligence, visit Shirzad Chamine’s site here.

To buy the book, visit you can buy it from independent online bookstores Bookshop or IndieBound, or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


How Looking at Art Can Make You a Better Thinker, Communicator, and Leader

How Looking at Art Can Make You a Better Thinker, Communicator, and Leader

“It was quite a sight!  A dozen senior executives from a big, conservative financial services firm, all sitting on the floor in front of a painting, talking about what it could mean and why they think that.”

On a typical dreary November day, and Suzi and I were sitting in the café inside Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  She had just left her job as Head of Design Thinking at Fidelity Investments and I was taking a sabbatical before deciding what would be next for my career.  Introduced by a mutual friend, we decided to swap stories over lunch and a walk through one of the museum’s special exhibitions.

She was describing a Visual Thinking (VTS) session she had recently facilitated and the nearly instant impact it had on the way executives expressed themselves and communicated with each other.  She saw them engage in a level of creative problem-solving and critical thinking that they hadn’t in the past.

Intrigued, I set off to learn more.  What I discovered was a powerful, proven, and gasp fun way to help my clients navigate the ambiguous early days of innovation and embrace their inner curiosity and creativity.


Why should you care about VTS?

Imagine someone says to you, “If you and your team spend 1-2 hours with me each month for 9 months, I guarantee an improvement in your abilities to:

  • Quickly gather and synthesize accurate and unique insights by listening deeply and re-phrasing what they heard ensure understanding
  • Think critically and creatively by examining information or an idea from all angles, rethinking it, and deciding whether to keep, revise, or discard it
  • Communicate more clearly, respectfully, and productively with a variety of people inside and outside the organization
  • Work cross-functionally because they can apply critical thinking skills confidently to topics outside of their expertise
  • Innovate and experiment because they have learned how to individually and as a team operate in uncertainty
  • Provide more effective feedback by phrasing criticisms as questions and engaging in collaborative discovery and problem-solving conversations

Would you make the time commitment?

Now, what if they said, “All you have to do each month is sit together in a conference room and take part in a conversation.  No travel.  No additional expenses.  Just turn off your email and your phone for one hour and have a conversation in a room you already pay rent on.”

Would you do it then?

Of course you would.

Because you’ve been to trainings that focus on only one of the items in the list above and those trainings are expensive, time-consuming, and not nearly as effective as they should be.


What is Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)?

According to the book, Visual Thinking Strategies: Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines, VTS “uses art to teach visual literacy, thinking, and communication skills – listening an expressing oneself.”

Philip Yenawine was the Director of Education at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York from 1983 – 1993.  During that time, he noticed that despite the museum’s efforts to organize and craft detailed explanations and interpretations for each piece of art, visitors would still ask lots of “Why?” questions and would remember little, if anything, from their visit.

Frustrated but curious, he and his team began studying developmental research and theory and discovered that what MOMA visitors needed wasn’t explanations, details, and facts, it was “permission to be puzzled and to think.  Consent to use their powerful eyes and intelligent minds.  Time to noodle and figure things out.  The go-ahead to use what they already know to reflect on what they don’t; the first steps of learning.”

Philip and his team with MOMA partnered with cognitive psychologist Abigail Housen to develop and test a process now known as Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS).

In the 30 years since their initial experiments, Philip and Abigail’s work has been used in 28 countries and 58 museums, over 12,000 students have engaged in VTS discussions and 1,200 people have become trained facilitators.



How to do VTS

The secret to VTS’ effectiveness is in the facilitation so if you’re going to do this, invest in an expert facilitator.  An expert facilitator is the only way to get the results listed above.


Here’s how a VTS session works:

  • Facilitator shares a piece of art specially selected so that “the subjects are familiar… but they also contain elements of mystery.”
  • Attendees take one minute to silently focus on the art
  • Facilitator asks 3 questions over the hour:
    • What’s going on in this picture?
    • What do you see that makes you say that?
    • What more can you find?
  • As each individual answers a question, the Facilitator:
    • Points at what is being observed
    • Paraphrases what has been said
    • Links what has been said to what others have said
  • Facilitator wraps up the session by thanking everyone and sharing something s/he learned from listening. They do NOT give “the answer” because “this isn’t about right and wrong but about thinking and…that the students singly and together are capable of wonderful, grounded ideas.”

That’s it – 1 piece of art, 3 questions, and at least 5 major benefits if you commit to the process.


Seems like something worth sitting on an art gallery floor for, right?

To learn more, read Visual Thinking Strategies: Using Art to Deepen Learning Across School Disciplines by Philip Yenawine and visit the website Visual Thinking Strategies

How to Thrive (and Survive) in a Career in Corporate Innovation

How to Thrive (and Survive) in a Career in Corporate Innovation

Do you want a job that offers some sort of stability without the soul-sucking repetition you equate with a 9–5 job? Maybe you want the intellectual challenge, problem-solving rush, and “we beat the odds” euphoria of doing the impossible AND to stay in a certain city or just have a steady paycheck and benefits for a few years.

Then you, my friend, should be an Intrapreneur.

A career in innovation is not for the faint of heart. While start-ups and entrepreneurs get all the press, intrapreneurs ride a similar roller-coaster of uncertainty.

According to research conducted by Innovation Leader, the average tenure of executives in innovation specific roles is 4.4 years. Tenures get are a bit longer for VPs (5.4 year) and a bit shorter for Manager (3.3 years).

This data is consistent with my decades of experience working with corporate innovators, also known as intrapreneurs.

  • Year 1, senior executives jump on the innovation bandwagon and create lots of activities (shark tanks, ideation sessions), establish innovation and corporate venture capital (CVC) teams, and proclaim their commitment to innovation loudly and broadly.
  • Year 2, the fanfare dies down, the events have become memories, and the teams are hard at work generating opportunities and testing new businesses.
  • Year 3, the $500M silver bullet has yet to manifest, the company has yet to be described as the “Apple of [industry],” and the attention and investment once dedicated to innovation gets re-routed to the core business.
  • Year 4, it’s back to business as usual.

But for those brave souls who, like me and like my clients, decide to strap in and ride the ride…Welcome! Here are 4 tips to help you have the best and safest possible corporate innovation career

1. Build Your Internal Network

Yes, you need to keep your finger on the pulse of all that is new and happening in the market and the best way to do that is by building and maintain your external network of advisors, experts, and thought leaders.

But, as an intrapreneur, you also need to keep your finger on the pulse of all that is new and happening in your company. Invest time in building relationships outside of your immediate team. Reach out across functions and business units to meet people, build trust, and share ideas. Over time, these connections will become the advocates and sponsors you need to break through organizational barriers, sources of vital information about evolving corporate priorities, and even guides to new roles in the (highly likely) event that your innovation group gets “wound down.”

2. Show off transferrable skills

It’s easy to get pegged as the “Innovation Person” in the group. The person who gets called in when a team wants to “be creative” or faces a particularly difficult problem that requires “thinking differently.” There’s nothing wrong with being the Go To resource for these things but it makes you very expendable when the organization decides that it needs to “get back to its roots” and “return to what made us successful.”

Instead, identify and share the skills that are at the heart of what makes you great at innovation, the skills that create value. Perhaps you’re able to talk to a customer for 30 minutes and learn things never before conceived by R&D, offer to do that for another team or teach others your skills. Perhaps you’re able to simplify and communicate the most complex topics, offer to help someone with their presentation.

Sharing the skills that make you a great innovator and showing others how to apply them in their “not innovative” jobs not only helps establish a culture of innovation, it establishes you as an essential resource no matter where innovation falls on the priority list.

3. Don’t go Stealth

It’s tempting for intrapreneurs, like entrepreneurs, to work in Stealth Mode. I’ve heard lots of reasons for this:

  • We don’t have results yet
  • Management should stay focused on the core because we need the money made there to fund our work
  • If they don’t know what we’re doing, they can’t stop us.

This thinking is fundamentally flawed. Not only is “out of sight, out of mind” a very real thing in companies, it ignores the essential fact that start-ups in Stealth Mode are “hiding” from the market, not their investors.

Intrapreneurs need to stay on management’s radar screens. They need to generate and communicate results, even if it’s primarily learnings, on a regular basis. They need to consistently prove to management that they are as important to the short- and long-term prospects of the company as existing businesses.

The best evidence of a manager’s priorities are the appointments on her calendar. If you’re not on there, you’re not a priority.

4. Channel your inner Gambler

For an intrapreneur, there is no better advice than the following:

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em

Know when to fold ‘em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run

Change is hard for everyone and it always takes longer than you think it should. It’s normal to feel frustrated. The key is to know when your frustration has evolved to cynicism and, even worse, burn-out.

Take breaks. Whether it’s a night off, a weekend away, a two weeks’ vacation, or a several month sabbatical. Step away from the table, unplug the devices, and rest. After all,

“Every gambler knows

That the secret to survivin’

Is knowin’ what to throw away

And knowin’ what to keep.”

In closing

Even though Innovation should be viewed as a discipline, on par with Marketing and Finance, in terms of corporate capabilities and operations, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. Until that day comes, corporate innovation will remain a roller coaster that only the bravest dare to ride. Hopefully, these tips make that ride longer than just a few years.

Your Brain At Work by David Rock

Your Brain At Work by David Rock

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Marcus Aurelius

That, in a nutshell, is what Your Brain At Work is all about . By blending snapshot stories, scientific and medical research, and practical examples, David Rock lays out a convincing and easy to read argument that, by understanding the workings and limitations of our brains, we can better understand others, overcome challenges, and navigate our world.

While this book is certainly written for a mass audience, innovators especially should give it a read because of what it has to say about insights, ideas, and driving change.


We’ve all had those A-Ha! moments. Those brief seconds when we’re doing nothing of import (like taking a shower) and suddenly, without warning, an insight pops into our heads.

Often those insights are an answer to a question or a solution to a problem that has been plaguing us. We’ve encountered a new challenge and we know that the usual solutions, procedures, and answers won’t work, but we don’t know what will.

What we need is an insight — “not a logical solution,” Rock explains, “but one that recombines knowledge (and maps in your brain) in a whole new way.”

The reason why insights pop into our heads when we’re doing nothing is that our brain is, in fact, doing quite a lot. Studies conducted by Dr. Stellan Ohlsson, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explain why this is, “when facing a new problem, people apply strategies that worked in prior experience. This works well if the new problem is similar to the old problem. However, in many situations, this is not the case, and the solution from the past gets in the way, stopping better solutions from arising… Instead, the projection of prior experience has to be actively suppressed and inhibited.”

By not thinking of anything in particular, we’re actually suppressing the usual answers and creating space for new answers (insights) to emerge. And luckily, we don’t have to spend our days in the shower to make this happen.

How to Create Insights:

  1. Focus on the big picture: Dr. Mark Beeman, an associate professor at Northwestern University and an expert in the neuroscience of insights, found that when people solve a problem using insights, their right anterior lobe (a region in the brain’s right hemisphere) becomes more active than usual. Because the right hemisphere is primarily responsible for identifying holistic connections, keeping it active is key to producing insights. However, when we focus on the details of a problem, instead of the big picture, we activate the left hemisphere this decreasing activity in the right hemisphere and reducing the conditions required for insight.
  2. Get a fresh perspective: As Dr. Ohlsson’s research shows, the more we know about a problem or a situation, the more likely we are to rely on past experience for a solution. It can be incredibly hard to get out of our own way so, instead, we should seek out people with different experiences and perspectives for their input. Even if they don’t have the perfect answer, simply listening to a different perspective can help create the space needed for insights to emerge
  3. Have fun. Beeman’s research has also revealed a strong correlation between emotional states and insight. As Rock explains, “Increasing happiness increases the likelihood of insight, while increasing anxiety decreases the likelihood of insight. This relates to your ability to perceive subtle signals. When you are anxious, there is greater baseline activation and more overall electrical activity, which makes it harder for you to perceive subtle signals.” Quite simply, if you’re happy, you’re able to pick up subtle pieces of information that can be used to create brilliant insights.


Throughout the book, Rock uses a small theater as a metaphor to explain how the brain works.

Imagine that your pre-frontal cortex, the part of the cortex (the curly gray outer covering of your brain) that sits just behind your forehead and that Is responsible for most of our decision-making and problem-solving activity, is a stage. The stage is small, it can hold only a handful of people at a time, and it needs A LOT of lighting (energy) to operate (think).

In the theater are actors, pieces of information from the outside world, and the audience, information from our internal worlds (thoughts, memories, etc.).

YOU are the director and you can move actors (external info) and audience members (internal info) on or off the stage at any given time to accomplish the following:

  • Understand a new idea — put an actor (external info) on the stage and see how it interacts with the audience (info already in your head)
  • Make a decision — put several actors on stage and compare them to each other
  • Recall information — bring an audience member on stage
  • Memorize — move actors off-stage and put them in the audience
  • Inhibit thoughts — move actors off stage

Understanding how your brain works, and that you can control it, provides insights into how to get the most out of it on a daily basis AND how to get the most out of others’ brains when you need to — like during an ideation session

How to Generate Better Ideas

  1. Start in the morning: The pre-frontal cortex is energy-hungry so the more your work it, the more physically and mentally drained you become. Doing creative work early in the day means that you’re starting with all your available energy
  2. Tell stories about people: When explaining a problem to people, it’s tempting to lay out all the facts. But “studies have shown that when you give people a logic problem to solve, they do so dramatically faster than when the problem is explained in terms of people interacting rather than in terms of disembodied conceptual ideas.” This is why personas, photos, and videos are so powerful during ideation, the move our thinking away from the conceptual (e.g. “how can we increase revenue?”) to the personal (e.g. “how can we better serve Claire the Customer?”)
  3. Provide diverse, analogous, and unexpected example solutions to spur ideation: “Picturing something you have not yet seen is going to take a lot more energy and effort,” Rock writes. “This partly explains why people spend more time thinking about problems (things they have seen) than solutions (things they have never seen and taking breaks gives you the opportunity to recharge so that you can continue the creative work.” Give people examples of solutions so that they can shift their thinking away from problems AND suppress their instinct to focus on existing solutions to the new problem they’re facing


We’ve all heard the clichés — “Get comfortable being uncomfortable” and “The only thing that is certain is uncertainty” and “The only thing that is constant is change.” But none of them make us feel better when everything around us is changing and, especially when we are being asked to change.

The reason for that is, according to neuroscientists, “because uncertainty feels, to the brain, like a threat to your life.”

It’s easy for innovators, people who feel it is their mission to drive change, to forget this when we propose new ideas or procedures. We are confident that we’ve done the work required to make a thoughtful and correct proposal that improves a product, process, or situation and are dumbfounded when we meet with resistance.

While we’ve worked hard on our idea, we’ve forgotten to work hard to understand how our audience’s brains will react. Specifically, whether the people we are presenting to may experience threats in one or more of the following domains:

  1. Status: Will I be perceived as less than other people?
  2. Certainty: Am I being asked to do things differently?
  3. Autonomy: Will I lose control or decision-making authority?
  4. Relatedness: Will I lose my connection to others?
  5. Fairness: Were my expectations not met?

Anticipating possible reactions in any and all of these domains, and addressing them directly or indirectly is critical to creating and sustaining change

How to Create Change

  1. Proactively address and reduce threats: Act humbly and acknowledge someone’s position and role to reduce threats to status, Set clear expectations and talk openly about the future to increase certainty. Let others own key activities and make timely and clear decisions to promote autonomy. Be authentic and real in all of your communications to reinforce relatedness. Keep your promises and quickly address broken ones in order to promote a perception (and reality) of fairness.
  2. Set goals and provide rewards: Setting goals as they relate to any of the five items above (stats, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness) and prime people’s brains to look for evidence that they are progressing towards those goals. Adding in a reward for achieving the goals further improves the likelihood that change will occur because it keeps “the expectation of a primary reward in sight…(which) will lift their moods and improve their thinking.”
  3. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat: “Real change requires repetition,” explains Rock. You’re asking people to stop doing something they’ve been doing for a long time and to start doing something different. That isn’t going to happen overnight and it’s certainly not going to happen based on even the most compelling data-based argument (how many of us eat as many vegetables, exercise as often, or floss as frequently as we should?). Instead, change happens because we are reminded of it, it is reinforced, and we are rewarded over and over and over again.

In conclusion

These lessons and actions only skim the surface of the interesting and useful insights in Your Brain at Work. But to learn more, you’ll just have to buy it.

Do More Nothing

Do More Nothing

“What do you plan to do on vacation?” my friend asked.


Long silence

“…And it will be amazing.”

We live in a world that confuses activity with achievement so I should not have been surprised that the idea of deliberately doing nothing stunned my friend into silence.

After all, when people say, “I wish I had nothing to do” they usually mean “I wish I could choose what I do with my time.” And, when they do have the opportunity to choose, very few choose to do nothing.

Why does the idea of doing nothing make us so uncomfortable?

To put it bluntly, busy-ness is a status symbol.

In their paper, “Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol,” professors Silvia Bellezza (Columbia Business School), Neeru Paharia (Georgetown University), and Anat Keinan (Harvard University), wrote that people’s desire to be perceived as time-starved is

“driven by the perceptions that a busy person possesses desired human capital characteristics (competence, ambition) and is scarce and in demand on the job market.”

We didn’t always believe this.

For most of human history, we’ve had a pretty balanced view of the need for both work and leisure. Aristotle argued that virtue was obtainable through contemplation, not through endless activity. Most major religions call for a day of rest and reflection. Even 19th-century moral debates, as recorded by historian EO Thompson, recognized the value of hard work AND the importance of rest.

So what happened?

While it’s easy to say that we have to work more because of the demands of our jobs, the data says otherwise. In fact, according to a working paper by Jonathan Gershuny, a time-expert based on the UK, actual time spent at work has not increased since the 1960s.

The actual reason may be that we want to work more. According to economist Robert Frank, those who identify as workaholics believe that:

“building wealth…is a creative process, and the closest thing they have to fun.”

We choose to spend time working because Work — “the job itself, the psychic benefits of accumulating money, the pursuit of status, and the ability to afford the many expensive enrichments of an upper-class lifestyle” according to an article in The Atlantic — is what we find most fulfilling.

It’s not that I like working, I just don’t like wasting time.

We tend to equate doing nothing with laziness, apathy, a poor work ethic, and a host of other personality flaws and social ills. But what if that’s not true.

What if, in the process of doing nothing, we are as productive as when we do something?

Science is increasingly showing this to be the case.

Multiple fMRI studies have revealed the existence of the default mode network (DMN), a large-scale brain network that is most active when we’re day-dreaming. Researchers at the University of Southern California argue that

“downtime is, in fact, essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics — processes that depend on the DMN.”

The results of harnessing the power of your DMN are immense:

More creativity. The research discussed in Scientific American suggests that DMN is more active in creative people. For example, according to Psychology Today:

  • The most recorded song of all time, “Yesterday” by The Beatles, was ‘heard’ by Paul McCartney as he was waking up one morning. The melody was fully formed in his mind, and he went straight to the piano in his bedroom to find the chords to go with it, and later found words to fit the melody.
  • Mozart described how his musical ideas ‘flow best and most abundantly.’ when he was alone ‘traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep… Whence and how they come, I know not, nor can I force them.’
  • Tchaikovsky described how the idea for a composition usually came ‘suddenly and unexpectedly… It takes root with extraordinary force and rapidity, shoots up through the earth, puts forth branches and leaves, and finally blossoms.’

More productivity. According to an essay in The New York Times, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Less burnout. Regardless of how many hours you work, consider this: researchers have found that it takes 25 minutes to recover from a phone call or an e-mail. On average, we are interrupted every 11 minutes which means that we can never catch up, we’re always behind.

That feeling of always being behind leads to burn-out which the World Health Organization officially recognized as a medical condition defined as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and manifests with the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Doing nothing, quieting our minds and not focusing on any particular task, can actually help reset our bodies systems, quieting the release of stress chemicals, slowing our heart rates, and improving our mental and physical energy

Better health. Multiple studies indicate that idleness “produces many health benefits including, but not limited to, reduced heart rate, better digestion, improvements in mood, and a boost in overall emotional well-being — which, of course, affects everything on a biochemical and physiological level, thereby serving as a major deciding factor on whether or not we fall ill, and/or remain ill. Mental downtime also replenishes glucose and oxygen levels in the brain, and allows our brains to process and file things, which leaves us feeling more rested and clear-headed, promotes a stronger sense of self-confidence, and…more willing to we trust change.”

Fine, you convinced me. How can I do nothing?

There are the usual suspects — vacations, meditation, and physical exercise — but, if you’re anything like me, the thought of even finding 5 minutes to listen to a meditation app is so overwhelming that I never even start.

An easier place to start, in my experience, is in intentionally working nothing into the moments that are already “free.” Here are three of my favorite ways to work a bit of nothing into my day.

Make the Snooze button work for you. When my alarm goes off, I instinctively hit the Snooze button because, I claim, it is my first and possibly only victory of the day. It’s also a great way to get 9 minutes of thoughtful quiet nothingness in which I can take a few deep breaths, scan my body for any aches and pains, and make sure that I’m calm and my mind is quiet when I get out of bed.

Stare out the window. I always place my computer next to a window so that I can stare out the window for a few minutes throughout the day and people think I’m thinking deep thoughts. Which I am. Subconsciously. Lest anyone accuse me of being lazy or unproductive while I watch the clouds roll by, I simply point them to research that shows “that individuals who took five to ten minute breaks from work to do nothing a few times a day displayed an approximately 50% increase in their ability to think clearly and creatively, thus rendering their work far more productive.

Bring the beach to you. Research from a variety of places, from the UK Census to The Journal of Coastal Zone Management, indicate that our brains and bodies benefit from time at the beach. But, if you can’t go to the beach, there are lots of ways to bring the beach to you. Perhaps the simplest is to bring more blue into your environment. Most people associate blue with feelings of calm and peace and a study published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that the color blue can boost creativity. Even putting a picture of a beach (or your own personal happy place) on your desk or computer screen can trigger your brain to slow down, relax, and possibly trigger your DMN.

With so many benefits, isn’t it time you started doing more nothing?