Lifestyle
September 4, 2019

Let Your Brain Rest

Lady looking at her phone

This post was originally written for The Straits Times as part of a 16-week column preparing runners for The Straits Times Run 2019.

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In the summer of 2007, I was living in a huge farmhouse in the south of France. The New Zealand triathlon team were based there preparing for the upcoming Olympic trials and other important races on the horizon.

One afternoon after a tough morning of training, a friend and I were tired and bored. Looking for something to do, we stumbled upon a site called www.facebook.com.

With little thought and nothing better to do, we eagerly signed up for an account and watched with amusement as friends rolled in. By the end of the week, I had about 50 friends and was feeling pretty good.

Before Facebook, time outside of training was primarily spent sleeping, working on mobility, visiting cafes, reading, watching DVDs, cooking and staying in touch with family, friends and sponsors. 

These primarily analogue activities helped us to recover. Not just physically, but mentally too, so we could perform each of our training sessions to the best of our ability. 

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The Brain Drain

Your brain is the most energy-consuming organ in your body. It works at full capacity every single day and uses at least 20 per cent of all the energy you need daily.

During training, you may think that it’s only your muscles doing the work, but that’s not the case. Your brain is the commander in chief coordinating your muscles and every other physiological process that is required when you swim, bike or run.

Outside of training, further neurological depletion occurs throughout the day. Some sources estimate that your brain makes up to 35,000 decisions a day, leading to mental fatigue.

When Facebook, smartphones, WhatsApp, Netflix and all the other social media platforms and digital services came along, they hooked us in.

Fast forward 12 years and gone are the days of boredom and the discomfort that comes with nothing to do. 

Feeling bored? Scroll social media.

Feeling bored? Binge-watch your favourite show on Netflix.

Feeling bored? Text a friend.

Never before in human history, have we been able to eliminate boredom. 

As technology has continued its aggressive progression into our lives, we’ve lost our ability to sit peacefully. At the hint of boredom – regardless of where we are – we pull out our phone, tablet or laptop and drown ourselves in the never-ending news feeds, texts, e-mails and videos that fill our screens.

I argue that this constant digital stimulation is wreaking havoc on our brains and has a negative impact on our focus, health and running performance.

It’s Okay To Be Bored Sometimes

If you wish to recover from your training effectively – mentally and physically – you need to take care of your brain and give it the downtime it needs to replenish itself. 

That means introducing some boredom back into your life.

The next time you find yourself in line to buy a coffee, waiting for public transport or for a meeting to start, I encourage you to keep your phone in your pocket. Instead, sit in peace or chat with your colleagues.

I’ve personally been working hard at this over the past two years and have made significant progress as a result. I feel less anxious, have more focus and am less mentally “foggy”.

Besides embracing frequent bouts of boredom throughout the day, I also use technology in a far more intentional way. I deactivated my Facebook account and removed Instagram from my phone, only checking it on my computer.

I set my phone to greyscale and always use it in ‘do not disturb’ mode so that only my favourites can contact me at their convenience.

I prioritise analogue hobbies such as reading books, playing with my kids, exercise and cooking. And, I am careful about what new digital services I choose to sign up for – a small benefit is not enough. 

Am I perfect? No, but I am doing my best, and I believe that my recovery and quality of life have improved.

I choose to live an intentional life. I invite you to join me.

Coached RunningBen PulhamBen Pulham is a former professional triathlete and the founder of Coached, a heart rate training programme that helps you optimise, track and enjoy your training.