How to unfocus In today’s fast-paced world, where the mantra seems to be “focus, focus, focus”? To sharpen our focus is equal to achieving our goals. Detailed planning, structured organization, and extensive to-do lists are all designed to enhance our focus. But is this relentless pursuit of focus always beneficial? What about our creativity? Does it truly lead to improved performance? Surprisingly, the answer might not be a resounding “yes.”

The Limitations of Selective Attention

From a neuroscience perspective, the concept of ‘focusing more’ only partially makes sense. While focus is essential for keeping information ‘online’ in your brain and detecting relevant information for future tasks, it’s not always beneficial once you’ve incorporated the learnings. In fact, when we’re constantly focused, we often miss a lot of important information, solutions, and events that occur in the background.

When you’re focused, all your energy flows towards the task at hand, often overlooking things that might occur in your peripheral vision. This phenomenon is known as ‘inattentional blindness.’ It’s like being so engrossed in a book that you fail to notice someone entering the room.

The Downside of Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus can even prevent us from seeing the bigger picture and finding meaning in life. It can lead to ‘long-term discounting,’ where your brain devalues future events because they seem too far away. This often results in choosing short-term wins over long-term goals. Hyperfocus can also lead to ‘loss of caring,’ where people engrossed in a task become less compassionate towards others in need. This happens because hyperfocus demands a lot of energy from the prefrontal cortex in your brain, the part responsible for making moral decisions.

The Balance of Cognitive Rhythm

A balanced brain has both focusing and unfocusing circuits working together. Understanding this cognitive rhythm can help you mentally move between different stages to keep your brain happy. You can even approach your life from different perspectives to help you shift. Unfocusing is an intelligent way of letting go.

Three Ways to Unfocus

1. Daydreaming. Engage in an activity that isn’t stressful and doesn’t require much energy, leaving room for your mind to wander. Activities like painting or light gardening work well.

2. Talking to Yourself. Use your inner voice as a tool to coach yourself through difficult situations. Top athletes often use this technique to navigate challenging circumstances.

3. Physical Activation. Taking a stroll or going for a run can help take your mind off things. Physical movement activates your cognitive rhythm, naturally switching between focusing and unfocusing.

Unfocus is the Key to Creativity

In my career as an advertising creative, we had to be ‘creative’ on command. We spent most of our time bouncing ideas off each other outside the office, away from our desks. We just doodled and talked. Once we had a couple of insights, we’d focus and find ways to support our ideas with words and images. No matter the question or problem, there was always a creative solution.

Next time you find yourself too focused on a problem, step aside and relax! Unfocusing is essential for creativity. It’s like a muscle and can be trained. In fact, it needs training!