Balance Your Brain, Do Nothing

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January 20, 2016 by Kathryn Kuttis


Austin Kelon  is a writer who draws. He created this visual record of  Dan Pink’s New York Time’s bestseller, A Whole New Mind

I’ve discovered something surprising about human creativity: it needs to be replenished by doing nothing. This isn’t new information for most creatives but knowing this helped me grow as a writer.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What’s the best way to do nothing?” How do you restock your brain after a writing assignment? Is doing nothing really the best way to balance your brain? Does binge watching Homeland qualify as nothing? A study in Scientific America explains the benefits of active rest versus passive rest. Spoiler alert: watching TV isn’t the best way to recharge. Tom Hodgkinson’s book  How to Be Idle showed me that Do-Nothingness is an art form of its own.

Doing nothing is the opposite of doing something. Technically we never do nothing but finding ways to switch your focus is what refreshes the brain.

Unless I get at least seven hours of sleep at night, I’m not active during the day. If I don’t eat, I get cranky and can’t decided what to eat. These are just things I know about myself that help me to function. Why would my brain be any different? Ideas are invisible. Maybe it’s just harder to take care of something that you can’t see.

Now that my J452/552 students are posting creative content twice a week for an assignment (you can learn more about here) they might want to explore the fine art of doing nothing.

All creatives come to realize that words won’t come unless we’ve taken time off to fill the well. While this might look different for everyone, here are my top three ways to restock:

  1. Visual note-taking can be a huge catalyst for creativity. Carry a notebook and draw (or doodle if that word makes it more fun)  as you leisurely day dream, observe and listen to the world around you.
  2. Absorb other people’s work. Reading is the closest you can get to the writing process without doing it yourself. It’s helpful to build a word bucket as you read to gather concepts and expand your lexicon. I look at titles, subheadings, lead sentences, vocabulary and sentence construction to see how other writers approach the page.
  3. Completely forget about the task at hand. Take a nap or go for a walk. Yesterday, I took my kids ice skating and when I got home my brain was full of new ideas. Note: This is not recommended for severe procrastinators.

This week’s kernels are listed below:

Lawrence Phillips found dead in prison at age 40 (USA Today) With all the PR problems and lawsuits, it’s a wonder that the NFL is able to market itself as a family-friendly brand. How do they approach these situations? What could they do differently?

Microsoft announces Minecraft: Education Edition for schools (TheVerge) Is there a conflict of interest when corporations offer to put software into public schools? How does this benefit Microsoft? Is this the future of education?

Life With an ‘Invisible’ Illness ( How can communication offer support when we don’t understand the issue? What are a few simple tips for direct communication that can explain a complex health issue?

Teaching MLK’s Life—The Man, Not the Myth (TheAtlantic) What are we missing when we see MLK through an overly simplified lens?

A Push for Gender Equality at the Davos World Economic Forum, and Beyond (NYTimes) As 10 companies agree to disclose sensitive employment information, what’s causing the shift in sentiment for women in finance? Are these calls for action at Davos and gender equality linked to Hillary’s campaign?

Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury in court for first of several sexual misconduct lawsuits (LATimes) What’s a brand to do when their public face is facing lawsuits? How did Martha Stewart distance herself from her magazine empire during her legal woes? What other celebrity brands have come under fire and survived?

6 ways to stop saying ‘uh,’ ‘you know’ and other word fillers (PRDaily) How else might you advise young professionals to elevate their public speaking game? Why is it important to communicate with clarity?

Swedish Activist Shown ‘Confessing’ On Chinese State Television (Time) What happens when a confession appears scripted? How does the media function differently in Sweden and China? Do they have similar communication goals?

George Clooney Calls Out the Oscars for Being Too White (VanityFair) Will a sharply worded statement from a megastar impact the Oscar’s outlook on diversity? How does the letter impact Clooney’s image? What strategy would you suggest as actors begin to call for a boycott of this year’s ceremony?

Does the American Shopping Mall Have a Second Life? (AdWeek) How can shopping malls design themselves for the future? How is social media playing a roll in community relations?

WHAT THE INTERVIEW PROCESS IS LIKE AT GOOGLE, APPLE, AMAZON, AND OTHER TECH COMPANIES (FastCo) What you need to know about the interview process and landing a job in the tech sector. How can communication help?

New dietary guidelines come down hard on added sugars (PBS) How is Mexico encouraging its population to give up added sugars? What campaigns could we employ in the US to promote these guidelines and combat obesity?


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If you share an interest in public relations, media and visual design, this might be a good place for you to hang out. I started this blog to exchange ideas with my students at the University of Oregon. They keep me (and maybe you too) at the forefront of social media, visual communication and career development. Here you'll find our best ideas, links and learning as we write, create and blog our way through a course on Strategic PR Communication.

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