Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Mindful approach to work and rest

Edited by Jill Wright,

While I admit to being a complete sucker for dogs - my husband and I are just now recovering from the death of our British Bulldog four years ago and have begun the process of looking for a Welsh Terrier puppy - I'm not sure that I can accept the implicit linking by the Harvard Business Review of the canine mind and physiology to the human equivalent in an article they did on improving attention span.

The methods that led to successive victories in the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska - four to six hours of mushing followed by four to six hours of rest - might even work if they were applied to humans engaged in endurance activities. But while dogs have been proved to have feelings, I am pretty sure their cognitive processes are very different. I'm convinced our bulldog spent every waking minute thinking about how to turn us to his will. And I am not at all sure that he wasn't infinitely smarter than the two of us.

Nevertheless, the point that the HBR seeks to illustrate by that example, is, I think, absolutely true: the concept of pushing through fatigue in what the computer industry dubs "death marches", and whatever the law firms, hospitals and merchant bankers call the inhuman practices they subject their young employees to is idiotic.

Anders Ericcson, a psychologist at the University of Florida, who has made a study of peak athletic performers, says that they include regular rest as part of their training regimen.

And the same principle applies to helping people maintain peak focus in the workplace. Psychologists at the University of Chicago found that whether someone is lifting weights or conducting brain surgery, in moments of peak performance, they are completely absorbed in the task at hand. And that intense focus depletes energy. The brain simply exhausts its supply of glucose.

Trying to push on in that depleted state virtually guarantees inferior outcomes.

But, the article reveals, the practice of mindful meditation strengthens the mind's ability to focus ... and the changes are detectable. 

As I've pointed out previously, the sort of mindfulness training that we offer, is a great antidote for emotional and physical burn-out.


About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the APS Victorian branch Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.