The Archimedes Principle: Leveraging the Power of Rest

Since the mid-90s there has been a growing body of research showing that what you’re doing when you’re not studying is often just as important as when you are studying. This is because during our rest periods the brain organizes and stores the material we have learned.

You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever had the experience of struggling over a difficult problem, and then finding clarity after a rest, a shower, some exercise, or a good night’s sleep.

Jan Brogan, in her article ‘When being distracted is a good thing‘, quotes Harvard researcher and psychologist Shelley H. Carson, author of Your Creative Brain: “If you are stuck on a problem, an interruption can force an ‘incubation period,’ she says. ‘In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.’”

Perhaps the most famous example of this was the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes. When King Hiero of Syracuse was concerned that his crown might not be pure gold, he tasked Archimedes with the job of determining the volume of an object with an irregular shape. According to legend, the problem stumped Archimedes until he took a rest and went to the public baths. It was while taking a bath that the solution presented itself. Archimedes realized he could determine the volume of an object by seeing how much water it displaced. Archimedes was so excited by this insight that he is said to have run naked through the streets of Syracuse crying out, “Eureka!” (Gk. “I have found it!”)

Whether or not this story is true, it illustrates the important point that giving your brain a rest can free mental resources to achieve new levels of inspiration and clarity. That is one of the reason that at TSM we frequently emphasize about the neurological benefits of rest, both in the context of getting a good night’s sleep and incorporating structured breaks in your EPPP study routine (see our earlier post about the Principle of Neurotransmitter Depletion.)

Putting this into practice, your EPPP study schedule should include regular periods of rest, both short rests lasting anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes, as well as long rests lasting up to 30 minutes. Getting a good night sleep should also be prioritized.

And while you’re at it, a warm bath wouldn’t hurt either. Only we recommend that when your mind rises to new heights of inspiration that you don’t follow Archimedes’ example of running naked through the streets of your town.

Further Reading





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