What? How can goofing off be good for you- and your students? Lea Waters has written a powerful book called “The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish.” Despite its cumbersome title, “The Strength Switch” has the potential to change you, dear readers, as well as other teachers, parents, and kids. I am encouraged that it is already changing me!
This post will address the goofing off research and I’ll go into more detail on strength-based teaching after I finish reading the book. (What I’ve read so far is awesome!)
Research shows that certain kinds of “goofing off,” where the brain is doing something habitual, physical, and/or requires little effort or concentration, helps the brain percolate information. Waters likens it to a bridge (no pun intended, I’m sure) between direct attention or focus and “free-form” attention (sometimes called mindfulness). We can only concentrate for a certain period of time before the brain is overloaded with processing. Shifting gears, or effective goofing off, allows our brains to rest and make sense of what we’ve just heard. An interesting fact is that the brain is not really resting; this downtime allows the brain to store information, problem solve, and make room for more information. Researchers from Columbia University saw marked improvement in attention and cognitive functioning when kids were routinely allowed this effective downtime.
Waters suggests that kids can build their attention skills by practicing this shift between focus and “goofing off.” It makes sense to me that we can all do better with this approach to tasks and breaks. You know how that name you were trying to remember pops up when you’re not even thinking about it? How you come up with a clever idea or solution to a problem when you were least expecting it? Those are perfect examples of how you’ve given your brain a chance to work more effectively.
Goofing off is “softly focused inward attention,” according to Waters. It is not texting or talking on the phone. It’s doing the mundane, so that your brain can become more brilliant.
Give yourself goofing off time and see what happens!