Busyness has become a badge of honor. We are addicted to its buzz because, well, being in demand feels pretty good. And working and living fast makes us feel productive even when we’re not.
Much of that comes down to how our brains work. The brain uses a whopping 20% of the body’s total energy output. Our conscious brain is a fantastic processing machine. It is brilliant at learning new things from first principles—but it eats up quite a bit of power.
It’s also a smart machine—which is why it conserves energy by to using our subconscious, or as I like to call it, autopilot, whenever possible. It looks at what’s in front of us, searching for situations that look familiar to ones we already know and carrying out default instructions so our conscious brain can have a rest. This is why we can drive long distances without remembering large chunks of the journey (literal autopilot).
This is fantastic design, but as we get more and more overloaded, autopilot kicks in more frequently to help our brains cope. Even when we don’t need it—like those moments when, if we manage to open our eyes, we can feel conscious, joyful, and part of something bigger.
In these uncertain and fast-moving political, social, and economic times, it’s essential to pause and seek a way to feel more conscious and alive. When we are more conscious we have a far greater chance of seeing positivity in our lives—and making better decisions that will help us feel happier and engaged with the world we live in.
How do we wake up to consciousness and still manage our busy lives? I wrote Wake Up! in attempt to answer that question. The secret to finding this balance is to experiment with new and rich experiences that pique our attention and help us understand ourselves and our environments. Comedian George Carlin called this “vuja dé”: a sense of unfamiliarity in the familiar. By stimulating our minds to shift their perspective, we reveal opportunities that we hadn’t necessarily seen before. To start, introduce the following six exercises into your life, one by one over a period of a few days, or dip in as feels right for you. They’re not meant as another box on your to-do list but as a bit of awake fun to add to your day.
Chris Baréz-Brown is a speaker, wellbeing expert, and the author of Wake Up!, published by The Experiment Publishing.