Slow Down to Speed Up: The Power of taking Mental Breaks

shamash boat.jpg

Ding-a-ling-alingggg... sounds my 45 minute timer. Today I decided to experiment with taking a 15 minute break after every 45 minutes of work. Why? Because apparently air-traffic controllers are often required, sometimes legally, to take 15 minutes off every 45 minutes. And I figured air-traffic controllers understand the importance of attention and focus more than many others. So let me give it a go too. And I’m loving it!

The reason humans can’t easily focus for more than 45 minutes is biological. Focus requires energy - specifically in the form of glucose, according to Daniel Goleman, author of the book Focus. Without rest, your brain gets depleted. The signs of a brain running on empty include fatigue, irritability, distractedness. For me, I find myself checking Facebook or Twitter on my laptop, or checking for texts on my phone, without even deciding to do so - just automatically.

In one shocking study, judges’ decisions were directly related to the time of day and how much energy they had. When they hadn’t eaten for a while, and hence their energy levels were lower, they almost never chose to give parole. So don’t judge the judges - just give them some snacks before you go to court!

You may be so busy, you forgot to take breaks. Apart from maybe lunch. And even lunch can get squeezed into a 5 minute grab a sandwich and eat on your desk whilst faffing about on your phone. That’s certainly no break in my eyes.

One of my favorite ways of taking a break is going for a walk after lunch. I always leave my phone behind and stroll to my nearest park in north london - about 15 minutes away. There I can enjoy the trees, the birds, the little stream that gurgles away and if I have some money on me, a nice cuppa tea served by a lovely cafe with friendly, Nepalese staff.

Here’s some tips for taking mental breaks:

1. Put it in your diary. If you use a calendar regularly, this can work really well. I used to end up with very short lunch breaks or forget lunch altogether because of calls and work appointments. I still do from time to time, but getting better. I now ensure there’s at least one hour free at 1pm for me to enjoy my lunch and have a little nap or a walk.

2. Phone-free break. For me, if I’m playing around with my phone, it’s not really a proper break. I prefer to look at the sky or clouds, or maybe chat to a good friend. The best breaks are sensory - you feel the sun, listen to the sounds. So even doing a bit of cleaning, cooking or gardening makes a great break - you’re connecting with your senses. That’s sens- ational!

3. Try our 3 Magical Mindful Breaths. If you’re too busy to take a full break, even three breaths can work wonders. You can take these breaths as you read the sentences below in your mind:


3 Magical Mindful Breaths

If you enjoyed that, take a photo of the lines above and save it on your phone’s background image. A lovely reminder. Or click here to download the 3 Magical Mindful Breaths.


There are so many benefits of taking a break. Your brain is re-energised, your mind is more focused and your body is more relaxed. You release the constant distractions that shape your day.

We are often our own worst enemies. You are most likely to be the reason you’re not taking enough breaks. If you can care and be kind to your own mind and body, and put yourself before all the needs of others, you’ll feel much better and be able to serve others better too. The airlines are correct - put your own oxygen mask on before you try and do that for others.