How Silly Distractions at Work Can Boost Your Happiness and Focus

How Silly Distractions at Work Can Boost Your Happiness and Focus

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A pleasant short break from work can improve your mood and improve your concentration. Luis Alvarez/Getty Images
  • A new study reveals that taking a positive break from work, like watching a funny video, can recharge you.
  • Exercising constant self-control depletes your internal resources.
  • Positive emotions help us recover from negative emotions.
  • Taking a break from work on your phone is less recharging than using a computer.

Imagine the following scenario.

Your big project is due today, and you’re still not done. You’ve been working all morning, but the task is so complex and you’re so overwhelmed that you need all your composure just to stay focused.

You suddenly notice a funny chat video in your inbox sent by your colleague. Should we take the time to watch it? Or will it distract you and set you further back?

A new study by an international team of researchers says give it a go – that watching a short, funny video will actually be good for you and help you reset.

The results, published in the journal Work & Stress, suggest that taking brief, positive breaks from situations that require a high level of self-control can help replenish your internal resources. In other words, it can help rekindle your creativity, motivation, and commitment to your work and others.

Think of it like putting gasoline in your brain.

We exercise self-control at work and in other places where we are forced to react in ways different from what we would spontaneously feel, think, or behave.

“Self-control demands are any job demands that require you to inhibit, override, or adapt your urges or automatic responses in order to complete your job,” said Vera Schweitzer, PhD student at WHU—Otto Beisheim School. of Management in Germany. , who led the study.

The following are examples of self-control requirements:

  • controlling your temper when dealing with a hostile customer or colleague
  • work on a difficult task
  • working on a dull or boring task

“What is particularly exhausting about this is that the effort of self-control (for example, when trying to control your mood or overcome inner resistances) is a very demanding process that depletes and diminishes resources. employee personal information,” Schweitzer said.

These internal resources, also called “regulatory resources,” are necessary for employees to feel motivated and engaged in their work, think outside the box, or help other employees, Schweitzer said.

When you have to deal with constant demands for self-control without a surge of positivity, it actually hurts your regulatory resources and your overall effectiveness at work.

Experiencing a small dose of positivity, that is, feeling a positive emotion like happiness, helps restore your internal resources.

“This is rooted in a psychological effect called the ‘unraveling effect’ of positive emotions, which states that positive emotions allow individuals to detach from and recover from previous negative experiences, such as demands for self-control”, Schweitzer said.

For example, if you watch a funny video right after several hours of intensive work, the positive emotions will help you restore your regulatory resources without forcing you to do anything actively.

When we’re under pressure – say, working to a tight deadline – it can be tempting to skip small breaks to “save time”. But short breaks are actually necessary for your brain to function optimally.

“Cognitively speaking, we are not designed for sustained attention for long periods of time,” Terri Kurtzberg, PhD, professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School, Newark and New Brunswick, told Healthline.

“We’re out of juice, so to speak, and have to detach to let the mind rest before re-engaging.”

“Research shows that taking breaks is good for technical tasks and improves accuracy and speed, but also reduces stress, restores motivation and even promotes creativity.”

“Think of the classic moments of ‘solving the problem without thinking about it at all, on a walk or in the shower.’ Stepping away allows your mind to see things from new perspectives and continue to process information even without your conscious thought,” she said.

Your positive break doesn’t have to be a funny video. It can be anything that makes you happy, like a short story or a song, but it should be brief and energize you.

“A favorite song can also be a good alternative – however, the song should really make you feel happy and energetic but not, say, too melancholy and calm,” Schweitzer said.

She adds that “you should always keep in mind not to indulge in watching videos or chatting with your colleagues for hours, but rather limit the positivity boost to around 3-5 minutes so you don’t detach yourself completely from your actual work.”

Plus, positivity isn’t the only way to overcome self-control demands, Schweitzer said. Improving your sleep or self-reflection also works, but it takes more effort. While a little positive break, like a funny video, is a quick and effortless way to replenish those resources.

It might be a good idea to watch this funny video on your computer instead of your cell phone.

Kurtzberg participated in a 2019 study where she found that taking a break from looking at her phone doesn’t provide the same “recharge” effect as taking other types of breaks.

“In our experiment, we asked people to pause in the middle of solving a set of complicated word problems,” she said. For the break, participants picked items from a hypothetical shopping list on a computer, cellphone, or paper document. One group had no breaks.

Interestingly, computer or paper breaks allowed people to recharge, and when they returned to their original task, they solved more problems and did it in less time than those who took no breaks.

But the participants who used their mobile phones performed poorly in the second half – they were no better off than those who didn’t take a break.

“Our phones have become this giant chasm for our attention – once we have them in our hands, we engage with all kinds of notifications and thoughts and end up plunging down several different cognitive and emotional rabbit holes,” Kurtzberg said. .

“It doesn’t seem to give our minds the rest they need to be at full power to return to work, perhaps because then we find it harder to disconnect from the phone to return to work with our full attention. “

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