The Power of Rest

Why sleep alone is not enough–and how to reset your body

Three Quick Ways to Focus

Sometimes you need to make the right decision - now.

The Right Decision - Now

Quick decisions. Sometimes you have to think fast and well. You have no choice but to make the right choice - now.

You need to become both relaxed and concentrated - fast.

Many jobs require acute decision making, whether it's air traffic control, piloting a plane, performing surgery, even calming an unhappy parent. Sometimes there is no moment to prepare. Only experience, endless, trained adherence to protocols like the Navy uses to launch jets from aircraft carriers, will help.

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But sometimes you do have a minute - and want to act creatively like jazz musicians riffing on a theme, who access deep parts of their brain to create new variations to the same tune ( For example, I'm often asked by the day traders I treat what they can do to make the right decisions fast.

Here are three techniques to relaxed concentration that through experience can be done inside a minute:

1. Paradoxical relaxation

What could be better than to relax by not relaxing?

Feel the muscles in your head and neck. Seek a place where the muscle tension is slightly higher than the muscle next to it.
Focus on that muscle - only on that muscle. Recognize where the tension starts, builds, lessens. Feel it, sense it, know it. Focus on nothing else.
The paradox of paradoxical relaxation is that by placing all your focus onto one area, the whole rest of you're the body relaxes.
Now do it in another part of your body.
When needed, do PR in three separate areas for 15 seconds each. With practice, you may feel most of your body "release and dissolve" - while your brain steps free.

2. Movement in space.

As you sit or stand, visualize as a series of slides wherever you are in the world:
See yourself in the room or space you're in.
Now visualize the building or place outside.
The town or city.
The county.
The state.
The country.
Visualize the earth from the moon - bright and clear.
The solar system.
Where we fit in our galaxy, the Milky Way.
The position of that galaxy in the endless galactic plane.
Now return, slide by slide, back to where you sit or stand.

Perception enhances perspective. Seeing where you stand on the earth can ground you even when you fear being swallowed up by stress.

3. Self hypnosis

Look straight ahead.
Roll your eyes up to the top of your head as far as you can.
Slowly close your eyelids - keeping your eyes looking to the ceiling, through the top of your head.
Eyes closed but still looking up visualize:
The most beautiful scenery you ever knew
Yourself inside it, at peace
Look out. You can see for many miles around you, whether it's a mountain top, a beach, a garden, any earthly paradise.
Feel the air. Smell it. Taste it.
Open your eyes.

One Size Does Not Fit All

There are at least as many ways to quickly relax and concentrate as there are people. No one technique works for everybody. Sometimes experts are needed to show people how to actively and rapidly focus, concentrate, and calm.

For relaxed concentration is a skill - an active form of rest that allows you to clear your head and free your mind - which with training you can perform anywhere you are.
Because where you are right now is a place you can mentally change.


Matthew Edlund, M.D. researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health; he is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.


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