Are you reading this when you should be working? If so, then it may be because your brain signaled that continuing to work was not worth the cost in tedium of forcing yourself to stay on task.
New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers insight into how people decide when to keep going and when to take a break. That decision apparently hinges on a specific signal that at its peak— say, when your muscles are screaming that you can’t do another rep or your brain refuses to focus on the page — prompts you to quit. And when your body and brain are refreshed and ready to go again, the signal quiets down and gets out of your way.
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The peaks and valleys that trigger these decisions, however, are not pre-set: they’re influenced by how much effort you’re expending and how big a reward you expect from the work. The bigger the reward and the smaller the effort required, the more likely you are to keep going until you’ve done what needs doing. As you work, it seems, your brain continuously calibrates your breaking point in relation to your expectations of gain.
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Also see Why Do We Procrastinate?, Do Sleepy Brains Associate Junk With Reward And Pleasure?, Are Some People Wired To Be Slackers?, Does Knowing Something Will End Make You Enjoy It More? and Can Too Much Work Really Depress You?