At first glance, words like Isolation Chamber, and Sensory Deprivation Tank, may sound like terms picked up from a report on torture techniques, or relics of a mad scientist’s experiments gone wrong, but fear not. Many people, including celebrities like Joe Rogan, choose to regularly experience sensory deprivation and report that it can release our minds from the stress of everyday life, increase our creativity, and lead to a more focused and productive life.
What is it?
Sensory deprivation is the removal of stimuli from one or more senses. When we wear ear plugs or a sleep-mask, we are depriving our senses of hearing and sight, but consider how you might feel if you were also to deprive yourself of your other three senses, and exist for a period of time totally removed from any possible stimulation. In pursuit of an answer to this question, neuroscientist, John C. Lily began developing the first sensory deprivation tanks in the 1950s. The experience was originally uncomfortable for participants who needed to wear constricting gear on their bodies and breathe through an apparatus as they were totally submerged in water. Eventually the modern method was developed: A large tank is filled with water and between 600-800 pounds of Epsom salt, to keep the participant floating just on the surface, and to make it very difficult to roll over, and a door is shut over the tank and all lights turned off.
What Does it Do?
Studies have shown that spending time in the tank can reduce levels of cortisol (a hormone caused by stress) in our bodies, as well as increase the level of theta wave activity in our brains. Released just before falling asleep and just after waking up, theta waves become active when our brains are in a meditative state, “in which focused internalized attention gives rise to emotionally positive ‘blissful’ experience.” Because of this schedule, most people cannot remember their theta wave states, and/or are unable to take advantage of them. Improvements to blood circulation, sleep schedules, and even an increased recovery time from athletic injuries are a few of the other benefits people have found from regularly climbing into sensory deprivation tanks, but there are many more.
Many people who give the tanks a try, like Slate’s Seth Stevenson, enjoy the experience and continue to make visits, but how can we take the lessons of what sensory deprivation and isolation can do for our focus and creativity and apply it to our workspaces so that we can become more productive and efficient every day?
Let There be Light – But no View…
Unlike the sensory deprivation tanks, our offices require light. Natural light can be very helpful to productivity, but if you’re lucky enough to have an office with a view – that is a visual stimulation you could benefit from removing. Cover the glass with a sheet of ‘frost’ that you might see on a bathroom window, or install a thin shade – whatever you do remember that you don’t want to lose the light, just the distracting view.
Maybe it’s because of our ear’s proximity to our brains, but doesn’t it always seem that noise is the most devastating of distractions? Nothing can knock one out of a good workflow quite like an errant, annoying noise, or the continued chatter of a coworker. Start keeping some earplugs or noise canceling headphones in your office so you can make sure that no auditory stimuli interferes with your productivity.
Respect the Desk
Your desk is there for only one thing: To help you get work done. Make sure that your desk is focused towards that goal and you’ll see a spike in your productivity. Things like books, knick-knacks, and birthday cards may help your office look more inviting, but find a place for them that is either behind you, or out of your line of sight while you’re at your desk. This will help isolate both your senses of sight and touch, as your favorite book or curio will no longer be an easy excuse to get distracted.
Don’t Forget the Exit
While incorporating the idea of sensory deprivation into our work lives can drastically increase our productivity, we mustn’t forget that every session in an isolation tank ends at a predetermined time, and there would be no value in the experience if one never left. Little breaks and distractions can be important to our productivity themselves, they help refresh our working brains and help the day move along, but hopefully after implementing some of the sensory deprivation techniques – you’ll be able to control when those distractions happen and how you want to use them.