Breaking Points: Your Brain Tells You When to Take a Break

Is it time for a break? The project you've been staring at is starting to get blurry, but you know that you can close the deal as soon as you save and send it. So do you stop for a second to browse Facebook or fill up your third cup of coffee, or do you keep on keepin' on?

Your brain tells you when to stop and when you’re refreshed enough to resume, adjusting the signals to the tasks. For instance, the brain is likely to delay that break while you finish easy tasks or strain toward a big reward, according to researchers at the Motivation Brain and Behavior Laboratory of INSERM in Paris.

Here’s how the process works: As you apply yourself, your brain constantly evaluates the upside and downside of pausing. The triggers of pushing forward or quitting are put into action depending on how much energy and effort you're putting into the task and what the perks of completing it are.

The “take a break” signal becomes intense during great effort, but it is dialed down—even during rest periods—when a big reward hangs in the balance, indicating people will spend more effort and need less rest when stakes are high.

So now we understand how Agent 007 keeps clobbering all the bad guys to save the day.

Sometimes, persistence isn't easy when you get stuck. Here's a brain tip: shift gears to spark creativity and make those ideas flow. Read about it on


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