Palate cleansing for the brain

Lemon and Lavender Intermezzo

A study ‘intermezzo’ could be just what you need to move from task to task

We do a lot of cooking and entertaining at our house, mainly because I just cannot help myself. Cooking is fun and relaxing for me and always has been.  I went to culinary school to help manage that particular problem, though the experience and all the years as a restaurateur only reinforced my habit.  There is a lot to learn from the daily challenge that comes with facing one hundred or so people all wanting something different to eat at just about the same time.  Let’s sum it up by saying it is an intense and quickly changing few hours that demand concentration. Besides the sybaritic pleasure intermezzos offer, you quickly learn to appreciate how a little intermezzo can go a long way for the chef as well as the diners.  Once a foodie always a foodie I think, so, for me, it is quite natural to think of my daily tasks in the metaphor of a multicourse meal.  As my responsibilities and academic work become more demanding, I started looking for an ‘intermezzo’ to help me move from task to task.

Viewing a multicourse meal from the perspectives of the chef and the diner is a useful contrast.  The chef embraces the intensity, the notion that everyone in the restaurant deserves a lovely dining experience, and then applies their skill to achieve what is really an edible work of art and bit of theatre for the diners.  For a chef the intermezzo means a little breathing space to time and finish the next course to a guest’s expectations.  Diners come to a restaurant to be pleased and to savor the components of different foods and wines. The intermezzo is refreshment making it possible to enjoy succeeding courses fully. For both chef and diner the intermezzo is really a concentration aid, though approached from different points of view.

For me, the diner’s experience is the kind of seamless, satisfying one I want to have at exam time, and the chef’s experience is the sometimes-intense work I have to do to achieve it. Managing each day, each ‘course’ if you will, takes some ingenuity. Sometimes the daily juggling of multiple responsibilities like family, academic work, and professional commitments feels a lot like serving one hundred people an eight-course meal in three hours. It is a lot easier with an ‘intermezzo.’ Shifting from work related thinking and concentration to focus on critical reading and schoolwork often requires an effort to refocus.  For me, it is easier to begin concentrating on a new task after indulging in something like palate cleansing for the brain.

My motivational ‘intermezzos’ have evolved quite a bit to finally arrive at a technique that is refreshing but does not take up very much time. I learned that a break for things like exercise is inefficient because it takes too much time, makes me tired, and does not engage the brain. For me, the most efficient and effective intermezzo is engagement with some creative content about productivity and motivation.  Reading a short article about thinking, being creative, or strategies for success is the best intermezzo for me.  After several weeks it occurred to me that it works because I do not want to disengage from thinking critically, or being productive, I just want to move on and engage differently with different material.   Try a quick read on two of my favorite sites, FastCompany and Co.Create. Let me know if this intermezzo works for you too, and what resources you use to refresh and study.

Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.

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