A few weeks ago, as the days became noticeably shorter and it became clear that another summer would soon come to a close, I discovered an opinion piece in the New York Times headlined “Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain.” The teaser copy continued: “Vacation isn’t a luxury. Neither is daydreaming. Don’t skimp.” I was sold. As someone who’s spent an entire career in creative businesses and who might be described as an inveterate daydreamer (not to mention a serious proponent of vacations and naps), an essay—by a scientist, no less!—that would buttress my belief that these things are important undoubtedly qualified as a must-read.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version: We’re bombarded constantly by information. Our brains are not wired to continually process this barrage of data, so we’re not able to as effectively use something called the “task-negative” mode of attention. That’s the brain state involved in imagination, innovation, problem-solving, and, according to the op-ed’s author, Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University, the one “responsible for our moments of greatest creativity and insight.” For me, these fits of inspiration and creative problem-solving typically come during runs or bike rides—or, not infrequently, right after waking up. For others, it may be in the cereal aisle or on a neighborhood stroll. “You might be going for a walk or grocery shopping or doing something that doesn’t require sustained attention,” Levitin writes, “and suddenly—boom—the answer to a problem that had been vexing you suddenly appears.”

What Levitin calls a “walk,” we in Colorado often call a “hike,” which makes this issue’s cover feature, “Gilded Trails” (page 58), both a guide to 15 stunning fall treks and a handbook for helping you hit the reset button in your brain. These trails—some close to home, some a bit farther away—place you right in the middle of the majestic Rocky Mountain landscape at a time when leaves turn from green to gold before floating down to the earth. It’s an environment that is awesome in the truest sense of the word—one that makes tweets and status updates and emails feel insignificant. These hikes not only connect us with nature, but they also connect us with ourselves. They allow us to shift our minds into neutral, to daydream, to wonder. As the Times essay suggests, these things aren’t luxuries. They’re necessities. So take a few minutes, turn to our feature, and plan an outing to take in Colorado this autumn. And please, indulge in the task-negative state of mind at least until you get home—then you can Instagram your adventure.

This article was originally published in 5280 September 2014.
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280 Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffVanDyke