Alpha waves are emitted when we learn, reflect, think strategically or engage in metacognition. In this mode, our brains achieve a blend of activation and relaxation. To get into this mode, we have to step out of focused execution, which limits our ability to pull the lens back and see the whole picture.

I learned about this effect firsthand on a trip to Africa for a friend’s wedding.

After the wedding, I travelled with some friends to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, which is the oldest game park in South Africa. Stunningly beautiful. I’ve been to Africa many times before and love it. Going on safari is one of the coolest things you can ever do.

Every time I have ever gone, we drove around in a truck or car to see the animals. One of the rules was to stay in the vehicle, because the second you get out, you’re part of the food chain.

This time, when I arrived at the park’s lodge, I saw that they had a 5:00 a.m. walking safari, which caught my attention. When I asked about it, the staff said, “Oh, you walk instead of drive.” I immediately signed up because I love new experiences.

The next morning, we headed out into the bush with a local guide. We walked and learned about the flora and fauna, but we didn’t really see any animals. Then, we approached a watering hole, which was a bit unnerving because that’s where animals go to eat each other.

We were climbing up a rise that went through a patch of dense vegetation when suddenly our guide signaled for us to stop. I looked ahead and standing about 15 feet away was a massive rhino. Everyone froze and we stood there looking at the rhino’s ears moving.

I’m a tourist, scientist and speaker, so I’m thinking, “Well, either I’m going to take a great picture and get killed or take a great picture and have a great story. Either way, I am taking a picture.”

So I pulled out my camera and fired off a picture, which made a shutter click that echoed everywhere. The guide looked at me like “stupid tourist,” but the rhino didn’t flinch.

Slow down to see the whole picture

When I got back to my room that night, I was flipping through my shots and looked at the picture of the rhino. That’s when I realized there was a second rhino I had not seen.

I was so locked in and focused on the one rhino, I did not see what else was happening.

This is a perfect metaphor for what happens when you are narrowly focused on outcomes and results. In go-go hustle mode, you have tunnel vision. You cannot see broadly and think strategically. You can’t see the second rhino.

I would love for you to consider that, instead of just pushing harder, you need to pump the brakes from time to time and reflect on how things are going. This is particularly important for metacognition, which is a crucial aspect of strategic thinking.

You achieve this by decreasing the intensity of your brain function so you can relax into alpha waves, which is actually one of the capabilities that meditation helps you develop.

Through MRI scans, we know that in alpha mode, your brain activity is confined to small regions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. That’s how your brain operates when you are thinking about your thinking and accessing alternative possibilities.

When you can sit back and relax, your attention can open, your awareness can increase, you can consider things and see other possibilities. You can see the whole picture.

Want to learn more?

Check out my new book Rest Refocus Recharge! In the book I cover simple and innovative ways to fight fatigue, feel stronger and live better.


In a 24/7 world, it can be a real challenge to get proper rest and give your mind and body the opportunity to fully recharge. In my new book, I outline how small changes in the way you rest, refocus and recharge can help you improve your mental health, prevent illness and deliver optimal results. In high-performance athletic circles, “deliberate recovery” practices are the secret weapon of the very best. But you don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from these strategies. Rest Refocus Recharge offers simple and practical techniques that you can easily incorporate into your existing routine, including:

Rest and sleep

Relax and create

Reflect and learn

Recharge and focus

Regenerate and perform

Let me know what you think about this article and the new book in the comments section below!

Physiologist, Scientist & Author. Helping people live healthier, high-performance lives via decoding science & sharing actionable tips, strategies and tactics.