Is a Life Without Boredom Healthy?
When was the last time you had nothing to do, nothing to entertain yourself with? In the age of smart phones and Tivo, it’s hard to imagine. Even if your Facebook and Twitter feeds get stale, there’s always Candy Crush and entire seasons of House of Cards to catch up on. It’s no surprise that most of us have forgotten what boredom actually feels like, or that kids in this age of technology ever really experience it at all.
We tell ourselves that it’s better this way—more enrichment for the mind. More to read, more to practice, and more to connect with surely must be better than just finding shapes in the clouds or daydreaming our life away, right? Surprisingly, having periods of boredom, where you aren’t filling your mind with anything, useful or otherwise, has real benefits for our brain and our lives.
Manoush Zomorodi, who outlines the benefits of boredom in her Ted Talk, “How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas”, notes that when you aren’t stimulating your brain, it slips into autopilot—something neuroscientists call the default mode network. This default mode network is what kicks on when you stop purposely thinking and just let your mind wander, which allows it to move beyond the well worn paths of your own thinking habits and find new connections. Have you ever spent hours struggling to figure out the answer to a hard problem, or trying to remember someone’s name, only to have it pop into your head in the shower? That’s because showering, doing laundry, taking walks without Pandora blasting, and other mundane tasks allow your brain to slip into that default mode network, connections happen, and voilá! The answer is there.
In addition, Zomorodi says this is a crucial time for our brain to take autobiographical inventory of where we are. We review things that have happened, things we have done, note successes and failures, and make goals for the future based on this inventory. This is totally normal for a healthy person to do, and often. Without it, we can often flounder, repeat the same mistakes, miss learning opportunities for growth, and wander aimlessly because we haven’t taken stock of where we are to begin with. In the same way that you can’t navigate to a new location without first knowing where you are on the map, your brain can’t help you plan future life journeys without checking in on your mental map. And no, you can’t cheat and ask Siri!
If you can’t remember the last time you allowed your brain some free space to roam, take a few minutes today and put down the phone or tv remote. Turn off the car radio while you’re driving. Walk outside alone or with your kids and watch some clouds go by, or just sit comfortably in silence for a few minutes. Don’t try to lead your mind anywhere, instead, let it go where it will. Enjoy the space, the quiet, and maybe get the answers to some nagging questions you’ve been pondering.