Neuroscience of Boredom

At the Merit Club we are fascinated with what makes our brains tick! Every Wednesday we will be digging a little deeper into this with our Neuroscience Wednesdays series. Finding videos and articles on subjects from love through leadership to addiction, these blogs will cover a range of ideas and theories that help us understand our mind better, have the power to shape our lives and the way we think. 

Being bored could hinder our lives in ways we don’t realise – but it may also have helped shape one of our most productive characteristics
— David Robson

Boredom is that one thing that everyone despises, leaving people feeling lazy and useless. Yet, it is in fact the one time when your brain can be the most creative. Completing menial tasks, like washing the dishes or folding the washing, is a perfect time to let your mind wander and for your brain to be building up creative ideas. In that moment, your brain is busy with forming neural connections to problems that need solutions. As Manoush Zomorodi tells us in this video, this state that your brain goes into is known as the ‘Default Mode’, and far from boring this state can be enlightening and productive. 

In the 21st century, the moment that anyone starts feeling bored they will no doubt turn to technology. In an age where technology is everything, we never truly understand the damaging effect it has on not only our brains but also our creativity. We may think that we don’t spend that much time on our phones, but all the moments that we take to check whether we have received a new message or a new email quickly add up. Not only is replacing this sense of boredom with our iPhones and scrolling mindlessly not productive whatsoever, it also doesn’t help get rid of the boredom: the more you stimulate your brain, the more stimulation it craves externally. However, if you let yourself be in that state of boredom then your brain will have no other choice but to stimulate itself internally, wandering to different parts of your mind.

Sandi Mann conducted a study where she had participants copying out long lists of phone numbers, from which she found that this seemingly mindless task increased their performance in standard tests of creativity. It allowed them to think outside the box and encouraged their minds to wander. In her book The Science of Boredom: The Upside (and Downside) of Downtime (£9.99, Amazon) she explores the benefits of boredom and explains why it is good for us to be bored. It's well worth a read and may just change your mind about those moments of downtime!

 

So, the next time you find yourself being bored, instead of turning to your beloved social media app, embrace the feeling... because you never know what ideas your brain is busy configuring.


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