Why it's good to get bored
When was the last time you did absolutely nothing?
I don't mean watch Netflix, or listen to a podcast - I mean nothing, zero, zilch. You did categorically nothing at all?
In today's modern, fast-paced world there seems to be no reason to do nothing. If anything the pressure is on to always be learning or absorbing something new. After all, we've got all the information we need at our fingertips.
To waste time is seen as lazy or unproductive, and it's common to have a feeling of guilt or shame around doing nothing. So we constantly feel the need to fill our brains with something, anything, as long as you're not stopping and doing nothing.
But this is not true. In fact, when you do nothing at all is when your brain can work at one of it's highest levels.
By daydreaming and allowing your mind to wander you are shifting your brain to its Default Mode Network (DMN) and that is where real change can occur.
The DMN is a term we use in neuroscience that describes when the brain is resting, and yet the energy consumed is very similar to active thought processing. It's important to know that when you are 'doing nothing' the brain itself is very active and I often describe it as not 'switching off' but instead 'switching over.' There are some theories that your brain could be working even harder than during conscious, active thought processing.
So what is the brain actually doing during DMN?
When we activate the DMN we are activating the parts of the brain that are brilliant at introspection, processing, problem solving and creation of new ideas. During this time we are then consolidating experiences and preparing ourselves to react.
You may have experienced this already without even realising:
Have you ever been sitting at your desk poring over a problem for most of the morning, but can't seem to get anywhere? However, you go for a walk at lunchtime and when you return from the walk you look at your desk and come up with the solution to that problem. It almost jumps out at you. Well, that's because you activated the DMN during your walk by taking your mind away from the problem completely and allowing different parts of your brain to work on the problem instead.
During activation of the DMN the brain has processed the incoming information, assessed it and used past learnings and experiences to come up with conclusions and even solutions. You freed up the energy to work on your problems while you went into autopilot mode by going for a walk.
So I hope you can understand that your brain is not "doing nothing" when you feel you are being lazy, in fact, it's working really hard trying to come up with results for you.
But you've got to create the shift over to that default mode to let it happen, you can't keep pushing it actively to process the information.
How do I access my DMN?
You can activate the DMN with intention, and I'll come to that in a moment, but I'm sure you've already done it without even realising.
Have you ever driven somewhere and forgotten how you got to your destination? You know you must have taken corners, sped up and slowed down but you don't remember all those details. It's like you were on autopilot. That's your DMN engaging.
Have you ever read a really good book or watched a brilliant film, only to realise at the end that 2 hours have gone by. You were so lost in the story that you lost track of time. That's your DMN at work!
The key is to get bored, allow your imagination to wander and daydream.
You can also actively access the DMN yourself in many ways. Here are a few examples:
Go for walk without your phone
Switch all your notifications off, listen to some music and close your eyes.
Find a quiet moment and read a good novel ( it needs to be fiction, it helps your mind to wander)
There are lots of other ways but I hope this gives you a few examples. The key is to do absolutely nothing or do something you can do on autopilot, know that you won't be disturbed, and allow the mind to wander.
How is the DMN applied in Solution Focused work?
Using careful questioning and relaxation techniques you can train this mode of the brain to work harder and perform more effectively, especially so when working with issues of anxiety, stress and depression. The fine-tuning and training of the DMN then comes up with solutions to your issues.
The combination of techniques that we utilise in Solution Focused work come together to set the mind up in a positive direction, before going into relaxation, and that is extremely powerful.
This is why during relaxation, I give you full permission to allow your mind to wander. It is in fact the opposite of meditation.
In fact, meditation can reduce the activity of the DMN. Meditation encourages focusing one 1 thing to still the mind, but the DMN works in the opposite way - it needs to let the mind wander and daydream.
So next time you've got nothing to do - don't feel guilty. Get your DMN to work for you - you'll be amazed at the results!
Gin Lalli firstname.lastname@example.org
Gin Lalli is a Solution Focused Therapist specialising in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep. She is based in Edinburgh, Scotland