Daydreaming creates a lot of activity in areas of the brain responsible for autobiographical memory, predicting others’ thoughts and feelings and crafting a coherent sense of self. It plays a key role in how we understand ourselves and each other.
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It drives us to engage in activities that we find more meaningful than those at hand. Without it, we’d be perpetually excited by everything.
Research shows that people who are bored think more creatively than those who aren’t.
When we’re consciously doing things we’re using the “executive attention network, ” the parts of the brain that control and inhibit our attention. The attention network makes it possible for us to relate directly to the world presently around us.
By contrast, when our minds wander, we activate the brain’s “default mode network, ” which is the brain “at rest”; not focused on an external, goal-oriented task. In this mode, we still tap about 95% of the energy we use when our brains are engaged in focused thinking.
When we mind-wander, rather than experiencing, organizing, and understanding things based on how they come to us from the outside world, we do it from within our own cognitive system. That allows for reflection and the ability for a greater understanding than we can achieve in the heat of the moment.
Boredom often leads to daydreaming, which is involved in skills like creativity and projecting into the future. But we tend to suppress it.
Letting one’s mind wander really is the key to creativity and productivity, so it’s destructive to fill all the cracks in our day with activity. Some boredom may be what you need to solve problems, gain perspective and better your life.
When dysphoric mind-wandering becomes chronic or we focus too much on unsolvable problems or past events, it can lead people into unhappiness or destructive and compulsive behaviors.
Also, mind-wandering in excess can be harmful to our psychological health and can get in the way of getting things done.
Psychologists now know there are at least five types of boredom.
Don’t conflate boredom with relaxation. A purposefully tranquil activity, such as yoga or meditation, likely doesn’t meet the definition of trying and failing to find stimulation.
To tap into true boredom, unplug, pick an activity that requires little or no concentration and simply let your mind wander, without music or stimulation to guide it.
Boredom serves as a warning sign that something is not quite right, so don’t try to find a new activity immediately, because you may lose the opportunity to get some insight into your life and better it.
Engage with and interrogate the feeling to discover its root cause. Doing so can reveal the changes you need to make in order to successfully reengage.