If you think that doing nothing is a symptom of laziness, or you feel guilty about it, you are wrong. You need this kind of inactivity so that you can later be more creative, have better ideas and find solutions to your problems. That’s the explanation offered by Marta Romo in her book Entrena tu cerebro (or, Train your brain).
Most neuro-scientific research focuses on what happens to us when we carry out determined exercises, but there are very few studies that consider what happens to us when we are daydreaming or lost in thought. Scientists at the Spanish Resting State Netwok (SRSN) have got to work on the subject, and have analyzed which “neural wiring” is activated at these moments.
There are very few studies that consider what happens to us when we are daydreaming or lost in thought
What’s interesting is that a network made up of a number of different regions of our brains is awoken – all of them related to introspection or autobiographical memory. That’s to say, when someone says something to us and we are left there with a glazed look on our faces, it’s because they have reminded us of an experience from the past, or we are recreating a sensation, or imagining something… All of this disappears when the person in front of us says something like: “Are you listening to me?!”
That breaks off the reverie, because the network has been deactivated and other parts of our brain related to attention fire up. And as Marta Romo explains, “both circuits, attention and ‘doing nothing,’ are related, but inversely: when the signal increases in one circuit, it is reduced in the other. That’s to say, if we activate attention, we deactivate introspection, and vice versa – they are two circuits that can’t both work at the same time.”
If we activate attention, we deactivate introspection. They are two circuits that can’t work at the same time
Author Marta Romo
Science has shown that when we “do nothing,” we are laying the foundations to finding solutions to difficult problems, getting to know ourselves better and being more creative.
Logically, when it’s time to find solutions, we need introspection, we need to think things over properly… and to achieve that, putting our brains on standby is a good solution. That doesn’t involve watching the TV or playing with our smartphones, but rather carrying out simple or pleasant tasks, or simply doing nothing while laying on the sofa, taking in a sunset, or while we are gazing at something that distracts us.
That’s when a solution to something that we were confused about can appear. It’s no surprise, then, that good ideas come to us while we are in the shower, walking or calmly driving our cars. And this also happens to the great scientists. They say that a falling apple inspired Newton to come up with the concept of gravity; and that Einstein saw the solution to the theory of relativity while he was walking to work with an engineer friend, or that the light bulb went off for Bohr about the structure of atoms when he was enjoying a horse race. None of them were in their offices. They had absorbed a lot of information into their heads, but the network of the resting brain helped them to link up the necessary pieces.
It’s absurd to feel guilty about not doing anything and to allow the mind to wander peacefully
It’s absurd to feel guilty about not doing anything and to allow the mind to wander peacefully. We need to put our brains on “flight mode” and park our cellphones and everything else that is vying for our attention. What’s more, as science has shown, when we “do nothing” we are laying the foundations to find solutions to difficult problems, as well as getting to know ourselves better and being more creative.
English version by Simon Hunter.