Leadership

Scientists reveal how boredom can actually help you achieve success

In today's technology-filled world, it's rare that you ever experience true boredom. Waiting to be called into the doctor's office? Login to Instagram. Riding an elevator? Scroll through your recent texts.

But experiencing boredom may actually help you succeed, according to TED Talk speaker and podcast host Manoush Zomorodi and the scientists she's spoken with over the years.

In her 2017 TED Talk titled "How Boredom Can Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas," Zomorodi explains the connection between boredom, creativity and innovation.

In her quest to find out what happens to our brains when we're bored, Zomorodi reached out to neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists.

"It turns out that when you get bored, you ignite a network in your brain called the 'default mode,'" she says in her speech. Although our body goes on autopilot while doing mundane tasks like folding laundry or walking into the office, our brains are hard at work.

Boredom researcher Sandi Mann breaks down how this works in an audio message.

"Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander," she says, "you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place."

An fMRI, which measures brain activity, can show you exactly what happens when you're bored. Your brain begins to connect disparate ideas and problem solve as it begins to do something called "autobiographical planning," says Zomorodi.

"This is when we look back at our lives, we take note of the big moments, we create a personal narrative and then we set goals and we figure out what steps we need to take to reach them," she explains.

But constantly scrolling through your phone or multitasking prohibits your brain from performing this function. When we do want to do work, "we chill out on the couch also while updating a Google Doc or replying to email," says the TED speaker.

Although she says people may call that "getting s--- done," neuroscientist Daniel Levitin disagrees.

Levitin explains that each time you shift your attention from one thing to another, the brain engages a neurochemical switch that uses up nutrients in the brain to accomplish that activity.

"So if you're attempting to multitask, you know, doing four or five things at once, you're not actually doing four or five things at once, because the brain doesn't work that way," he says. "Instead, you're rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go."

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos agrees. In a conversation with his brother Mark at Summit LA17, the CEO says that he rarely checks his phone. Bezos also reveals he doesn't divert his attention to many things at once.

"I don't like to multitask," he says. "It bothers me. If I'm reading my email, I want to be really reading my email."

Zomorodi advises that everyone simply take the time to just space out. That means severely reducing the amount of time you spend online or on your phone. This, in turn, reduces how mentally occupied you are, which leads to clarity and helps you set goals.

The next time you check your phone, she says, ask yourself, "What am I really looking for?"

"If it's to distract yourself from doing the hard work that comes with deeper thinking, take a break," says Zomorodi. "Stare out the window and know that by doing nothing, you are actually being your most productive and creative self."

She continues, "It might feel weird and uncomfortable at first, but boredom truly can lead to brilliance."

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