How often do you do nothing – no work, no phone, no emails – just emptying the mind? And is it lazy and indulgent to do so? Actually, it is vitally important for our brains and our mental health that we take time to do nothing. Research has shown that when we are sleeping, relaxing or daydreaming the brain is incredibly active.When we do nothing, our brain activates the ‘default mode network’ (DMN) which provides an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned and to search for solutions. Who hasn’t had that ‘eureka moment’ in the shower when thoughts have been wandering? Within the DMN, the brain consolidates information, memorises important data and rehearses recently learned skills.
In order to tap into this DMN, we need to include downtime in our lives. Just looking out of the window on public transport, letting the mind drift from one thought to the next. Holidays provide a refreshing escape and a chance for good sleep. A brief midday nap can improve performance and attention but may not always be practical. Spending more time outdoors – walking in a park, by a river, among trees – regularly getting out into nature. Also, mindfulness has been shown to strengthen the DMN and make the brain more efficient.
So, doing nothing is vitally important because, by allowing mental breaks, you are encouraging the mental processes that allow your brain to learn from the past, consolidate memory and prepare for the future.