Stuck in a stimulation loop: Why the brain needs idle time


How-to break free of the multi-tasking mindset 

The world we have created for ourselves is that of unlimited stimuli. With a smartphone in hand and wifi access seen by some as a human right, our minds are constantly feeding. We are more productive than ever before in terms of our ability to cross-problem solve, multi-task and generate output... however, what is the consequence of this on our mental health? It seems that we have forgotten how to just “be”, and as a society, we often ignore the benefits of Idle time.

In this article discover how important idle time is for our mental well being, and by taking a look at our own situation more closely, we are able to  step away from the stimulation loop we have created for ourselves.

Why do we need idle time?

We have all at some point experienced the frustration of one of our tech devices freezing on us, or worse, shutting down out of no-where. Often this is due to overuse, or perhaps a few too many open tabs (fellow tab fiends I know your pain!)

Well our brains work in a similar way. As we keep feeding them with new and varied stimuli something snaps and we stop registering properly. Idle time is the solution to this problem. Giving our brains a chance to reflect and absorb the important information we have just taken onboard. 

Research suggests that Idle breaks allow you to take stock and learn properly. In other words the brain needs free time to process new information and turn it into something more permanent.

The danger of brain abuse

It is commonly accepted that the average person’s attention span sits at around about 30mins. So the logical assumption would be that 30mins of activity should be followed with a short bout of idle time to let everything sink in.

Social Media, smartphones and the 24 hour news cycle have created the aforementioned stimulation loop that does not allow for a pause. The loop is designed to bombard your brain with novel stimuli that is tailored on a highly personal level to appeal to us.

Research says that when the brain is being abused in this way, we struggle to generate purposefulness and meaning. Leaving us feeling aimless, feeding anxiety.

In fact, Monty Python’s film, The Meaning of Life, hits the nail on the head in a way that only comedy could. How can you find the meaning of life when all is hyper stimulated chaos around you?How indeed Eric Idle!?


Idle time not only helps us learn and derive meaning, it also stimulates creativity and our capacity for problem solving.

We have all heard the story of Archimedes’ ‘eureka moment’ in the bathtub resulting in the world’s first documented naked streak, as he ran through town shouting the word now synonymous with sudden unexpected realisations. 

The eureka story is the perfect allegory for why idle time is so important. Without it we would not have the Archimedes principle of buoyancy, and so many other groundbreaking discoveries made through a combination of idle time and curiosity. 

Moving away from wrinkly naked Greek mathematicians, think about your own small eureka moments. How many times have you struggled to recall a name or fact in the moment, before remembering out of nowhere later on? This is a prime example of idle brain activity at work. 

Making space for idle time

It is not hard to offer your brain some idle time. It happens naturally, provided the right environment. 

It starts with awareness, the awareness that your brain needs a rest. All you have to do is put down your phone, shut your laptop and go for a walk, or perform a simple task like washing up. 

Your brain will take over and next thing you know, you too are running down the middle of the street naked! But you won’t care, because you’ll have worked out what it’s all about!