The Benefits of Boredom

When was the last time you were bored? Is boredom something you embrace, or dread? Kali Anthony talks about how some of your best ideas just might come during times when you have nothing to do...

No-one needs to tell you that life is chronically busy. It’s rush, rush, rush from one thing to another, with very little time to breathe, to even think. Now, there’s no time to be bored. Every second filled with something, with a lot of that something being the smartphone and social media.

So when was the last time you were bored? Because it turns out boredom is important for creativity.

I began contemplating this recently, after a period at work which was crazy-busy and corresponded with a busy home life. What I found was that my writing was non-existent. I had no mental space for creative thought. If I wasn’t working, I was helping kids with homework (don’t talk to me about highest common factors or lowest common multiples) or dealing with social media updates. You know the drill. There was not a second my mind was free.

Most of the time my head felt like it was going to pop with all the things I had to keep in my brain, and not one of those things were writing related.

Interestingly, a lack of boredom is quite a recent construct. In a New York Times article, The Thrill of Boredom, Peter Toohey quoted graffiti from Pompeii:

Wall, I wonder that you haven’t fallen down in ruin, when you have to support all the boredom of your inscribers.

Once, life wasn’t expected to be exciting all the time. Often, it was acknowledged to be a downright drudge. I mean, what did people do without Netflix, or computers, or phones? It seems only in quite modern times, that we needed life to be sparkly and exciting every moment of the day. And our days are filled with stuff to do. If we’re not busy all the time, it feels as if we aren’t living. Sound familiar?

It’s familiar to me. And none of that’s good for your tired old brain.

In her TED talk How Boredom Can Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas, Manoush Zomorodi talked about our overly busy lives, particularly multitasking and the curse of the smart phone. You see, multitasking requires the brain to flick neurological switches, depleting brain glucose. There’s only so much of that we have, so the brain gets tired. However when we’re bored or doing menial tasks, our brain goes into a kind of default mode, and that’s when we start day dreaming.

Day dreaming is where our creativity takes flight.

Science backs this up. In a Harvard Business Review article, The Creative Benefits of Boredom, they quoted a study where participants were tasked with performing menial and boring activities like reading and copying the phone book. They were then asked to undertake a kind of creative test. Those who undertook the boring jobs came up with more creative solutions than those in the group who’d spent their time being entertained.

The article reported, “…boredom felt during passive activities, liking reading reports or attending tedious meetings, heightens the “daydreaming effect” on creativity—the more passive the boredom, the more likely the daydreaming and the more creative you could be afterward.

So how does this relate to personal experience?

Recently, my phone wasn’t working properly, our laptop was broken, and the radio was on the blink. This meant I didn’t have easy access to any entertainment in my spare time. The moments I would have been fiddling on my phone, checking the computer whilst the dinner was cooking, or just listening to the radio, were non-existent.

At first, my brain hit a total blank. It was like, “Where is all the stuff we should be doing?

I found myself feeling bored for the first time in years. It was an uncomfortable sensation. I didn’t like it one bit, because there was nothing to keep me entertained, so I had to entertain myself. And then I started doing what I hadn’t done for a long while. I day dreamed.

I dreamed about winning lotto to get me away from work. I dreamed about the renovations we might do to our house. I dreamed up a plan for a new garden bed. And I dreamed up two stories that fell into my lap like a bolt out of the blue.

Once that creative cork had been unstopped, the ideas poured out in a rush. That book I was editing and had become stuck on? No problems. Done. That feeling I’d never come up with a fresh idea again? Gone.

All because I had nothing to do with my time and became bored.

As Bertrand Russell said in his book, Conquest of Happiness:

"A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure…. A certain amount of it is wholesome, but, like almost everything else, the matter is quantitative. Too little may produce morbid cravings, too much will produce exhaustion. A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young."

So next time you have a spare moment, instead of filling it with stuff to do how about trying a bit of boredom therapy instead? You never know, it might lead to some of your biggest and best ideas!

Kali Anthony is an aspiring writer and senior editor for The Pink Heart Society. Follow Kali on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Do you find you have the time to be bored? Does that time allow you to come up with great ideas? Let us know here, or on social media. We'd love to hear from you!

#KaliAnthony #MakingSpace #Boredom #PeterToohey #TheThrillofBoredom #ManoushZomorodi #TED #HarvardBusinessReview #BertrandRussell #amwriting #amwritingromance

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