Do you remember being a kid, lounging listlessly on the couch with nothing to do and nowhere to go, and uttering the phrase every parent dreads? “I’m boooored.”
Boredom is just as much a part of our human DNA as love and anger. In recent years, however, it’s showing up a little less, thanks to the constant sources of entertainment always at our fingertips. Now, at the first hint of boredom, we can simply pick up our phone and scroll away the boring.
This may seem like a good thing—boredom has a bad rap, after all—but by not allowing our mind to wander, we are doing ourselves a disservice. According to a study by the Academy of Management Discoveries, boredom can spur creativity and productivity. Think back to the times in your childhood when you were feeling bored and before you knew it, you were building a fort, or making a work of art out of pine cones. Or as an adult, a spate of boredom may have led you to reorganizing a closet or finally looking into that book club you’ve been thinking about.
When we experience the feeling of “wanting to do something, but not wanting to do anything,” which is how boredom is defined in Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom by James Danckert and John D Eastwood, our human instinct of resourcefulness kicks in. You tend to see what’s right in front of you and try to make something, anything, interesting. So you spot the pine cone or the disheveled shoe rack, then subconsciously start thinking of ways to use those items to cure the unease you’re feeling, and before you know it, you’re knee deep in a project you didn’t even know needed to be done.
This is the benefit of boredom.
So how do we intentionally use boredom to become more creative and productive in our everyday lives? First is to allow yourself to be bored in the first place. If the online world is taking away the opportunity to be bored, it is also stealing the perks that could result from boredom. Resist the urge to pick up your phone during transitory moments (i.e. when you’re in a doctor’s waiting room or stopped at a train). Instead, sit in the discomfort of having nothing to entertain you, look around, and see what happens.
Even if boredom doesn’t always lead to physical action (like making an epic fort), simply letting your mind wander can spark creative ideas and provide clarity you might not receive otherwise. Johann Hari, author of Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How To Think Deeply Again, recommends regularly taking a walk without listening to music or podcasts. Or sit in a quiet spot and allow your thoughts to flow naturally. Then document any ideas or big takeaways that resulted from that time and go back to them when you need a reminder of the gifts boredom has given you.
In this ever-distracting world filled with bells and whistles, it’s important to embrace the discomfort of boredom, sit with it, and allow it to take you to places you’ve never been. Your life will most certainly be enriched because of it.
April 20, 2022