This last week I’ve continued the first draft of my latest non-fiction, a guide to supervision for managers. I’ve finished a couple of audiobooks during my commutes and gym sessions, started reading a paperback of “Nudge”, and also continued reading the Witcher series (I started last summer, then sort of forgot about it as other things took over). I’ve been reading/watching YouTube videos on AI, which I am convinced is going to be as revolutionary as the Internet itself was. I’m also watching The Expanse, an excellent sci-fi that I put on hold whilst keeping up with The Mandalorian and Picard, and have been binging Brand New Cherry Flavor. And don’t tell anyone, but my son’s long-neglected Switch has been getting an overdue retro NES/GameBoy workout. Y’know, just to test it’s till working. And whilst I’ve not worked on any music in months, I do try and pick up the guitar occasionally. #DadRockRules. That new Metallica has been getting a lot of play also.
As the world becomes more and more fast-paced and digitised, we are constantly bombarded by stimuli that keep us engaged and occupied. Thankfully I’m not into Instagram and Tik Tok videos, or that would be another few hours a week my brain doesn’t rest. We rarely have a moment to slow down and breathe, let alone experience boredom. However, studies have shown that boredom is actually critical for creativity.
Boredom is often seen as a negative state that we try to avoid at all costs. We fill our time with social media, TV shows, video games, books, and other distractions to keep us entertained. But when we are constantly engaged and stimulated our brains have little time to wander and think creatively.
Boredom, on the other hand, allows our minds to wander and explore without any particular goal in mind. It gives us the opportunity to daydream and think outside of the box. It also allows us to reflect and digest information, which enables us to make new connections and generate new ideas.
Many inventions and innovations in history have been born out of boredom. The idea for the postal service was thought of while a man waited impatiently in a long line, and the concept of the steam engine was conceived while James Watt was staring at a boiling kettle. I know from experience the effects of a long walk, lost in my own thoughts, can have on my fiction. The idea for my novel ‘Swarm’ came to me one afternoon when I was sitting on the sofa, doing nothing in particular. I didn’t have any new books, there was nothing on TV, I had no ideas on the guitar. My wife had been in the garden, and as she came inside briefly she mentioned the wasp problem at the front of the house. Thirty minutes later I’d outlined almost the entire plot. Had I been distracted by a YouTube video or some other mental occupation the conversation (and therefore the idea) would have passed by without me giving it any consideration.
Research has shown that boredom can increase our ability to problem-solve. When we are bored, our brains naturally seek out stimulation. We begin to see our surroundings and problems in a new light, which can lead to breakthroughs and innovative solutions. How many times has a solution struck you’ve given yourself the time to relax and subconsciously reflect? I’ve generated more ideas and solved more tricky plot-points sitting in traffic than I ever have whilst my mind is concentrating on something.
Boredom can also help us to develop new interests and hobbies. When we are bored, we are forced to explore new opportunities and try new things. This can lead to a newfound passion or an unexpected talent.
In order to experience the benefits of boredom we need to embrace it rather than avoid it. This means setting aside time to be unoccupied and allowing our minds to wander. This could be as simple as taking a walk without our phones or sitting outside and watching the clouds go by. In a way I have found that post-pandemic remote working has stifled my creativity. I used to use the drive to and from work to decompress, giving my mind space to wander. The same thing would happen in between meetings, supervisions, and other ‘tasks’. Ironically I find that, working from home, when I’ve not got an immediately pressing problem or task at hand, I find myself work to do as I don’t want to feel like I’m not ‘working’ just because I’m at home; whereas during quiet moments in the workplace I don’t feel the same pressure - I’m already at work so there’s less to prove, right?
We can stimulate boredom by doing seemingly mundane tasks like washing dishes or folding laundry. By engaging in these mundane tasks, we allow our brains to focus on something routine and straightforward which can lead to a state of boredom.
Boredom is essential for creativity. While entertainment and stimulation are important, we need to make time for boredom to allow our brains to think creatively and generate new ideas. So, the next time you feel bored, embrace it and see where your mind takes you.
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