This summer, teach your kids to do nothing

Image taken from google search images

Every summer, I conduct boot camps on oratory for teenagers. Most of my work is with MBA students, entrepreneurs and senior business executives. So working with a younger group is a refreshing experience. But, making them sit in one place to think and reflect is impossible since they get bored and distracted easily. So I had to pack many activities which were fun for them but left me exhausted. After finishing the camps, I asked my wife who works mostly with kids and teenagers “how do you handle kids who often get bored? What do you do in your classes to deal with this problem?”.

She looked at me and said “Stop treating it like a problem. I teach my students, including my children, how to deal with boredom and even tell them to sit in one corner and do nothing once in a while. It is good for their all-round development”

How can boredom be good for all-round development? But, I remembered the wise old saying “My wife is right” and decided not to argue. The next day, I started researching on boredom. I was amazed to discover plenty of literature on boredom that can fill an entire bookshelf. Here’s a quick summary of what I read (click on the link if you want to dive deeper):

1. “I don’t like to sit idle or alone” attitude may not be good for you. I have often heard many of my students and colleagues saying that “I cannot sit idle or alone. I’ll go mad”. I wish I can tell them that this approach could cause them more harm than good. Wellness studies are increasingly focusing on the importance of “Switching Off” or “Spacing Out” and connecting with oneself. This is called “Solitude”. In a brilliant piece on Solitude, Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, puts a case on restoring the art of doing nothing and spending time with oneself. She quoted Maurice Sendak who wrote “everyone should be quite near a little stream and listen”. But this is easier said than done. Read point 2 to understand why we don’t like to sit idle or in solitude.

2. Boredom is unpleasant and triggers cravings to “unbore” ourselves- The simplest way to define boredom is as follows: “an unpleasant feeling caused by inactivity that triggers a craving to escape or reduce that feeling. That’s why solitude or sitting idle is so difficult. It is so unpleasant. Each of us responds differently to this feeling. Some of us are able to escape from it by playing UNO with friends(mild trigger) but some of us can go bonkers(extreme triggers) and do whatever it takes to get “unbored” — like after the UNO game, go for a crawl in the mall with friends, end up sipping a coffee that you don’t need, buy things that you don’t need, come back home, open up the TV or worse, binge-watch Netflix on your laptop/tablet while checking your phone once in a while. The apps on the phone — chat, videos, audio, camera, games, social media, news, emails, etc. give temporary relief from ennui but take a toll on our minds, eyes and bodies. Also, this temporary gratification increases the secretion of dopamine in our brains which may cause addiction. Simon Sinek explained this vicious cycle wonderfully in a video on the “millennials”. So what does one do about it? How can one deal with boredom? Read point 3 below.

3. Self-control is the key. There is a link between managing boredom and self-control. One researcher, even characterizes boredom as a deficiency in self-control and argues that the more self-control one has, the less likely one tends to get bored. This research, published in Scientific American, has only strengthened the ultimate and inevitable truth of my life that “my wife is right” and she told me so. Dealing with boredom is a habit, like any other, which can be practised and mastered. Just like how one can cultivate a habit to control cravings for coffee, or wake up at 4am in the morning for a run, or avoid checking the cell-phones after a point, similarly, one can also learn to deal with boredom and sit in solitude. It is hard but not impossible. All it needs is awareness and self-control. So what happens if we learn to deal with Boredom? Read point 4 below.

4. People who are bored think more creatively- There is plenty of evidence suggesting that boredom can cause a positive spurt in creativity. When one is bored and if there isn’t much to do to bring relief, then solitude is the only option. When one is in solitude, their brain starts to wander. A wandering brain is apt for producing new ideas. Many of the indoor games that we play commonly today were invented to avoid boredom. Without boredom, the world would not have been what it is today. Steve Jobs and many more famous people around the world claim that they got their best ideas after experiencing long bouts of boredom. Tolkien got his creative spark and wrote his magnum opus after he finished grading student answer papers.

So let me summarize. If you are getting bored, or your kids are complaining that they are getting bored, avoid a knee-jerk trigger to find an escape or activity to “unboredom”. Be aware that if you don’t control your cravings to do something exciting all the time, it might lead to addiction, fatigue and depression. Also, be aware that boredom can be good for you and help you become more creative. So every day, just sit idle for at least 10–15 minutes. Practice the art of solitude and doing nothing. Let your mind wander and get to know yourself better. Not only your mind will relax, it will also become more creative and innovative which can be extremely helpful to you in the long run.

Picture taken from BrainPickings — illustration by Ruth Krauss on Maurice Sendak’s Open House for Butterflies

Rakesh Godhwani calls himself a nobody. He teaches, writes, reads a story to his kids every night before they sleep, bicycles his way to work when he can, does yoga, earns a fraction of what he used to, but lives a million times better. Check his online course Present with Confidence and his latest book Public Speaking Kaleidoscope. Follow him @godhwani. Read his other posts at or on wordpress