I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.
What if boredom actually can be a meaningful experience — one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?
That’s the conclusion of a scientific study in which researchers asked a group of subjects to do something boring, like copying out numbers from a phone book, and then take tests of creative thinking, such as devising uses for a pair of cups. The result? Bored subjects came up with more ideas than an unbored control group, and their ideas were often more creative.
The trouble is that we live in an age in which we never get ourselves the chance to be bored. All the entertainment we could ever dream of is at our fingertips, waiting on the phone in our pants pocket.
Whenever you feel like you might have a free moment, you pull out your mobile phone, you scroll your Instagram or Facebook wall (I am convinced that the inventor of the infinite scrolling concept was a genius, you might as well just keep scrolling, right?). You might do different things on your phone, but it still an addiction, it’s like eating fast-food. You know it’s not good in excess, but it’s hard to know where the excess actually starts.
What if instead of always fleeing boredom, you would embrace it?
If you’re trying to be creative, take time to be bored. One time I heard somebody said: ‘When I get busy, I get stupid.’ Ain’t that the truth?
Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing. I get some of my best ideas when I’m bored, which is why I almost never take public transport. I love long solitary walks along the city — they can be so boring, I almost always get good ideas.
Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that’s where creativity arises.
I think the time is ripe for us all to recognize boredom as the delicacy it is. Boredom might be something special in the world we live in. It might become a luxury, to allow yourself to get bored from time to time. It’s a little bit decadent, and embarrassing, but I am sure we will soon get to a point where we will be willing to pay for a little bit of boredom (Will it be an app, a VR experience or rather a service with a delivery right to your door?).
What about procrastinating? We all know it’s a tremendous burden, isn’t it? Well, you might as well look at it this way: Sometimes you procrastinate on a decision because you’re not entirely sure which is the right choice for you. Your rational mind and your intuition are saying opposite things, and you can’t quite figure out which one to listen to — or who’s saying what! That’s when procrastination becomes your savior because you avoid jumping into something that might not be right for you.
The right to procrastinate is slowly turning into a basic human right in a world obsessed with crazy hyper-productivity. Staring at the efficiency requirements that I face every day, I would like to claim back my freedom to get bored, sit still, and to think deeply.
If you’re out of ideas, wash the dishes. Take a really long walk. Iron all your shirts. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can. As the artist Maira Kalman says, ‘Avoiding work is the way to focus my mind.’
Take time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. Wonder. You never know where it’s going to lead you. Boredom, it turns out, may be nothing less than fascinating.