How (and Why) to Practice Boredom

Bored is the magical land where ideas are born.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It occurred to me today that I’ve forgotten how to be bored, and I really think that’s hindering me.

When I was a kid, the best play came out of boredom. The best TV all week happened before noon on Saturday. And that was it. No more TV. No video games. No constant connection to my friends.

I’d sometimes just lay on the sofa, staring at the ceiling.

When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I would finally find my sisters and get them to help me put together a show for our brothers. Or we’d start a club — complete with a pledge and a flag and secret missions.

Or I would move my laying around out to the grass in the front yard and build a whole world in the leaves of the tree above my head. Fairies living in abandoned bird’s nests. Invented bug-sized creatures, with whole civilizations in the geranium pots. Owls and mice and opossums that lived full lives when people weren’t watching.

How are ideas supposed to incubate, if there is no room and permission to be bored?

Ideas need the absence of cell phones and games and television and even books if they’re going to come to anything.

All of those things — there’s nothing wrong with any of them — but they constantly push ideas back, like a tide knocking them over every time they try to get their feet under them.

Ideas need space and a notebook and a pen and time. And that’s all.

Then once they’ve filled out, they can continue to grow amongst the distractions. But in the beginning, they require boredom. Because when we’re bored, our brains search out some way to be occupied.

And our next story or our next song or our next painting or our next adventure blooms.

Maybe being bored needs to be a practice, like yoga or meditation. Something we start slowly. Ten minutes first, then fifteen, then twenty, then a whole hour or half a day.

No phone. No computer. No television. No games. No chores. No friends. No responsibilities. No work. Not even any books.

Just yourself, a notebook, a good pen, and an idea.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.