Being Bored Isn’t Boring

When was the last time you did absolutely nothing?

More importantly, when was the last time you purposely dedicated your time to doing nothing?  And by “nothing” I don’t mean meditating – though that’s certainly important. I mean really nothing. When was the last time you let your mind wander, explore, and actually feel boredom?

It’s really difficult to do.

We’re programmed to spend every waking minute doing something, producing something. The second we feel ourselves becoming bored, we start searching for something to do. These days, we blame this aversion to boredom on modern technologies, but it’s been around forever. More than 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote, “Everyone is better off in the company of somebody or other… Alone, you are too close to a rascal.”

One study on our aversion to boredom found that respondents actually preferred administering electric shocks to themselves to spending time alone with their thoughts.

But practicing being bored can help our creativity.

I love to have the teams in my storytelling workshops take a 15-minute break before the creative part of the day. It’s not really a “break” as much as it is “designed boredom.” I ask them to spend it alone, without external stimuli or focused activity. They must spend the 15 minutes with just their thoughts. Attendees tell me it’s one of the hardest things they do in the workshop. And it’s only 15 minutes.

I find the level of creativity goes up exponentially after this short exercise. And research backs this up. In one study, participants were split into two groups. One was instructed to create art projects with beans and glue. The other group was asked to sort beans with one hand by to color. Next, each group was asked to come up with creative solutions to a problem. The group that simply sorted beans thought of more (and better) ideas than the group that participated in the art project. The boredom of the mundane task recharged their brains (or maybe primed them) for creativity to follow.

The question is: Can we design boredom into our work week?

The next time we’re in line, waiting for our date, sitting on the subway, or even standing in an elevator, what if we just decided, proactively, to do nothing.

I tried it this week. I had to go to the DMV to get my driver’s license renewed. Instead of playing Word Connect (a game to which I’m addicted) or surfing Reddit, I decided to leave my phone in my pocket and just “be” at the DMV. My mind wandered; I was staggeringly bored. My 45-minute wait felt like two hours.

But afterward, I felt great. It was weird. The time didn’t feel wasted – it was like a workout. And I appreciated the that it gave a renewed focus for my tasks. I wrote a post. And I found that damn 5-letter Word Connect word.

That’s the thing. Being bored isn’t being uninterested in everything. It’s about finding the interesting in anything.

It’s your story Tell it well.

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