“I am so bored, I don’t know what to do”, I would often say to my mom on lazy Sunday afternoons. “Go outside!” was her standard response to this. The thing is, I would always find something to do. Even if I thought that I had longtime exhausted all the games that exist, I would still come up with something new. Embracing boredom for a couple of minutes was sufficient for me to get my creative mind going.
When you look back to your childhood, those almost endless summer days, do you remember feeling stressed? Like you never had enough time in the day to do all the things? I bet, no. I remember feeling like time almost stood still while I was making crowns out of daisies or laying in the grass watching the clouds go by.
The problem with productivity
Somehow we’ve concluded that boredom is something negative and we have to do everything to avoid it. In this busy world of permanent exposure to noise (in the form of messages, meetings, and micro-blogs) we have unlearned to appreciate quietness. Thriving to accomplish more and faster and better, we have every single second of the day planned. Whenever our constant busyness gets interrupted, by some inconvenience we need to tolerate because we have no choice, let’s say waiting in line, we always have the right thing at hand to make use of this ugly timewasters – our phone.
But what would happen if you step out of this busyness? If you would ask for less instead of more?
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The positive impact of boredom
It’s not even strange that we think of boredom as something negative. Novels like Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert or Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett present us the negative side of “being bored”. At the time ”ennui” was treated as a disease. In waiting for Godot, Vladimir says to Estragon: “We wait. We are bored. (He throws up his hand.) No, don’t protest, we are bored to death, there’s no denying it.” In Vladimir’s opinion, it’s better to do anything, no matter how meaningless than to do nothing at all.
Madame Bovary leaves us with a similar impression. The urge to escape her plain and unexciting existence left her searching for attention and distraction all her life. We feel bored because we’re unsatisfied with our lives. Having either too much routine or not enough challenge in our work, makes days feel repetitive. Repetition has a numbing impact on your mind.
But boredom can have a completely different impact on your life. If you can use boredom as a form of timeout it has positive qualities. Feeling bored can also mean giving your mind some rest. Stopping the busyness and constant input to let your brain process. This is a stimulating activity and an important part of creative thinking.
Bertrand Russell made a case for boredom almost 90 years ago in his book The Conquest of Happiness. In his opinion, boredom plays an essential role in living a happy life. “A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure,” Russel writes.
Reasons to embrace boredom
Today, boredom has become a real luxury. But there are some great reasons for you to indulge in it.
Once you start to step away from the bustle, you learn inevitably to be more aware. You’ll have to make mindful decisions about when you need to step out of the noise and give yourself a break.
Live in the moment
To embrace boredom you need to slow down. Giving you the time to notice things and appreciate what you have. This puts you into the moment. The right now. What you didn’t get done and what you’re going to do, will, at least for a couple of minutes, be unimportant.
Your mind needs time to process all the input you get. A little break can provide this time and have you leave recharged and ready to conquer your next task. A valuable part of the creative process is getting away from your project and giving it some space. When you come back to it later you’ll have new ideas and a different look at what you created.
Small moments of boredom are said to increase creativity. In times when we do nothing, our brain doesn’t receive any form of stimulation or input. Your mind will start looking for stimulation which enables your creative-thinking mode. Studies like “Why being bored might not be a bad thing after all” published by The Academy of Management Discoveries show the effect boredom has on our creativity.
Related post: 5 ways to tap into your creativity
The best ways to embrace boredom
Now that you’ve heard about the positive effects of embracing boredom what do you think? Is it time to get a little bit bored? Here are the best ways to make it happen.
Ditch your phone
We can all agree that our phones are the biggest enemies of boredom. All those apps at our fingertips waving notifications straight in your face. How can you resist this?
Take a break from your phone. Put it away (I have to put mine far far away in a drawer to resist the urge). For a couple of hours or even a full day. It can be a stress-reliever. But you have to make it a habit. I feel it frees up my mind and triggers more creative ideas. I am sure you’ll come to appreciate it too.
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Replace bad habits
It all comes down to one thing, feeling obliged to busy ourselves because, hey, time is precious. We don’t want to waste time so we’ve established these mechanisms which let us instantly fill every small gap of “I’ve got nothing to do”. If it’s your phone or something else you use to avoid boredom, it has become a bad habit.
It’s time to create new habits to replace the old ones. Pick something that slows down your brain. You could take a book wherever you go or replace mindless scrolling with journaling for a couple of minutes. Make an effort to do only one thing at a time. You don’t need to check your email while eating lunch. It’s all about being in the moment.
Appreciate alone time
We’re rarely able to turn off the noise completely. And when it happens, and suddenly everything gets quiet, we feel awkward. You think, “oh, shouldn’t I be doing something?” But what if you try to be still for a moment and relax. Appreciate the time you have for yourself. You might discover some things about yourself. Find out what you want to spend your time on.
If you find it difficult to make this time for yourself, try scheduling it as a regular appointment in your calendar. We all need this time to reflect on the things occupying our minds.
By spending more time alone you become more self-aware. Another way to embrace boredom is to stop and take in your surroundings. Try to absorb little details you normally wouldn’t pay attention to and let your thoughts wander.
Taking small breaks to daydream can help you to process your thoughts. Often while our mind is occupied with something else and less intensive, it can work on small problems on the side. That’s why we say, take a step back when you’re feeling stuck. So instead of running from one thing to the other, take a break and do nothing at all.
Switch off, tune out, hit pause! And let me know if you allow yourself to embrace boredom from time to time.