Advice to those in transition during these strange and unsettling times
The creative power of boredom
When was the last time you were bored?
I remember as a young man, travelling across from Liverpool to Hull by train to visit my girlfriend (now my wife). Trans-Pennine journeys were torturous back in the 1980’s, slow trains, stopping at small stations and often an hour or two waiting on a freezing platform at Leeds. Those journeys and hanging around seemed to go on forever. And more often than not, I had nothing to do other than look out of the seamed up window and count down the hours.
Faced with the same journey today, it is fine because I can use my tablet to catch up on my emails, feed my social networking habits or play the latest box set.
In fact, if ever there is the danger of a quiet moment, my trusty smartphone is always within reach. A slightly dull moment during a tv programme – check Twitter. My wife leaves the restaurant table to visit the toilet – look at the breaking news on the BBC app. A family conversation that I lose interest in – check what I was up to this time last year on Facebook. And so on.
I can’t actually remember the last time I allowed myself to be bored, to resist the temptation to nip potential boredom in the bud by reaching for my technology.
Surely that is a good thing, right? Keeping my brain active. Or is it?
“Every emotion has a purpose—an evolutionary benefit,” says Sandi Mann, a psychologist and the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good. “I wanted to know why we have this emotion of boredom, which seems like such a negative, pointless emotion.”
Mann, through extensive research, discovered that people who are bored think more creatively than those who aren’t.
“When we’re bored, we’re searching for something to stimulate us that we can’t find in our immediate surroundings”
The temptation is to feed our brains some stimulation by turning to tech. But what happens if we resist that urge?
“We might try to find that stimulation by our minds wandering and going to someplace in our heads” continues Mann. “That is what can stimulate creativity, because once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to wander, you start thinking beyond the conscious and into the subconscious. This process allows different connections to take place. It’s really awesome.”
Boredom gives our brain the space to wander, which in turn helps our brains create new connections, have new ideas and crack seemingly impenetrable problems.
So I challenge you.
Next time you realise you have a moment to yourself, when you lose interest in a tv programme or you are sat on your own on a train or in a car, allow your mind to be bored. Don’t try and distract it with technology. Stay with the boredom and see where your mind takes you and what fresh new ideas emerge.