Most people try to avoid or beat boredom. But it’s a necessary part of life in an overly stimulated world.
Do you remember the boredom of childhood? I recall lots of seemingly endless car journeys and rainy Sundays with nothing on TV but some church’s broadcast of their sermon or endless amounts of football talk and not enough football.
Perhaps this memory of boredom is partly the reason why many go on to seek constant stimulation as adults. It’s as if there’s a new commandment: thou shall never be bored.
Perhaps it’s also because the brain is wired to want stimulation, and 21st-century tech enables this like never before. Empty moments are swiftly stuffed with work. Emails and digital cupcakes. Boredom is beaten daily, but in doing so the door on the creative brain is closed.
During the boredom of my childhood, I escaped from the reality around me by inventing magical worlds. These worlds became reality through my drawings, and later short stories and poetry. I would have never become an artist or a writer if I’d never been bored. Boredom was my gift, and I have squandered it ever since.
The reason people create when they’re bored is because when the brain is under-stimulated a particular network, known as the default mode, is activated. It involves, among other areas, the prefrontal cortex (or higher brain) and the hippocampus, where memories are stored. This network links random thoughts and sparks new connections, enabling creativity. Every single artistic leap or bright idea is born into this amazing network.
Humans need to be bored. Boredom is where they solve problems, ave the world and everything in between. Even if it appears nothing is happening, the brain is hard at work. It might be an hour, a day or a week later. But your wild, possibly genius idea will bloom, apparently from nowhere. It was seeded when the brain was under-stimulated and developed to fruition in the empty moments of your day.
I now know boredom is good for me. Yet it’s one thing to know, another to achieve. I still fear boredom, and surrounded by distractions, it’s easy to lose focus. If I enforce boredom upon myself, I become a whining child, wriggling in my seatbelt. And yet I am convinced it is essential, especially in an overly stimulating world. We must accept resistance, live with the discomfort it brings and recognize that boredom is ket to freeing the brain.
Step-By-Step Guide to Embracing Inactivity
- After you’ve read this article, close your browser or put down your device.
- Resist the urge to pick up your phone, book or any other means of distraction.
- Recognize and accept any uncomfortable emotions that surface.
- Know that even a few moments’ under-stimulation helps to shift the brain to a more creative place.
- Time how long you last. Even a minute is an achievement.
Every day, discover and embrace pockets of boredom. If you can, stretch the limit of your endurance. Remember, your brain is at work even during supposed inactivity. A creative idea or solution to a problem may pop into your head at an unexpected moment. And that will be because you had the courage to be bored.