The Creative Benefits Of Boredom: How To Be Productive Doing Nothing

We live in a world that thrives on eliminating boredom. In fact, it has become an unwanted feeling that we do almost anything to run away from it. What you may not know is that there are creative benefits of boredom!


The Demon Called Boredom

Boredom is the state of non-stimulation, whether mental or emotional, that results in dull, empty feelings. It means doing activities that are rote, don’t require high levels of concentration, and are unengaging. It’s a signal that you should do something else.

Now, there are two kinds of boredom: state and trait. State Boredom is about feeling bored because of a specific situation, activity, or environment. On the other hand, Trait Boredom is the habitual proneness to getting bored. It’s associated with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse (e.g. binge eating). Getting the creative benefits of boredom happens when you enter a “state” of boredom.

Why We Hate Being Bored

Boredom is an enemy we always try to escape. That’s why tech companies introduce “new and better” things every few months. It’s why social media sites thrive and become unicorns – billion-dollar companies. Boredom is also the reason why people pay for experiences and traveling.

There are three reasons why you hate feeling bored. First, when you feel bored, it means you aren’t busy enough. Which, in your mind, is equal to being unimportant. We’ve come to a point where not having discretionary time is the new social status. It shows how important you are on your job, on your community, or on your company. This is why we look for things to do: mindless scrolling, new experiences, constant movement.

Second, we think boredom is bad. Of course, habitual boredom is not ideal – and there’s a basis for it. Did you know that people who are always bored are 2.5 times more likely to die than those who aren’t bored as much? When people are prone to boredom, they also engage in harmful habits like excessive drinking or gambling.

Third, boredom forces you to face things you’re running away from. It forces you to think, reflect, and evaluate where you are right now or what’s happening in your life. Not only does that take a lot of work – you need a special kind of courage to look at the mirror of your life.

And today, it’s much worse because of a special kind of boredom called… 

Quarantine Boredom

Because of the pandemic, we are forced to stay at home and sometimes isolate ourselves. We don’t have as many social events as we used to have, we can’t travel, and have little choice but to “wait things out.” And more often than not, face-to-face activities transitioned to virtual events.

It’s normal to feel bored during these uncommon times. People’s priorities shifted from doing engaging things to worrying about self-preservation. When that happens, it’s understandable when you’re having a hard time performing at your tip-top shape. Here are some recommendations on how to overcome quarantine boredom:

Distract yourself: By playing online games, browsing social media, or joining online communities. Be careful though, as this can be “mental candies” that are good for a while, but maybe harmful with long-term exposure. Healthier alternatives are reading books (classic novels, non-fiction, poems, etc.) or honing a skill.

Do something creative: What are you good at? You can use this “free time” to make something from what you love doing. Even if you don’t show it to anyone, it’s okay. Do it for you. I see a lot of people starting podcasts, creating blogs, starting gardens, making song covers, and so on. No matter what your strengths are, you can make use of them and enjoy the process.

Do nothing: Literally. It’s not the ideal solution, especially when it’s the thing you always do. But doing nothing may lead to serendipity and the discovery of ideas that can change your life.


The Creative Benefits Of Boredom

There are multiple benefits to boredom, specifically state boredom. This is true whether you’re a professional working in the corporate, an artist, or a business owner. In fact, if you are in any line of work that requires you to think, you’ll benefit from boredom. Especially when you take part in it with purpose and strategy.

Daydreaming

When was the last time you daydreamed? Just let your imagination on the loose and think about the good things that will happen in your future. Picture all the things that excite you and that you enjoy. Or watch yourself achieving your goals and vision in life in the theater of your mind.

If you’re working on a problem right now, imagine what it would be like to solve that problem. How would it look like if it were easy? Let your mind loose. Imagine if the solution you’re thinking of right now worked, how would you approach the problem? Or imagine if someone you look up to encounters the same situation, how would they react?

Einstein’s Thought Experiments

One of the most infamous stories about thought experiments and daydreaming is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. When he was 16 years old, bored out of his wits, dropped out of school in Germany. He enrolled in a Swiss village school that encourages students to visualize concepts so they learn better.[*]

While there, Einstein had his first great thought experiment: traveling so fast, he could catch up with a light beam. He thought that traveling alongside a beam of light would make it seem like the light was at rest – it wasn’t moving. This thought experiment puzzled him for over a decade.

In May 1905, months before publishing his General Theory of Relativity, he spent a night with Michele Besso. Besso is one of his closest friends and a trusted sounding board by Einstein. While they were together, Einstein shared with him the thought experiment that puzzles him for ten years. He couldn’t marry Newton’s concept of absolute space and time with Maxwell’s constancy of the speed of light.[*]

He was almost ready to give up when he conducted a new thought experiment. He remembered a time when he was riding a car and looking at the famous clock tower in Bern, Switzerland. He then imagined what would happen if the car sped away from the clock tower at the speed of light. He imagined that the time on the clock tower would seem to freeze, but the clock on the car would work as usual.

Because of these thought experiments, we now know about the General Theory of Relativity. That we experience time in a different manner based on where we are in the universe and how fast we move. Imagination is more important than knowledge, as Einstein once said.

Gives You Time To Think

When you are bored, it gives your mind the space to wander around and think about things. It allows you to see connections, come up with ideas, or review knowledge and information you already have.

Thinking is important because it shapes who you are. It shapes and strengthens your beliefs, convictions, and identity in life. Consuming information without thinking about them is like eating just anything without digesting what you eat. Both lead to diseases – one of the mind, the other the body.

Many famous writers, artists, and people who achieve amazing feats love thinking. As George Bernard Shaw, the Irish Author and Playwright once put it:

Few people think more than two or three times a year. I’ve made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.

Back in 1990, when she was searching for a flat (an apartment) in Manchester, England, JK Rowling was “hit” by an inspiration. She was waiting for a train going back to London when suddenly, an image of a boy with spectacles consumed her mind the whole ride.

At the time, she didn’t have any pen or paper and she was frustrated at first. But this gave her a full four hours to think about, imagine, and come up with ideas for her book. The night she came home, she started writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Imagine if she let herself get distracted by reading the newspaper or chatting with other people. Maybe she would never start Harry Potter and we wouldn’t enjoy the enchanting world she created.

Boredom Makes You More Creative

Necessity may be the mother of invention. But boredom is the father of creativity. Most people think that creativity is about thinking or coming up with new ideas. But finding or making new ideas is hard. So, I’d like to argue that creativity is about connecting things that don’t seem to relate to each other but do.

A famous experiment on this was done by Dr. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman of the University of Central Lancashire. They pooled 80 people in an experiment and divided them into two groups. The first 40 people were asked to copy the numbers out of a telephone directory – a pretty boring task if you ask me. The other 40 didn’t do anything.

After the first group finished copying contact details, the researchers facilitated a task that requires people to be creative. They asked each group to come up with as many different uses for a pair of cups. As it turns out, the first group who copied names and contact details thought of more unique and creative uses than the second group.

Boredom makes you creative because it gives you mental bandwidth to think. Since you aren’t doing anything stimulating, your brain looks for something to work on. If there are no stimuli near you, the brain will start creating it on its own by thinking things. So if you’re feeling bored right now, learn to embrace it. Channel it into thinking of creative ways to solve your problems, come up with new ideas, and so on.


How To Join The Members Of The Bored

If you’re working on something and you need to tap into the power of boredom, here are some of the things you can do.

Do Something Rote

When you do easy and repeatable work, you won’t need as much concentration as you needed when you were starting. Take walking for example. When you were a baby, you would walk and wobble and fall down because you haven’t learned how to balance yet. But now, you walk without even thinking how right? This is why taking a stroll is one of the best ways to free your mind.

Draw Your Daydreams

Drawing or doodling can be an effective way to free up your mind. When JK Rowling writes her books, she draws her characters so she can imagine what they look like. You don’t have to be a good artist to draw. Even stick figures and wacky drawings are good enough – as long as you aren’t doing something that’s mentally taxing.

Unplug And Do Nothing

Our default way of dealing with boredom is to open our social media and scroll endlessly. If you want to take advantage of boredom, unplug and do nothing instead. Turn off your wifi, your phone, or keep it hidden for a period of time. Then let your mind wander:

  • Have thought experiments
  • Visualize things you wanted to do
  • Imagine a conversation
  • Redo a situation in your past
  • Picture yourself sitting at the beach doing nothing

Stare At The Wall

For real. This is probably the most boring thing to do: it’s like watching paint dry. But it lets your mind rest especially if you’ve been working hard on something the entire day. Your subconscious mind is still working on the problem, so don’t worry. But your conscious mind will wander and give you all the wonderful ideas later.

Anyway, this is getting boring. Off to scrolling on social media.

To a boring day,

Jeric Timbang