Repeat after me: it’s okay to be bored.
Seriously. Boredom isn’t the bad thing we’ve been taught to think it is. It’s true; we naturally try to escape it as it's tied to feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction which we typically want to avoid. However, out of boredom comes creativity and new ideas. Boredom allows us to think freely and problem solve. Simply put, our brains need time to chill to actually work.
“...it’s actually when we are bored that we’re able to quiet the part of our brain that talks all day and turn up the part that’s more creative.”¹
Forget What you were Taught about Boredom
Embracing boredom may seem counterintuitive at first. If we’re feeling restless and have nothing to do, surely we should fill our time and occupy ourselves. This is the most productive thing we can do, right?
Wrong. From a young age we are taught that being bored is bad. If we’re bored, then that means we are boring and uninteresting - that we lack passion and imagination.² Ouch. Newsflash: this is most definitely not the case.
Boredom has benefits. In a society obsessed with productivity and outputs, it can be difficult to reframe how we view boredom. Capitalism tells us that we are only valuable when we are being productive and contributing to society which leads to many of us feeling guilty for our downtime.² But we need time to do nothing. Our value isn’t reliant upon our outputs- we are valuable even when we’re doing nothing. Being productive all the time is actually not productive at all. Think about it, is it healthy to always be busy? Probably not. Does this lead to burnout? Often, yes. We are not machines, after all.
Boredom is the Mother of Creativity
When we give ourselves true, uninterrupted, free time, we allow our brains to generate new thoughts. Being bored is equivalent to our minds being in a default mode.¹ During this time, our brains are actually able to do what they do best: come up with new ideas, think critically, and problem solve.¹ If we’re always absorbing, how can we be creating? In this modern age we are constantly fed information and have an always accessible source of entertainment in the form of a smartphone. Though the benefits of our ever-advancing technology can’t be denied, it has taken from us those “in-between” moments where we would have previously let our minds wander - standing in line, waiting for an appointment, or even when we’re trying to fall asleep. Instead, we fill these moments with mindless scrolling and prevent ourselves from being truly idle for long. These moments should be opportunities to exercise our free thinking and embrace our boredom.
“Modern capitalism multiplied amusements and consumables, while undermining spiritual sources of meaning that had once been conferred more or less automatically.”²
Now that we’ve established that being bored is, indeed, normal and essential for creativity, what can we do to embrace our boredom instead of fighting it? Self-regulation. Smartphones aren’t going anywhere so it is largely up to us to take control and put them away to create space for free thinking. Carving out times in the day that lend to boredom is a good start; reclaim those “in-between” moments. When boredom strikes, try sitting with the feeling and seeing where your mind drifts instead of reaching for the nearest source of entertainment.
For some, the thought of being alone with one’s own thoughts is rather scary. This is totally valid. What if our mind goes somewhere we don’t want it to go? Understanding that our thoughts, good or bad, are just thoughts is important. Viewing boredom as an opportunity to relax and appreciate that we don’t have any obligations in that moment helps us reframe the emotion in a more positive light.
Being bored, then, is really not such a terrible thing after all. Besides enhancing creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving, downtime actually encourages increased productivity when we are working.³ Unlearning what our societal culture has taught us about boredom is challenging but, ultimately, we are capable of reframing this emotion and reclaiming our free time.
So be bored. See what magic happens.
Skipper, Clay. "How (And Why) to Build Some Boredom Back Into Your Life." GQ. November 8, 2018. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.gq.com/story/how-and-why-you-should-be-bored.
Talbot, Margaret. "What Does Boredom Do to Us-and for Us?" The New Yorker. August 20, 2020. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/what-does-boredom-do-to-us-and-for-us.
Heshmat, Shahram. "5 Benefits of Boredom." Psychology Today. April 04, 2020. Accessed March 12, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/science-choice/202004/5-benefits-boredom.