Boredom Is Good

I have always been a big fan of having time to “decompress”, to relax, to let my mind go places it can’t go when it’s busy doing everything else.  To some people, this is “spacing out”.  To other people, it’s allowing your mind to recharge to get ready for the next barrage that is coming your way.  For me, it’s time to dream.

Being bored.  Downright ugly bored.  Those are glorious times to dream.

And I’m not alone in thinking that being bored is good for you.  Sandi Mann, author of The Upside of Downtime, believes this to be true. Dr. Mann is a psychologist who studies boredom.  I didn’t think that such a thing was possible, but it is.  She believes that boredom is good for us to be creative.  In an experiment involving creativity, the results were in her favour.  Indeed:

People who are bored think more creatively than those who aren’t.

Nautilus magazine, in an article on boredom, talked to the author about her work.  One of the interesting things she talked about was how it was more difficult to be bored when you had to do something, than when you were just reading or listening.  I’m sure you’ve all experienced this before, in a boring meeting, listening to someone drone on in a monotonous voice, and all the words just blur together in a meaningless mumble.  You drift off.  Your head bobs up and down as you struggle to stay awake.  Taking our your pen / pencil you start scribbling something down on the paper, anything to keep you occupied so you take a nosedive on to the table.

It worked, didn’t it? Doing something, keeping your hand busy and your mind concentrating on your hand, those things kept you awake and prevented you from crushing your face onto the hard table surface.  Doodling kept you from drooling. Indeed a study done by Dr. Mann and a colleague suggested: “that more passive boring activities, like reading or perhaps attending meetings, can lead to more creativity”.

Keeping your mind busy is helpful for a lot of things.  In the case of the boring meeting it keeps you from making a fool of yourself, but in general, it helps your mind think of new possibilities, new aspects of an old situation that you never thought of before. It helps you be creative.

Dr. Jonathan Smallwood has been studying boredom for a long time.  He’s even put people in fMRI scanners and do nothing but stare at a fixed image.  Your brain still uses 95% of the energy that it does when fully engaged on a topic.  95%!  All those neurons and neural pathways are still active, still doing something. By being bored we allow our minds to focus on something, a problem, a challenge, and we can put all of that electrical energy, all that creativity to use in resolving the issue.

So the next time I’m in a meeting and you think I’m nodding off, I’m not, I’m trying to solve the crisis de jour.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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