In our quest to become more creative, you may suppose that by filling our time with experiences, information and stimulation we would fuel our imaginations. Turns out that’s not quite the case…
Let’s begin with examining boredom.
Can you remember the last time you were truly bored? I’m not sure I can! I seem to find myself cramming the days so full of work, family and community commitments that there’s often no space for idleness to creep in. And when I get the occasional 5 spare minutes, rather than staring out of the window, I tend to reach for my phone to check emails or social media.
And it sounds like children are becoming strangers to being idle too. Kids told author and TED speaker Manoush Zomorodi that “they didn’t recognise some of the emotions that they felt during challenge week [where they tried to use their devices less]. If you’ve never known life without connectivity, you may never have experienced boredom”.
In fact, we are so averse to boredom that we’d often rather choose pain over having nothing to do. A study conducted by Wilson et al in 2014 examined participants’ responses to boredom. They were put in an empty room for between 6 – 15 minutes and then reported back on their levels of discomfort. There was an option where participants could stipulate before entering the room that they didn’t want to receive an electric shock and even paid the researchers to not be shocked. However “67% of male participants and 25% of female subjects were so eager to find something to do that they shocked themselves voluntarily”.
This study goes to show just how uncomfortable we are with being idle, often because we are scared to be left alone with our own thoughts. As the psychologists themselves concluded: “Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative”.
But why do we have boredom anyway?
Sandi Mann, senior Psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, studied the effects of boredom on a range of participants. She tried to get people as bored as possible before giving the subjects a creative task. Interestingly, the more bored people were, the more creative they became with their responses during the task.
From a neural perspective, when you are bored your brain goes into autopilot, which is actually a very conducive state as it allows different connections to take place. Mind wandering allows the focus to shift from external to internal. Perhaps that’s why we’re so averse to it.
Boredom is vital to human existence because it allows us to reflect, connect and create: “By doing nothing you are actually being your most productive and creative self”. And the best way to do it is to let your mind wander, which is quite a different skill to meditating and mindfulness. The latest science of day dreaming suggests that if offers “very personal rewards, including creative incubation, self-awareness, future planning, reflection on the meaning of one’s experiences, and even compassion.”
Letting the kids get bored
Now I’m not suggesting that children need to ditch their devices – after all they are part of our modern day culture, provide entertainment and are pretty handy when you need to crack on with a few jobs!
But kids definitely benefit from unscheduled FREE play, which doesn’t involve electronics.
All they need is some space (either inside or out), one or two props (toys or random objects) and the chance to get bored. I’m constantly amazed with what my kids end up creating!!!
And if you’d like ideas to get you going, why not try out our Everyday Creative Ideas, such as the lines and squiggles activities.
Since researching for this article, I’ve made a conscious effort to also include more time in MY day where I’m allowing my mind to wander. The radio in my car is currently broken, which I was gutted about initially. But now I’ve noticed that the silence has had a big impact on me. Rather than dashing into the car from teaching, then filling my mind with endless news headlines and noisy chatter, the silence has given me the opportunity to decompress whilst driving home. I’m getting many more blog ideas and when I arrive home, I’m a lot more calm and collected which is an added bonus!
When was the last time you were truly bored?