The importance of boredom

Boredom

I write about creativity and productivity, these are 2 things that I’m passionate about and have struggled with. It’s easy when reading about these topics to get the feeling like you should always be productive. This can become a large stressor, when left unchecked. What rarely gets discussed, however, is the imporatance of boredom. I’m here to tell you that not only is is okay to be bored every now and again, it’s actually neccesary.

First a disclaimer

Social media is getting a lot of criticism for their user base being so invested in each respective platform, that it is strongly harming productivity. I’m saying boredom or distraction is a neccesary part of being productive, but like any thing, there is such a thing as “too much”. Spending too much time on social media is easy because they are always accesible and speak to a very primal survival instinct, the need to be social.

I just want to make clear that my idea of boredom is just that, boredom. The lack of any other activity other than thought. It is when our minds are in the sort of standby mode (that only boredom enables), that our deepest desires, thoughts and ideas come forward.

When boredom sets in

The last time I was truly bored was on a 10 hour flight. I was travelling alone, my entertainment system didn’t work, and like a junkie I was constantly trying to see if the on-board wifi was working, which it wasn’t. There’s only so much safety instruction and magazine type duty-free shopping you can do before becoming bored. I tried sleeping, but it was the middle of the day and I couldn’t.

Now as a side note, at this time in my life, I was having a lot of personal and practical and emotional problems which were giving me stress. A lot of stress. The reason I needed a vacation was because of this stress. The keep-you-up-at-night kind. In fact, the whole reason I was on this trip was because of greener pastures, running away from my problems and towards better times. Happy times which, eventually, happened.

I was bored out of my mind. The usual things I did in those situations, conversation, wasn’t available. My mind started to wander, become active, very active. I started thinking about things I hadn’t thought about in ages, things like old hobbies, people I’d been friends with but now barely remembered, passed relatives I hadn’t thought of in years.

I started thinking about my problems, what the cause of each one was, and creative new ways to solve them (spoiler alert, I was the root cause of most of them). In fact, what by all means should have been an excruciatingly slow 10 hour flight, was exactly the thing I needed to relax before I got to my destination. If I hadn’t been bored on the flight over, that stress would have prevented me from enjoying my vacation.

Why is boredom so important?

To be bored is to be forced to be just by yourself and with your thoughts. In this scenario, there is no escaping your own mind. My brain is like the drunk friend who tells you the truth you don’t want to hear. “maybe, if you’re making enough money but never have any, your spending is the problem”. “maybe, if you know how to fix your car but haven’t, you’re lazy”. Stuff like that.

Boredom essentially trapped me in a room with these thoughts, and locked the door, forcing me to work through them. These superficial symptoms of deeper problems can be easily dismissed by actions (i.e. budgetting, fixing my car). I was unable to do these things as a distraction. I instead got to root causes for each of these within myself. Instead of fixing my car, I was fixing myself (and eventually the car).

Allow yourself to be bored

Boredom is essential to creativity and productivity. It gives you insight into what is truly productive, and how to tap into creativity. Boredom allows new insights and a mental recharge from thinking all the time. It is the essence of “take a step back” and you should never leave home without it.

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Huibert is an innovation engineer, prototyper, maker, innovator and entrepeneur. He believes anyone can be an inventor and entrepeneur with the right mix of attitude, time investment and a sprinkle of knowledge.
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