I came across a wonderful and provocative Bertrand Russell quote about the importance of boredom recently. Sarah Wilson highlighted it in her book ‘This One Wild and Precious Life’.
A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation…in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.
I’m sure it won’t be news to hear that science backs up this idea that boredom can be good for us.
The psychologist Sandi Mann points out that, ‘If we don’t find stimulation externally, we look internally—going to different places in our minds.’
She adds, ‘It allows us to make leaps of imagination. We can get out of the box and think in different ways.’
Not that boredom is all rosey. Though it can lead to creativity and innovation, it can also take people down darker, less healthy paths in pursuit of boredom relief.
Like so many things, it is about how we channel it. If we embrace boredom rather than always looking to resist it, we can open up new doors of opportunity.
Boredom generates the gift of headspace. And it doesn’t always mean having nothing to do. In fact, sometimes a menial task with little cognitive load can free our minds to explore, wander, and discover, even better than doing nothing can.
I recall that one of my first jobs out of university was inputting data for a bank. It was eight hours a day a sheer boredom. Press some numbers on a keyboard, press Enter. Press some more numbers on a keyboard, press Enter again. And on and on and on. But this period of time was also when many life dreams, goals, and ideas were forged. I quickly realised I needed to take a notebook and pen with me each day. And that was soon overflowing with the notes stemming from the creative space my mind had, free from having to think very hard with my job. Boredom was an opportunity.
The challenge today is that it is hard to be bored! We’re immersed in endless opportunities for entertainment: TV, social media, news, music, podcasts, and more. It’s not that these are all new things—though some are—it’s that we have these things with us all the time thanks to our smartphones.
We are constantly distracting ourselves with something. We leave the house and immediately pop our headphones in to listen to something. We sit on the bus or train and quickly start an episode of a show we’re watching, or flick mindlessly through Instagram or TikTok. We are rarely alone with our thoughts. We are rarely allowing ourselves to be bored.
That’s why the title of this post is embracing boredom. It used to be that boredom would always find us one way or another. Now we have to seek it out. And that feels counterintuitive. Why choose boredom? And yet, we must!
Boredom is the birthing ground for creativity, innovation, inspiration, ideas, fresh perspectives, and so much more. It’s time to stop avoiding it and start pursuing it!