Do you remember the almost unbearable tedium of childhood days spent cooped up in a car on a family trip, or rainy school holidays stuck inside? Perhaps these memories of boredom are the reason that many go on to seek constant stimulation as adults.
Perhaps it’s also because the brain is wired to want stimulation, and 21st century tech enables this like never before. Empty moments are swiftly stuffed with work, emails and texts. You scroll social media, and flip through films on streaming services. Boredom is beaten daily, but in doing so the door to the creative brain is closed.
Boredom breeds creativity
The reason people create when they’re bored is because when the brain is under-stimulated, a particular network – known as the default mode – is activated. It involves, among other areas, the prefrontal cortex (or higher brain) and the hippocampus, where memories are stored. This network links random thoughts and sparks new connections, enabling creativity. Every single artistic leap or bright idea is born in this amazing network.
Humans need to be bored. This experience is where they solve problems, save the world, and everything in between. Even if it appears like nothing is happening, the brain is hard at work.
It might be an hour, a day or a week later, but your wild, possibly genius, idea will bloom – seemingly out of nowhere. It was seeded when the brain was under-stimulated and developed to fruition in the empty moments of your day.
We must accept resistance, live with the discomfort it brings and recognise that boredom is key to freeing the brain.
How to embrace boredom
• Sit or lie comfortably, away from distractions.
• Resist the urge to pick up your phone, book or any other means of entertainment.
• Recognise and accept any uncomfortable emotions that surface.
• Know that even a few moments’ under-stimulation helps to shift the brain to a more creative place.
• Time how long you last. Even a minute is an achievement. Every day, discover and embrace pockets of boredom.
If you can, stretch the limit of your endurance. Remember, your brain is at work even during supposed inactivity. A creative idea or solution to a problem may pop into your head at an unexpected moment. And that will be because you had the courage to be bored.
Words: Stephanie Lam
This article was originally published under the title ‘On board with boredom’ in Issue 20 – Wellbeing in bloom