The lost art of boredom.
Creativity has steadily declined for the past 25 years, and no one seems to know why. There are a lot of theories, but I think part of it is because all of our technology and constant engagement is killing boredom, which is an essential part of creativity. In this episode, we will look at why I think boredom is essential to creativity, why it’s in incredibly rare supply, and how you can find more of it.
Through a few recent conversations and reading a few articles, I started to notice something. And when I start to notice something in other people, I start to pay attention to what happens in my everyday life. This, not shockingly, has to do with creativity.
It started when through my endless research and reading, I found that creativity has steadily declined for the past 25 years, and no one seems to know why. There are a lot of theories and a lot of people blaming schools, technology, teachers, parents, and anything else they can think of. I don’t think this episode is going to solve that problem, but it did get me thinking.
What did I have tons of when I was a kid that I have lost along the way to being what passes for an adult? The answer I kept coming back to was boredom. In this episode, I want to look at why I think boredom is actually essential to creativity, why it is in incredibly rare supply these days and how you can find more of it.
The average day
When I start to think about something like this, I always start by looking at myself, what I do, and how I think. I started to look at my average day and the average day of a lot of other people I know.
• Wake up – Rollover and check your smartphone to see what happened overnight
• Go to the bathroom – Playing Candy Crush
• Commute to work – On your phone, tablet, answering emails while listening to music or a podcasts
• Get in the elevator – A screen with pointless little facts and news updates
• At work – On your computer, in meetings, on calls back to back to back
• Go to the bathroom – On your phone liking friends social media posts
• Commute home – Watching YouTube
• Dinner – Order from GrubHub
• Evening – Watching TV while on your computer or tablet
• Bed – Watching Netflix
• Fall asleep – but not before checking your phone one last time
Inventory your day
I’m sure I didn’t get all the parts of your right in that list. But obviously, the point is that when I looked at my average day, I saw that it was wall to wall engagement with little to no time to be bored. I would ask that you do the same this week.
At the end of the day, stop and think back over the day and see if there was any time when you were bored. When did you have time to think? And if you did have time to think, was it time you created? I’ve said before that I think being creative is about being deliberate in how you set yourself up to be creative and successful.
Why does this matter?
As a society, we seem to be pathologically killing boredom with all this distraction. When was the last time you even heard someone say they were bored?
Any even if you did, most people seem to equate bored with lethargic, inactive, depressed, or other descriptions that don’t fit. I think killing boredom is killing creativity with it.
By being consumed all day by trying to keep away boredom and engaging in these snackable experiences, we crave more. Your need for distraction will never be satisfied because technology isn’t a cure for boredom. I have come to realize and embrace that boredom feeds creativity. If you actually have nothing to do, then your mind will create things.
Often those things are ideas for the projects you have been working on. Your brain likes to escape from the feeling of bored so instead of providing external stimulation and snackable experiences, let your boredom feed on your internal thoughts, inspiration and see what happens.
Did you never stop to think why most people get great ideas in the shower? It’s a time when you have nothing to do, are bored, and your mind can wander.
• Take a break from your work
• Go for a walk
• Work on a repetitive task
• Sit and zone out
• No technology or social media times
• Drive with no noise
I have started to be deliberate in imposing boredom into my process and schedule. This may sound strange, and when you try it, you may feel guilty, or like you are wasting your time – you aren’t. As I have said before, your real value is in creating not just our ability to execute those ideas. We can get confused and think that we have to be building something, execute something, to feel creative. This is a process, and like any process, it is about exploring, thinking, revising, and more, so give yourself time to do those things.
No matter what the location is that works for you to be bored, you have time for it.
Go so far as to create a meeting every week that is called ‘Be bored’.
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