When was the last time you were bored? Not scanning your phone while waiting for a bus bored, not staring at the television while you heat up dinner bored, but honest to goodness, un-distractedly bored? If you are like most of the constantly connected world around you, the very concept may seem completely outdated - even indulgent. After all, in our busy-all-the-time world who has time to be bored!?
Last week, completely by accident, I rediscovered boredom. I had made dinner plans with a friend whose arrival time was uncertain because of an evening meeting. I prepared accordingly, filling my purse with a collection of tools to ensure I could make the most of any down time. While I waited, I filled out a few thank you cards...then reviewed my daybook, assessing what tasks needed to be complete before the week's end and identifying windows to finish them...then flipped ahead to consider upcoming projects and set benchmarks for progress...
Having reached the end of my designated to-dos, I reached for my phone to check for news of her arrival, only to realize I. DIDN'T. HAVE. MY. PHONE. My mind immediately started racing: where did I leave it? What time is it? My friend can't get in touch with me if she needs to cancel. How long should I wait? And what am I supposed to do until then?
And just as quickly, it occurred to me: I could just sit. And wait. And be delightfully, luxuriously bored. I found myself listening passively to the conversations on either side of me, imagining how I would respond if I were part of the discussion. I recalled a favorite childhood game: choosing a stranger at random and creating a narrative about where they came from and where they are headed. As my stream-of-consciousness journey continued, I mentally toured the globe seeking destinations for an as-yet unplanned yoga retreat. When my companion arrived, I was almost startled to be brought back to reality and realized how much I had enjoyed the mini-escape.
As it turns out, my experience is not unique. A team of psychologists from the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K. recently published the results of a study concluding that boredom makes us more creative and explores how daydreaming bridges the gap from one to the other. Their findings suggest we devise our most original ideas when we choose inactivity over constant stimulation.
Next time you find yourself waiting: for the train, for a meeting to start, for a friend or colleague to arrive, can you resist the urge to be productive and instead allow yourself to be bored? What untapped creativity might be just a daydream away?