Boredom and the Beautiful Mind

So what did you do this weekend?

Sometimes I lie when I answer that question. It is not very popular to say I was bored and I liked it.

I like being busy, I like to go places and I enjoy people. But I also like quiet (see my posts on the Quiet Leader for more on this) and I have found that allowing some boredom can be like having a reset button.

Boredom is about as popular as demon possession was a few thousand years ago. People ran away from you because they thought you would use their pigs for slippers. No one likes boredom anymore.

Why do we avoid boredom like it is Ebola? As a society, we inoculate ourselves against boredom by giving ourselves regular injections of computer games, iPhone Apps, YouTube, Netflix (available on every screen in the house, from 3-52 inches), Wii, Xbox and Play Station. If that fails, we can watch TV Sports, the news, more Netflix or Big Bang Theory. And after all that screen time, who has time to actually play sports or time for hobbies?

Boredom and work

Not too many of us put on our resume that we like to be bored or that boredom helps us to be at our creative best. Yet if we cannot make use of boredom, can we really be any good at our jobs or any good at thinking? Anything truly important will involve some boredom: work, school, learning a language or an instrument, creating a breakthrough idea, exercise or knitting. It is a skill to know how to use boredom in order to thrive, but probably not one to put on the resume. So then, we all lie a little. Now I feel better.

Boredom and wisdom

I came across this quote in an article on storytelling by Maria Popova. She has an interesting website called Brain Pickings. Her articles are profoundly intelligent and make us pause, which is rare. Her content is anything but quick or light.

Boredom, after all, is the crucible of contemplation and creativity — legendary psychoanalyst Adam Phillips called the capacity for boredom “a developmental achievement for the child” and argued that it is essential for the creative life; philosopher Bertrand Russell saw it as central to the conquest of happinessAnd yet today, we have lost all capacity for boredom. More than that, we have grown bored with thinking itself — we want to instantly know. We want ready-made information to fill the void of contemplative wisdom. (Bolded for emphasis)

I think her point is that boredom can prompt you and I to think. When we think, we are on the way to being wise. We hear a lot about content and information, but almost nothing about wisdom. Put that on your resume too, I am wise.

Boredom is like gas?

Boredom is a lot like gas. It creeps up on you and you can’t escape. It saps your energy and your will to live. Okay, gas is not that bad… but neither is boredom. Boredom is not fun, neither is gas. Like gas, boredom is not something that you want to share with other people. And like gas, boredom is normal and it is a part of life. Yes, I said all of that.

When animals wander we call them free range. But when minds wander, we call it ADD?

Boredom can be a great teacher. Here is a list of things that I have learned through some healthy boredom:

  1. We cannot avoid stuff anymore. Probably the #1 benefit of boredom. Being busy keeps us from having to think about real life. Boredom brings it home.
  2. Channel flipping  – Despite having 73.4 channels, nothing is on. Now we are ready to listen.
  3. Free Range Thinking. When animals wander we call them free range. But when minds wander, we call it ADD?? Most of our thinking is anorexic because we only think about important things like school or work. We rarely let our minds wander. A wandering mind is a happy mind.
  4. We feel. Maybe we grieve, maybe we feel sad, maybe we feel happy. Whatever.
  5. We long. When I am bored, I start to crave – food, technology and busy-ness. I think it is okay to crave, because craving is feeling unsettled. You and I can get through our cravings. Maybe we need to take our boredom in smaller doses at first, just to get used to it. Is it really just a craving or are we longing for something deeper or more profound?
  6. Gratitude – for work, for times when we are busy, for things that are important.
  7. Remembering – literally means re-membering, or re-connecting. Boredom gives our minds a chance to catch up after a busy week.
  8. Rest – a nap is a good thing. Just ask your cat, your dog, your child, your parent and Einstein.
  9. Staring off into spaceLook out the window, smell, listen and engage the senses. Observe. It is fun to really look at things. You may discover things you never imagined. Go ahead, I give you permission to stare off into space right now. Except if you are driving. And if you are driving, you shouldn’t be reading this.
  10. Do things without having to achieve. We all need to get stuff done for work, for school and for our families. Sometimes, we need to hit the All Stop button and just mess around with stuff with no idea how it will all turn out. Making a mess can be a good thing.
  11. We slow down. Speed kills when we are driving and eating fast food. So why do we crave fast weight loss, a compressed work week, 24 hour makeovers and viral success? People and ideas that are remarkable take time.
  12. Listen to myself and to what other people have been saying to me. I get surprised when I stop and listen.
  13. We imagine – I fear that we are becoming imagination-anorexic (see The Crayon Whisperer).
  14. We long for good stories.
  15. We become more motivated. Boredom can remind us about hobbies, adventures or interests that we once had. We notice things like clutter and mess, which is a good thing for most guys.
  16. We practice patience. Most self discipline is boring at first. We persist and the routine helps us work through the boredom. After a while we enjoy the benefits. There is no benefit without a little boredom.
  17. We appreciate other people.
  18. We make stuff up.
  19. Boredom is part of the creative process. We need some boredom to stimulate the mind. Doodle, make stuff up, get a little weird. It’s all part of the process.
  20. Just being. Boredom is a mindful activity.

What’s on your schedule this weekend? I dare you to live a little, take the plunge into a little boredom. You may even like it.

Three things from this article that you should NOT put on your resume:

  • I like being bored
  • I am wise
  • I have gas, just like you

If you like this topic, let me know because I have more to say on it.

Keep it real

If you like what you read in my blog, please leave a comment or like this post. To receive automatic updates, sign up below. Don’t be selfish; share this with your friends. Remember the great saying: “He who laughs, is still alive.” Share this and you may just keep your friends alive one more day.

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