Boredom can feel scary. To fight it off, you probably feel a near-compulsive need to seek out stimulation and distraction. But research shows that those empty moments in our day, when our minds can disconnect and wander freely, actually boost creativity. Albert Einstein, appropriately enough, recognized the benefits of ennui long before there was science to prove it. He famously spent the year after his high school graduation “aimlessly loafing” to think outside the stifling walls of academia, germinating ideas that would radically transform our world and understanding. Similarly, Steve Jobs relied on the art of walking, shown to improve creativity by as much as 60 percent, according to one study, to let his mind rove far and wide so he could ideate and invent.
“The capacity to be bored is so important because it is tied to the capacity to look within to an enlivened and enlivening self,” Sherry Turkle, a distinguished professor at M.I.T. in the social studies of science and technology department and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, tells Thrive Global. “Boredom is an essential part of our creativity and emotional development.”
With that in mind, here are three smart ways to reclaim the power of boredom and maximize your brainpower:
Disable your internet connection
“Writers like Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith say that it’s important to work in a place without an internet connection,” Gabriel Packard, the Associate Director of the Creative Writing M.F.A. Program at Hunter College and author of The Painted Ocean, tells Thrive Global. Packard, who’s studied the creative habits of writers, points out that the internet can serve not only as a distraction, but as an easy escape route from working through a creative dilemma. While boredom may be uncomfortable and difficult to move through, you’re likely to find your answer (in its best iteration) if you sit with it and remain unplugged, he says.
Take advantage of the empty spaces in your day
Whether you’re walking to the subway or to the water cooler at work, disengage your smartphone and use the time as an opportunity to travel inward. But instead of meditating on the immediate problems ahead, let your mind move untethered from your wheelhouse of interests or concerns. Reflect on the issues raised in a news story you just read, or a movie or museum show you’ve recently seen — it could infuse your everyday dilemmas with a fresh perspective. If you’re working on a particularly difficult project, thinking about a particular art exhibit, for example, may prompt a breakthrough, helping you to approach the project differently, Packard suggests.
With a busy schedule, it may seem slightly absurd to block out time for yourself just to be bored, but it can be short as a 10-minute span of time. Daydreaming is not only a sign of higher intelligence, as studies suggest, it’s also deeply pleasurable. Think of the creativity often on display in small children left to their own devices, Packard says — they invent whole worlds and can easily turn cardboard boxes into cars or castles. While excess daydreaming can be problematic, in healthy doses it’s a boon to problem-solving and productivity, providing a fertile place to uncover new insights and possibilities.
Allowing your mind to meander aimlessly allows the problems you’re trying to work out in your unconscious rise the surface, Packard adds.
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