I can only imagine how many times I must have driven my mother crazy with this whine-y attempt at parental piquancy. Any lull in stimulation would send me into a droopy-eyed, frowny-faced fit of mope.
And I was a pro moper.
Her only defense was one of a few smart-ass responses, all of which did little to quell my incessant complaining. All she could really do was ignore me until I eventually came up with something to entertain myself after realizing that I was a child and had an unlimited and readily accessible cache of imagination. As kids in the 90’s we had to work at conjuring up external stimulation, and we were better for it (as Calvin’s dad would say, “It builds character”).
Now we are adults in the smart-phone era and being bored is becoming a thing of the past. The only work we have to do to stave off boredom is reaching into our pockets, pulling out our phones and unleashing the endless stream of content that is the internet. There’s also TV and video games and Netflix and Spotify; all preventing us from basking in complacency. We are no longer forced to be bored. And it’s a damn shame.
A recent WIRED article The Power of Boredom (APR 2015) explores the positive effect being bored can have on productivity and creativity. A quote from Texas A&M University psychologist Heather Lench explains: “Boredom becomes a seeking state. What you’re doing now is not satisfying. So you’re seeking. You’re engaged.”
When our minds are void of stimulation they begin looking for ways to resolve this perceived problem. It’s why we are so quick to whip out our phones because it’s an immediate relief from the momentary discomfort. But what would happen if we didn’t get that relief? What would happen if we sit in that discomfort and wrestle internally with it?
Well, I guess any number of things could happen but one thing’s for sure: your mind will uncork in its attempts to occupy itself. Many people that sit in this state discover answers to nagging problems, or experience bursts of creative inspiration. This seeking state has the ability to push deeper into our psyche, revealing previously hidden or forgotten information.
So how do we tap into this seeking state? There’s really nothing to do, you will invariably get bored at one point or the other during the day. All you have to do is recognize it and be present in it. Fight the urge to look at your phone or turn on the TV. Maybe take a walk or a drive. Those are stimulants in their own right but still allow your brain to slow down and fight for those tucked away ideas that are longing for discovery.
Just the other day I was waiting for some delicious calamari to find their way out of the frier and into my mouth at Seattle’s famed Pike Street Fish Fry. I fought the urge to peruse Twitter and came up with the idea for this Radiohead article (don’t even ask how that train of thought pulled into the station). I’m a skeptic by nature, and couldn’t believe that it actually worked.
So if you have kids or a girlfriend or whoever and they tell you they’re bored, point them here and tell them something my mother wishes she could have told me 20 years ago with the evidence to back it up:
Good. It builds character.