Get bored. Get creative

Maria Dvoretskaya, Academic Director, Language Line
13 июля 2021

As an only child who grew up before the rise of the Internet, boredom was my constant companion.

Summers were an endless stretch of riding my bike, reading, and staring up into the sky, imagining stories, doing some crafts, chatting with parents and friends in the evening. This tendency toward unscheduled downtime carried over into the university, when in my 20s, I got my first smartphone—and pretty soon, my dreamy, idle periods began filling up.

Later as a teacher, it made sense that I checked my email frequently. During maternity leave I also enjoyed surfing the Internet to consult on some issues of child-rearing. Instagram was a great way to keep in touch with far-flung friends. Before long, I was never bored: not at the post office, the grocery store, or while getting my oil changed. None of this seemed like a problem—until I noticed a creeping feeling of mental clutter, and a significant decline in my creative thinking.

It hit me while I was driving one day: I no longer let myself be bored. I wondered just how bad that was for a teacher—or for any other creative type. And so I decided to dive into the research of the unexpected benefits of boredom.

Soon I realized, if you’re waiting for brilliance to strike, try getting bored first. While I was methodically sorting a bowl of beans by color with my kid, boredom enabled creativity and problem-solving by allowing the mind to wander and daydream.  I was surprised by what I came up with when we’d finished. It was like a brief escape from day-to-day life, such a valuable opportunity to recharge.

In fact, that was the time I was temporary unplugged, and it turned out to be a good idea to foster creativity. So our fascination with e-connectedness is hurting our ability to create. The good news is that this technology provides us with instantaneous access to all kind of information. The bad news is that our technological access is a serious time drain. It’s really quite easy to lose hours if not full days when you tend to all that urgency! Urgent email requests, time-sensitive articles, you-gotta-see-it-right-now video links, constant baggage of notifications and google forms that have to be filled out now!

And when do we have time to think a deep thought in all that? There’s one thing that stands out when you study the lives of creative geniuses, it is that they had ample time for solitude and quiet reflection. That’s when creative ideas germinate.

I’d say it’s crucial to unplug nowadays. We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems. Boredom isn’t a luxury, but rather a necessity in order to be at your peak. It’s backed by neuroscience; it truly makes your brain function better.

So armed with this info, I decided to reacclimatize myself to boredom and unplug. But how? I started to wake up without my phone. Now I take time to be mindful of what is going around me and what I need to accomplish that day, then plug in. All day along the connection with my family and friends remains #1 priority. And so I stay in tune with myself, and when my mind is calm I am able to visualize the big picture and turn my vision into an action plan.

This doesn’t mean I gave up all the technology. Rather I just made sure that I’m not mindlessly using it to distract myself. As a bonus, I’ve certainly noticed that when I stay away from my phone and the Internet more, I don’t feel as tired in the evening. If your are hyper-responsible like me, your are probably familiar with the sense of pressure to always be busy and productive. No doubt that’s great for your wallet, but it’s a challenging way to approach creativity and your inner life.

Next time you find yourself in line at the grocery store, in a tedious meeting or killing  time in a waiting room, resist the urge to scroll.