Why being bored is the most productive thing you can do

In an era defined by life hacks, we habitually overlook one of the oldest and most effective solutions to enhance our productivity.

Everyone has experienced it, but very few know how to reap the benefits.

You know the feeling.

Where time flows like cement, inviting listlessness to seep into your mind. Everything around you begins to emit a pedestrian vibe and life loses its flavor. As Douglas Adams brilliantly said, “you will enter the long, dark teatime of the soul.”

Victorian literature used the word ennui, an old French term describing the existential perception of life’s futility resulting from satiety or lack of interest. You’re probably more familiar with ennui’s modern cousin — boredom.

While ennui is generally positioned as more of a consequence stemming from unfulfilled aspirations, we often mistakenly categorize boredom as a negative experience as well.

The problem is that we are utterly obsessed with hyperstimulation, willingly pursuing the fragmentation of our thoughts by seeking temporary distractions. Our entire lifestyle is built on a system of interruptions, geared towards an overwhelming division of our attention.

Despite research proving that boredom encourages people to chase new goals and experiences, we often do everything in our power to resist sitting alone with our thoughts for more than a few moments.

“We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom.”- Bertrand Russell

Boredom is a universal experience that is commonly met with discomfort, mostly because we have unlearned how to process it. As a kid, I didn’t have a cellphone or laptop and would opt to daydream or make up fictional scenarios around me that fostered imagination. Now it requires significant effort for me to reach a similar state of mind where thoughts may flow freely.

Instead of constantly trying to escape boredom, I think it’s time we acknowledge it as a stepping stone toward deeper thoughtfulness and creativity.

“Boredom is that invitation for the brain to play, to let the self soak into a moment and see the richness in the minute subtlety life offers. So I let it in, allow my thoughts to float without direction, and soon enough they find paths to run down, new paths rather than the same old worries that can play over and over each day. That’s when ideas come… and that’s when boredom ends. “– Angela Abraham

Embracing the Wandering Mind

Did you know that the ability to handle boredom directly correlates with higher levels of focus and self-regulation?

A 2014 study in the “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology” found that bored people “are more likely to engage in sensation-seeking” — that is, to look for activities or sights that engage their minds and stimulate the brain’s reward centers. These people are more prone to “divergent thinking styles.”

As a tech-savvy product of the mid-’90s, I fully understand the internet’s rapid ascension from a system for network communication into a vital tool. But we can’t blame advancements in technology as the sole culprit of our addiction to neural arousal.

Do you really need to scroll through Instagram? Or YouTube? Or Twitter?

Is watching another Netflix episode more beneficial than strengthening your eye of the mind?

Does your attention span short-circuit so quickly that you feel a legitimate physical urge just to hold a phone, even when you don’t need it?

Psychologist Sandi Mann compares phone noodling to eating junk food, and in fact, the inability to embrace boredom emits more laziness than boredom itself.

Steve Jobs, the creator of personal computers and smartphones, constantly advocated for the intersection of downtime and creativity.

“I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything.”- Steve Jobs

At the end of the day, boredom breeds brilliance.

So What Can You Do to Change?

According to psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma, boredom is “our brain’s way of searching for an interesting, stimulating activity, and if we can’t find it in the external environment, we are going to create it.”

Before beginning creative work, try sitting alone with your thoughts or undertaking a mundane task that doesn’t require out-of-the-box thinking.

Like going to the gym or learning an instrument, this will take practice.

We need boredom because it provides necessary moments of self-reflection and visualization. It can be immensely beneficial to sit alone in silence at the end of the day to recap everything that happened in your head.

Be careful not to confuse boredom with dysphoric daydreaming, characterized by unpleasant emotions of fear or failure. Periods of boredom need to be more positively constructed to extract the most value.

You have to remember that there is a purpose for boredom. Approach it like athletes approach their training. No one wants to foam roll, stretch, warm-up, cool-down, work on mobility, etc. But all of this prepping sets them up to perform at the highest level.

Next time you need to start a creative project, make sure you’re in the proper mindset and have done all of the necessary pre-work.

Who knows, your next great idea may very well come from boredom.