Boredom. We do everything to avoid it and escape from it. In the depths of boredom, nothing appeals to us. It is as if someone unplugged the excitement from our lives and the only feeling we are left with is emptiness.
If only we could find something to ease our tension and take our mind off of how boring our life seems to be at the moment…
However, here are some questions worth thinking about: What if we allowed ourselves to get bored? What if, instead of running away from it, we stay with the empty feeling?
Researchers on boredom invite us to do exactly that. They have found that feeling bored is actually a gateway to creativity.
How do psychologists define boredom?
Boredom is commonly thought of as having nothing to do. However, feelings of boredom typically arise when nothing appeals to us out of all of the things we could potentially do. So, it is not that we have nothing to do.
As Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman from the University of Central Lancashire point out in their article, the scientific community has not reached a consensus on a concrete definition of boredom. What researchers have done is to come up with key terms and concepts that explain the experience of boredom. For example, boredom is defined by some as a distinct emotional state in which one fails to find interest in an activity. Others define it as an “increased neural arousal” where one is on a search for stimulating activities.
While boredom is primarily linked with negative emotions, Mann and Cadman argue for its benefits. Among these benefits are desired to be stimulated by others, opportunities to attend to more important things (or evolutionarily threatening ones), seeking challenges, and adopting an action-oriented mindset.
Boredom and creative potential
“When you’re bored, you tend to daydream and your mind wanders and this is a very important part of the creative process,” Sandi Mann explains.
Mann and Cadman did a series of experiments to study how boredom affects creativity. In one study, participants in the boredom condition were instructed to copy phone numbers from a telephone book. After 15 minutes of this boring task, participants who admitted to daydreaming moved on to the creative task – coming up with different uses for two polystyrene cups in three minutes. The answers were evaluated based on how unusual and functional they were. In the end, the researchers found that the boring writing task did increase the number of answers given for the creative task.
When the researchers introduced reading as the second boring task, the number of creative answers also increased. It is thought that reading boring things as opposed to writing facilitates more daydreaming which enhances creativity.
A little bit of it is good for us
Everyone gets bored from time to time. It is a normal part of the human experience. However, too much of it can get us vacuumed into a dark hole devoid of excitement. Feeling a little bored, however, can let our minds wander and daydream.
The next time you feel bored, observe where your mind takes you. Who knows where you will end up!
- 1. Mann, S., & Cadman, R. (2014). Does being bored make us more creative? Creativity Research Journal, 26 (2), 165-173. ISSN 1040-0419
- 2. https://www.bbc.com/reel/video/p06ld805/why-it-s-good-to-let-boredom-into-your-life
- 3. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-28/april-2015/exciting-side-boredom