I am a time management nut. I love to be productive, to cross off lists and get things done. I fill every minute of my day. Both consciously and unconsciously. When I have a break I check my social media, re check my emails. Even my downtime is fairly structured. I have projects to complete, personal goals to fulfill and my self care is scheduled in there too. I am effective and I like it.
So imagine my horror this past weekend when I suddenly found myself bored. Due to being ill I wasn’t able to follow through with my plans. However, I was at that stage of ill where I couldn’t just sleep and therefore had nothing to do. Nothing to do. I can’t remember the last time that happened. (Well in fact I had a lot to do but couldn’t do any of it.) For a while I aimlessly checked social media, watched netflix and played a few games on my phone. But it sucked. I was frustrated. I was bored. Nothing felt right and I couldn’t settle.
But then I eventually got past the frustration. I went outside and looked at the stars. I played with my cats and eventually got creative and made a birthday present for my friend I hadn’t even thought about making. If I hadn’t been bored I would have done none of these things. The result I got creative and peaceful yet I still felt productive. Seriously I felt relaxed and had a great night’s sleep. This experience got me wondering:
Is being bored and key to accessing our creativity and productivity in a healthy way?
So today I did some research and guess what I was right!
Boredom actually benefits our creativity and mental well being, productivity is actually just a bi product of that.
In a study at Pennsylvania State University, psychologists Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood found participants who were bored performed better in creativity tests than those who were relaxed or feeling elated. And MRI brain scans have shown that the connections between different parts of our brains increase when we are daydreaming
The researchers say that being in a state of boredom encourages you to explore creative outlets because your brain is signalling that your current situation is lacking and you need to push forward.
Research has also shown there are two types of boredom. Healthy and unhealthy. Basically as sentient beings we have a choice to fulfill the lack we experience under boredom with a choice of stimuli. The difference between healthy and unhealthy boredom is the stimuli we choose. Sometimes people can choose really unhealthy behaviour such as comfort eating or over use of stimulants such as coffee or alcohol. The most common way of filling that lack is with technology. I bet you thought of social media right. However, people also check mails and rearrange their calendars, research projects too. Sitting on the couch checking in with a coworker, watching tv and updating tomorrow’s presentation. The productive art of multi tasking. Or maybe not.
Scarily multitasking can be just as damaging to our brains as overeating or drinking!
Basically whenever we change tasks our brain engages a neurochemical switch which uses nutrients. If we are constantly shifting from one thing to the next we are depleting our neuro resources as we go. Remember we have a limited supply of those. Don’t think this applies to you? Then look at the research. In her Ted Talk ‘How boredom can lead to some of your most brilliant ideas’ Manoush Zomorodi tells us that only 10 years ago we changed our tasks at work once every 3 minutes. Now its every 45 seconds! When working on a computer we, on average, change tasks 556 times per day. That is insane. No wonder your brain hurts and gets stressed out. Oh and that’s another thing stress leads us to shifting our attention more rapidly. It’s a never ending cycle.
But does it have to be?
What if we embraced the power of healthy boredom and invite it into our lives?
So when we are bored we go into default mode. Our conscious brain connects with our unconscious. And it is here we can access problem solving and creative thinking. Now in order to allow this to gives us a benefit we first have to stop the cycle of unhealthy stimuli. Step away from the phone, turn off netflixs while you fold the washing (one of my personal favourites) and don’t let yourself grab the next cup of coffee. Then as Amy Fries, author of Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers suggests guide your daydreams away from more personal thoughts and onto the challenges you want to tackle. Not to immediately fix the problem, but to mull it over. Give your boredom meaning and purpose and you will avoid unhealthy chronic boredom and engage the positive boredom benefits.
Fries also suggests doing activities that give the opportunity for this to happen. Walking, for example, is a great way to spark a daydreaming state of mind – provided you can avoid plugging in your earphones, going for a swim, not taking your phone with you on a lunch break or simply staring out of the window instead of a facebook when you can’t concentrate on a work task.
Give yourself a boredom break and the gift of connecting with yourself and your creativity
Friedrich Nietzsche said
“He who fortifies himself completely against boredom fortifies himself against himself too. He will never drink the most powerful elixir from his own innermost spring.”
We all have our ‘innermost spring’ and boredom is one of the keys to accessing it. Why not give yourself a boredom break this week? Allow your brain to enter default mode. Look out of the window as you commute, do mundane tasks without distraction or just focus on one task at a time. It might feel hella uncomfortable at first but stick with it. Redirect your thoughts and engage that big beautiful creative mind of yours and access the benefits of healthy boredom.
Philosopher Bertrand Russell thought that a certain power of enduring boredom is essential to a happy life, in a healthy dosage.
And after all being happy is what it is all about my friends!
So How will you give yourself a boredom break this week ?
Have a great time!
<3 Emma-Jane xx