Why is Everyone Afraid of Boredom?

Love of bustle is not industry—it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.  ~ Seneca

Boredom.

As we make our way through this thing called COVID-19, isolated in our respective homes (if we are lucky to have shelter to retreat to), boy, have we become deeply acquainted with boredom. Many of us are struggling with boredom, and adjacent issues like loneliness, fear, loss of purpose, etc., which seem to use boredom as kindling to fuel these states.

Boredom does not have an inherent value, yet most people describe boredom in negative terms. Boredom is neutral—we choose to place the bad or good label on the feeling. Boredom is a harmless luxury, a by-product of the leisure time we have in the post-industrial age, but few would see it as such.

It’s uncomfortable, boredom—that’s no lie.

Boredom hangs around the edges pushing us to cast about for anything that will remove the discomfort. For most people, being alone with our thoughts is terrifying. Our brains are wired to reject discomfort, but it’s the state we need to be in to access creativity and enhance problem-solving aptitude.

In our attempt to banish boredom, we grab the easiest fix, filling our time, a finite resource, with the equivalent of junk food. Activities like checking for approval on social media or falling down YouTube’s rabbit hole are easy and require little discernment or awareness.

When we get comfortable with boredom, we allow our minds to clear out the detritus of other people’s words and ideas and prepare a space for our imagination to flourish. Being inspired by other people’s works is essential to the creative process, but less so than most of us believe. When we fill our minds and senses with external input, we can no longer discern what is ours and what belongs to the thoughts and ideas of others.

But I’m Not an Artist!

Creativity is not just synonymous with art-making or book-writing or music-playing. Creativity is key to a fulfilling life of curiosity and experimentation. Nearly every act is creative: cooking, drawing, gardening, dancing, being in relationships—all qualify as the creative impulse in action. Without the fallow ground that boredom brings, we cannot get to a place of quiet where ideas are born. And we need to be in that quiet place for a while—long enough to get to that point where uneasiness sets in. The discomfort is where the good stuff lives!

Taking on boredom, indeed inviting it in, is a brave act in our hyperconnected world. To push against the tide of ever-available distractions and just let the uncomfortable feelings be is a step toward knowing ourselves. Of course, self-knowledge doesn’t magically happen in a short session or two of boredom; it needs to be a practice that we cultivate and accept as a part of the human experience.

Boredom Like Meditation

Perhaps we need to practice a state of pure boredom, like we would meditation, for fifteen minutes a day (or longer if you’re courageous). Only then can we start the process of clearing the slate to let creativity—creative thinking—emerge.

So, are you ready to join me in going deep with boredom? It’s tough to do nothing but breathe and be, but if you’re willing to try it, I suggest you have a writing pad and pencil or pen at your side and capture the ideas that come up during your boredom sessions. Who knows what insights and brilliance await you on the other side of boredom!

GOOD STUFF

Read:

Learn:

  • Coursera is offering a selection of free online classes through July 31, 2020

Listen:

  • Speaking of YouTube and rabbit holes, check out Rabbit Hole, a podcast from the New York Times.

(above image of heart in progress made by me, using boredom, and stuff I had around the house. It’s not finished, but neither am I.)

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