A few weeks ago, during a marketing talk, an attendee asked me a thought-provoking question. “What’s the one thing that keeps your mind fresh, and open to new ideas?” My answer, without hesitation: “I try to get bored whenever possible.”
A wandering mind is often a curious mind.
For those who have met me, this seems like a strange answer to the question posed and it’s understandable why that could be so. However, a wandering mind has been one of my not-so-secret weapons for a while now.
We live in a time of constant stimuli; we seem to be (and likely are) always connected, whether that’s on social media or consuming / creating content. Our brains have little time to rest, and I believe this is where the problem lies: in my non-scientific opinion, the brain needs to be bored in order to unlock two extremely important skills.
Imagination and improvisation.
I remember to this day, and quite vividly, the many made-up worlds I created when I was younger. See, I am an only child and it was never easy for me to find playmates or friends growing up. A modest and single-parent background meant the latest gaming consoles or mind-blowing toys weren’t necessarily available. For company, I turned to books and boredom.
In my mind I imagined being literally there, a part of those universes in tiny texts; to this day, some of these aged, cracking, and dog-eared books still feature prominently on my bookshelves because of the ‘adventures’ I had with (and in) them. I imagined different endings; as the hero and protagonist; as the villain; and sometimes as the narrator, observing from a distance.
It wasn’t just a way to pass the time. It was fun.
I also learned as an adult, that imagination was a practical skill. And as someone in a creative field? A priceless skill.
Improvisation, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. It is a skill that can be learned in many different ways (e.g. comedy improvisation classes), though the speed it’s learned is a completely individual factor, in my opinion.
Boredom certainly helps. Think about it: when you’re bored, and scenarios / situations run through your head, what do you do? We ask the questions, and we give the answer. We present the problem, and we provide the solution. The little voice in our head (we all have that, right..?), when bored, forces itself to ‘create entertainment’ that’s almost always made up from nothing. It’s improvised.
It’s difficult for us to keep our minds fresh and open to new ideas if we’re constantly being spoon-fed ideas. It’s difficult when our mind has no time to wander, to be bored.
I think it’s time that we learn to be bored again, and unlock both our boundless imagination and our surprising ability to improvise.
Some ideas on how to be bored:
1. Keep your phone in the bag for 15 minutes.
2. Switch off all notifications for social media apps.
3. Kill the home WiFi once in a while.
4. Read a book you like (or that you hate).
5. Sketch, scribble, and draw randomly.
6. Take a walk without a phone or a watch.
7. Do your ‘bathroom stuff’ with no music or entertainment.
8. Have a regular ‘mundane house chores’ hour.
9. Build something (woodwork, plastic toys, etc.)
10. Home alone weekend.
Some resources on the benefits of boredom:
Ducharme, J. (2019, Jan 4). “Being bored can be good for you – if you do it right. Here’s how.” Time.
Gillet, R. (2016, Jan 28). “6 scientific benefits of being bored.” Business Insider c/o Independent.
Huffington Post Teen. (2013, Oct 4). “5 reasons boredom can be good for your health.” The Huffington Post.”