Here's a question for you. What do you do when you're waiting in line at the store, sitting in a traffic jam on the highway, or otherwise have a few minutes of time to pass and have nothing else to do?
If you're like most people (myself included), there's a good chance that you pick up your phone and check your email, scroll through your social media feeds, or scavenge around in one of your favorite apps.
And you probably don't even realize you're doing it.
While it may seem like this is a productive use of your "waiting" time, best-selling science fiction and fantasy author Neil Gaiman says otherwise. In fact, he says that you may actually be doing yourself more harm than good by engaging with your phone versus just doing "nothing."
Spending every second of every day engaged in some type of action absolutely kills your creativity. Or, as Gaiman once said, " ... boredom is the place you create from in self-defense."
What does this mean and why should you care?
For Gaiman, giving himself the opportunity to be bored has enabled him to create the story lines for best-selling books like Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and American Gods. And he's not the only one that benefits from boredom, as researchers have discovered the same results in others.
For instance, one study conducted by two University of Central Lancashire researchers--Dr. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman--involved having 40 people copy phone numbers from a telephone directory for a period of 15 minutes (totally boring, right?). Afterward, they had to complete a task requiring them to come up with different uses for a set of cups, ultimately testing their creativity.
Mann and Cadman then compared these ideas against the ideas formulated by 40 people who didn't engage in the boring copying project beforehand. They found that the people who copied the phone numbers ended up being more creative with what they could do with the cups.
To determine whether boredom was truly a factor and their superior creativity couldn't be attributed to something else, Mann and Cadman conducted a follow-up study. This one involved 60 participants, 30 of whom were asked to copy the phone numbers, just like before, and 30 of whom were asked to read the numbers instead.
Again the researchers found that these two groups, the copiers and the readers, tended to be more creative than a control group who were not assigned a boring activity prior to being asked to come up with new and innovative ways to use the cups.
Why is creativity so important?
Two experts from the Foundation for Critical Thinking, Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder, report that creativity has been linked with critical thinking--two factors that "are inseparable aspects of excellence in thought." In other words, the more creative you are with your thoughts, the better your ability to objectively analyze and evaluate various situations, putting you in a better position to come up with a more effective solution.
In layman's terms, it means that when you're creative, you become a better problem solver. You're also able to think "outside of the box" and come up with more innovative ways to do things. This can take you to higher success levels, whether your thoughts are directed toward marketing, product development, or any other action that can help you build a better, stronger business.
Boredom also helps you experience life more fully, and it can help to actually limit your distractions and give you time to think. Plus, when you are less inclined to bury yourself in your electronics and let your mind wander, it can take you into new and interesting territory.
OK. So how do you get bored?
For starters, Gaiman suggests setting down your phone, taking some time off from your social media accounts, and letting your mind stray.
Second, it involves using your newfound "bored time" having nothing to do but daydream and letting your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Essentially, it's letting yourself be bored so you can finish important, potentially life-changing questions or statements like:
- "What if ... ?"
- "If only ... "
- "I wonder ... "
Practice these types of openers, and let your mind travel to places it's never been. Give your thoughts permission to go beyond their normal boundaries, and experience what exists in areas never before explored.
This action alone helps Gaiman create some of the most-read books of all time. Imagine what it could do for you.