I was hosting a dinner the other night for neighbors, and the subject of boredom came up during our conversation. One of my guests, an engineer and an entrepreneur, mentioned he has trouble sleeping because he can't shut off his constant stream of thoughts at night. Another guest, a psychologist, asked if he ever practiced mindfulness, or meditation. "What is mindfulness?" he asked. She explained mindfulness is known to be effective in quieting the mind and reducing worry, by bringing your attention to what you are experiencing in the present moment. It involves getting in touch with your body, your breath, and your feelings. "Absolutely not!" he said, "That is just too weird."

The psychologist suggested one way to practice mindfulness and relax is to make a pot of risotto, because you have to stay present to the process of stirring the rice. This idea -- a good one, I thought-- was met with gales of laughter from the engineer. Yet hidden beneath the laughter was a fear of being bored, and this got us talking about why we need to embrace boredom. This is what Science has to say about the matter:

Dr Sandi Mann, a psychologist who has been researching the connection between boredom and creativity, discovered participants came up with their most novel ideas after they did a really boring task--reading the phone book. She says, "When we're bored we're searching for something to stimulate us, so we might go off in our heads to try and find that stimulation by our minds wandering, daydreaming. You start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place."

Mind wandering is the brain's resting function, or default mode, as Dr. Marcus Raichle puts it. However, we've become addicted to social media and other distractions to fill our empty space.

Dr. Gloria Mark says, "A decade ago, we shifted our attention at work every three minutes. Now we do it every 45 seconds, and we do it all day long. The average person checks email 74 times a day, and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day." Yikes, these are shocking statistics. How is anyone getting work done?

"We do all we can to eliminate boredom before it hits... We swipe and scroll that boredom away," Mann says."Boredom gets the creative juices flowing. And when we try to get rid of all our boredom, we're perhaps eliminating our creativity as well." Moreover, every time you distract yourself, you are wasting valuable brainpower, and reducing your ability to focus.

Become comfortable with boredom.

I confess I am guilty of avoiding boredom especially when I enter the action phase of creativity and the work gets hard. Cal Newport, a scientist and author of Deep Work says,"One of the most valuable skills we can develop is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. This is key to mastering your craft and creating value." Newport asserts, "The enemy of deep work is your mind's desire for distraction."

Identify your moments of boredom during your day and be mindful about reaching for your device. Learn to be comfortable with the empty space of just being, rather than doing. Moment an iOS app can help by automatically tracking your time, and setting limits to your usage.Taking Manoush Zomorodi's Bored and Brilliant Challenge might help you wean yourself from distractions. Zomorodi's Ted talk about the science of boredom and creativity is worth watching too.

Overcoming the seduction of constant mental stimulation will not only enhance your ability to solve problems and get creative work done, you'll also get a good night's sleep.

Published on: Aug 29, 2017
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