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As a kid, I remember there were hours on end when I had nothing to do, no homework, no chores, and no play dates. I loved gazing into nothing, and thinking about anything and everything. My mind would race and find incredible ideas. Then a few years ago I read this book called ‘Bored and Brilliant’ by Manoush Zomorodi. It explores the fascinating side of boredom and provides research-based examples of why being bored is critical for creativity.
It all made sense.
A couple of weeks back as I was chatting with my eight-year old, I asked him what he does during his school bus ride in the mornings and afternoons. To this he said, ‘I stare out the window and think about life’. To this, I rejoiced a little.
How wonderful it is to know that my child is letting his mind go blank and in fact using the time to ponder. In this age of overwhelming flow of information, where is the time to ponder and why is it all the more necessary to ponder?
Well, before we dive into that, let’s look at some boredom basics. Why do people get bored?
The most colloquial definition of boredom would be when we have nothing to do. Psychology Today describes boredom as an unpleasant emotional state in which the individual feels a pervasive lack of interest in and difficulty concentrating on the current activity.
I like to define boredom as somewhere in between the above two extremes. For example, while we are folding laundry or raking leaves or taking a walk - the times when our brains are not actively engaged, that’s the state of boredom. You might think that your brains are not working. It’s actually quite the opposite.
It’s during these times of boredom when we let our brains wander, we explore, generate the best ideas and do our most original thinking. In the Bored and Brilliant book, the author describes this as the time when our brains engage in “the autobiographical planning.” In the world of psychology, this state is described as “the default mode.”
Boredom is quite a common phenomenon. A recent study by the Mayo clinic reports that over 60% of US adults feel bored at least once a week. I think as adults and/or parents we should help our kids accept boredom as part of living and thriving.
The multitude of benefits of being bored will motivate you to support your children next time they tell you, “I am bored.” Leave room for them to get bored. Speak with them how they can effectively manage their time and feelings.
In the following paragraphs, I broadly categorize the five ways boredom can be beneficial to our brains. As individuals, I encourage you to embrace boredom. As parents, I challenge you to not schedule every minute of your children’s day.
We live in times when our brains are constantly fed a deluge of information. Allowing our mind to do nothing helps it to recharge. Popularly known as the “default mode” this is the normal way that our brains restore. It is in the default mode that our brain consolidates memories and regains its energy to get involved in further activities.
The default mode is also the origin of creative ideas. Have you heard people say that the best ideas come to them while in the shower or while driving? That’s because during these times our minds are free to wander while the body is engaged in a routine task. Boredom encourages us to question the status-quo and think beyond what’s possible.
If we are constantly racing through day-to-day tasks we have no time to evaluate ‘where we are, where we want to be and how our current situation makes us feel.’ Being bored allows us to take a pause and daydream about the future. It empowers us to shift to goals and projects that might be more fulfilling than those we are currently engaged with.
We live in an age of super-connectivity. We are constantly connected to a wealth of information which can be distracting. The default mode in the brain created by boredom improves our ability to focus. In the same way that while we are running if we get stopped multiple times on our way there, it will take us longer to reach our destination.
When our minds are actively engaged in going through high energy activities of the day we don’t have time to find innovative solutions to the problems that are bothering us. It is during the resting phase that our brains get a chance to play around with the lessons learned and find ingenious ways to apply them to different challenging scenarios.
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