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Boredom is good for your creativity: Studies

Tarun Mittal
31st Jul 2017
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Being bored is slowly becoming a problem of the past. Smartphones and the internet now offer us instant distractions whenever we feel even the slightest hint of boredom creeping into our minds. We're never more than a couple of clicks or taps away from watching/reading/hearing something that engages or entertains us. But these modern-day 'cures' for boredom are rarely a stimulant and are often just a waste of time. Surprisingly, multiple studies have proved that the alternative, being bored that is, may be a lot more useful than was previously imagined.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

In one study, Pennsylvania State University researchers Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood conducted an experiment to judge the relation between participants' mental states and their creativity levels. They found that those who were bored performed better on measures of associative thought — an indication of creative thinking, than those who were distressed or relaxed.

In another experiment, researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman of the University of Central Lancashire set out to find the link between boredom and daydreaming and creative potential. They conducted two studies: In the first study, 40 participants were asked to do the mundane task of copying numbers from a telephone directory for 15 minutes. Following which, they were asked to come up with creative uses for plastic cups. It was discovered that they were more creative in coming up with imaginative uses for the cups when compared to the control group which was directly presented with the creative task.

The second study aimed to establish the difference that passive and active boredom has on creative potential. The researchers asked 30 people to copy numbers from a telephone directory and 30 others were just asked to read through it. A control group of 30 more people were directly introduced to the creative task. The researchers found that the control group performed the worst on the creative task while the one tasked with just reading the directory numbers (passive boredom) performed better than those tasked with writing them (active boredom). The researchers were thus able to conclude that passively boring activities — those that require the least attention — provide a bigger creativity boost as compared to those that require some level of cognitive engagement.

That's not to say that active boredom impairs creativity in any way. There are countless artists, writers and musicians who worked in mind-numbingly boring jobs before they gained acclaim for their creative works. Writer and poet Charles Bukowski spent decades working in ‘soul-sucking’ jobs before he started being paid to write. Sixto Rodriguez, one of the greatest unrecognised musician, was working as a construction labourer when he recorded his only two albums. And the list goes on: Maya Angelou worked as a street car conductor, Douglas Adams as a chicken shed cleaner, William Faulkner as a postmaster, and so on. But they worked these jobs out of necessity, not choice. So where does that leave the rest of us?

A bored mind is always restless and dissatisfied, grappling with the idiosyncrasy of the mundane. We automatically find ourselves yearning for something that's interesting and at the same time fulfilling. And if we, especially creators of any kind, don't fall prey to the conventional distractions like binge-watching TV shows, we start coming up with unique ideas. That's why it's a good idea to chase boredom at times.

Instead of spending time off work in mundane activities, try inducing boredom instead. Disconnect from the internet, remove all other temptations, and just sit there and daydream. The aim is to switch off your mind to an extent where the boredom is replaced by curiosity, then interest, and finally absorption. And that's when you'll be at your creative best.

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