There I was, in my mid-20s, thrashing about on the living room floor like a 3-year-old having a tantrum. Maybe it was some sort of invasion? The classic alien scenario. Something has entered my body. I brush my teeth; I drive my car; I drink my coffee, and all the while something is sprouting tentacles inside me. When the day comes that it has outgrown the crampedness of my guts, it will pierce its way through me to get some air.
Truth is, that day, long ago, my body wasn’t being demolished by some foreign intruder. The thing tearing me up inside, crawling under my skin and threatening to drive me insane was boredom. That’s right, good old-fashioned boredom. There’s this notion that creative people will always come up with creative solutions for boredom, and only unimaginative people get bored. The lie detector determined that was a lie.
I’m proud to say that if keeping myself entertained were an Olympic sport, I’d have endorsement deals with (insert a corporation that isn’t ethically a piece of crap), and yet, I’ve been many times a victim in boredom’s clutches.
The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (May 5, 1813–November 11, 1855) described boredom this way- see if it sounds familiar-
Kierkegaard goes on to say that boredom is, in fact, the root of all evil. He says that in order to escape boredom, humans are willing to go to any means necessary.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve contemplated and followed through with my fair share of debauchery for the sake of beating boredom with a stick. The longer and thicker the stick the better (pun NOT intended).
Kierkegaard describes this fury to beat the snot out of boredom as a sort of magic.
Boredom makes us want to do something. It’s a lassitudinous creature that somehow incites us to action.
This sense of revulsion toward boredom can also be found in Charles Baudelaire’s (April 1821- August 1867) poem “To the Reader” where he describes boredom as a quiet monster, the worst of all our vices, stalking its prey and turning us mad.
As I see it, there are two types of boredom: 1. bone-crushing, Feminine Mystique type of boredom 2. the moments or hours when, having nothing else to do, we pick up our phones and check notifications, or tune into Netflix just to kill the time.
We’ll be talking today about the second kind, the one we encounter on a daily basis.
Let’s first start with a radical notion that boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I know, we’ve just compared boredom to a monster and world-wrecker, but let’s hear what neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists have to say.
Manoush Zomorodi, in her popular Ted Talk, How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas, shares what researchers have found.
Our minds on boredom seem a lot like our minds on sleep. When we’re bored, the autopilot of our brain takes over. We begin thinking more subconsciously. We start to daydream. This time spent on autopilot allows us “to connect disparate ideas… solve nagging problems… and construct the narrative of our lives.” In other words, boredom is a friend of creativity.
The problem is that we refuse to be bored. We fight it with every gadget at our disposal. We fill the empty space with anything that will distract us from the quiet in our brains. We pick up our phones, pick up the remote, grab our car keys, grab a book, grab a friend. Anything or anyone to save of from the nothingness settling down on us.
For creative people, we feed on the idea that action and energy fuel creativity. In order to be inspired, we have to get out there, see things and do things; but often times, it’s just the opposite. Here are some points to keep in mind about boredom.
When you fill the void with mindless or meaningless behaviors, you leave less space for creative thoughts to form and grow. Neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Levitin states that “every time you shift your attention from one thing to another, the brain has to engage a neurochemical switch that uses up nutrients in the brain to accomplish that… and we have a limited supply of that stuff.”
The takeaway: If you want to feel more creative and engaged with your life and the world, don’t fill up your time with meaningless activities. The effect is that you’ll have less brain juice to dedicate to the things you actually care about, like writing the next great American novel or avoiding your annoying coworker.
What you resist, persists. I use this nugget of wisdom in my life constantly. Whatever you’re fighting will continue to live on through the energy you give it. Resistance makes the thing grow stronger. You ever been in a relationship with a person who loves to argue? You can let them talk endlessly without saying a word in response, but the moment you make one contrary statement, they somehow find a new wealth of energy and words to bombard you with, and you’ve just added another hour to the argument.
The takeaway: Don’t be too quick to fight off boredom. Accept it as a normal part of life, and a beneficial one. Fighting boredom can result in draining your energy and not allowing room for other great things to happen in your mind.
Here’s boredom researcher, Dr. Sandi Mann: “Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place. It’s really awesome, actually.”
Do nothing. Although it seems backward, Kierkegaard, in his book Either/Or, recommends stillness as the best remedy for boredom. That’s right, learn to do nothing, or what today we like to call practicing presence. I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat on the swing in my backyard and watched the bees and lizards and clouds, all while feeling guilty that I was wasting my life away. Surely, there must be something productive that I should be doing with my time instead, right? Kierkegaard has the support of neuroscience when he says:
“A solitary prisoner for life is extremely resourceful; to him a spider can be a source of great amusement… What a meticulous observer one becomes, detecting every little sound or movement. Here is the extreme boundary of that principle that seeks relief not through extensity but through intensity.”
That’s right, embracing nothingness can open up an interesting world around us that we were too mindlessly busy to notice.
The takeaway: Doing more isn’t the solution to dealing with boredom, and neither is finding some new diversion. The solution is allowing ourselves to be still and present is.
What is your go-to boredom activity? And how do you feel about the idea of allowing space to be bored?
On this week’s Lit Talks, we’ll be reading and discussing this poem To the Reader by Charles Baudelaire (mentioned above). Don’t miss it, Thursday night 8pm est on Instagram Live! Please follow me on IG, it’d mean the world to me. I’ll also be elaborating on some of these points for successful creative living throughout the week on Instagram live. Check it out! And for last week’s live episodes, check me out on IGTV.
My name is Lyz-Stephanie and I want to inspire you to be more connected to yourself and the world, to find beauty in simple pleasures, and to have more adventures. Every day we can do something to make our lives happier and richer, make our minds more active and engaged. I’m on the journey. Will you join me?