Boredom has almost become a foreign world in the time of internet and smartphones. Almost every free moment is spent on scrolling, memes, videos and other internet pastimes. When we wait in line, sit in the bus or even when we go to the toilet for a number two, our phones are inevitable companions. It seems like we cannot let ourselves just zone out and let our minds wander for a bit.
Some might say this is good and that boredom is for boring people, but psychology and brain scans suggest otherwise.
Contrary to the popular belief, boredom is not having anything to do, but rather a feeling you get when none of the options available are appealing to you. When we are bored, our brains go into the “default mode“. Default mode is most commonly active while we are not focused on the outside world – e.g. while daydreaming. When we are bored, distinct regions of our brain interact. You’ll go on autopilot when you’re doing laundry for example, but your brain will get quite busy. Connecting those regions in the brain is essential for problem solving, creativity and future planning.
When our mind wanders, we start to do something called “autobiographical planning”. Everybody has experienced a situation where they were bored and as a result started thinking about their life, contemplating accomplishments and failures. Autobiographical planning includes looking back on our lives, creating a personal narrative and setting goals for the future based on those thoughts. It’s a very important process for personal development and creativity. A study was performed which included the participants doing something very boring – reading a phonebook. Later they asked the participants to be inventive and generate as many ideas as possible for what they could do with a plastic cup. The ones who read the phonebook had much more ideas compared to the control group, which wasn’t exposed to a boring task.
All those ways of escaping boredom are actually taking away a very important aspect of our inner life. Researchers at USC were studying teenagers on social media and their interaction with friends. After two years of research they found that those teenagers are less creative about their personal futures and about solving societal problems like violence, discrimination, etc. With world facing current problems, we need more people with creative solutions not less.
The importance of creativity was proved in an IBM survey, where CEOs found that it is the number one leadership competency.
Instead of picking your phone on your way to work, or while waiting in line to get your coffee, try to leave it in the pocket and just zone out. Some mind blowing idea may come up and you will most certainly be more creative afterwards.