For centuries, humans have led a crusade against the terrors of boredom. Games, theater, music, and thousands of other art forms were created to allow us to bond with one another in the dark after the day’s work was done.
In today’s fast-paced world, we often find ourselves constantly surrounded by technology, entertainment, and work. Boredom has largely become a minuscule part of life at best.
But what if I told you that your brain needs boredom to function at its best? In this Pursuit of Freedom letter, we’ll discuss why being bored is essential for our well-being and provide a solution to help you deliberately make time for healthy boredom. So, let’s dive in and explore why being bored may be just what you need to enhance your life.
Your brain is designed to be bored
Yeah, you read that right. To some degree, your brain is designed to be bored. When we were in our infancy as a species—before we discovered animal husbandry and agriculture even—there was only so much work to do in a given day.
The skills we used to provide for our future selves hadn’t yet been developed, and so we lived as lower mammals did. We spent our time hunting and gathering food day to day, focused on our right-now survival more than our tomorrow survival.
As you can imagine, there was a lot of time to be bored during this period. Scientists speculate that our brains came to expect and even depend on a degree of downtime during these formative years.
Our brains are spectacularly complicated machines, but their working memory is limited. They can only focus on one task at a time. During moments of boredom, we’re able to do some of our most creative work.
The problem is the sheer degree of attention that our modern landscape demands of us. The constant stream of bright colors, alluring notifications, and engaging entertainment that we’re exposed to daily is overstimulating our brains, leading to a variety of negative effects. We feel burnt out, stressed, and overwhelmed, unable to concentrate or be productive.
However, deliberately taking the time to be bored may be just what we need to reset our brains, increase our creativity, and ultimately, enhance our well-being. By intentionally creating pockets of downtime in our daily lives, we can allow our minds to wander, explore, and come up with new ideas. We can also give our brains a much-needed break, allowing them to process and consolidate information more effectively.
Think about it: when your brain is focused on the task at hand, you’re tuned out from the helpful hints and connections that your unconscious brain is constantly processing. When you take away the available task, you allow your conscious brain to tap into your unconscious.
And the key to that is boredom.
In the following sections, we’ll explore why being bored sometimes is important, the benefits it can provide, and how to incorporate more healthy boredom into your life. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, artist, or simply looking to boost your productivity, this article will provide you with the tools you need to start intentionally making time for boredom. So, let’s dive in.
Boredom is an asset
Our brains are constantly processing information and making decisions, which is why they require periods of rest to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Sleep fulfills by far the most of this need, allowing us to put our thoughts in order unconsciously as well as allowing our bodies to repair themselves.
However, periods of conscious rest are important too. When we’re bored, our brains shift into a unique state of mind, known as the default mode network (DMN), which allows us to daydream, reflect, and connect seemingly unrelated ideas.
Research suggests that this disengaged, ultra-creative state of mind is responsible for some of our most creative and insightful ideas. In fact, some of the world’s greatest inventions and breakthroughs were thought up during moments of boredom, including the discovery of the structure of DNA, the theory of relativity, and the creation of the Apple computer company.
Boredom also plays a crucial role in developing our emotional intelligence. When we’re bored, we become more self-aware, in tune with our thoughts, and feelings. We also become more receptive to other people’s emotions, enhancing our ability to empathize and connect with others. This is because when our brains are at rest, we can better process and reflect on the events of our day, which ultimately leads to more profound self-insight and a deeper understanding of others.
Making time for boredom
There are many ways to intentionally make time for boredom in our daily lives. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Disconnect from technology
Please believe me when I tell you that, oh my God, the importance of this point cannot be overstated. Your phone, your television and your computer are setting the bar of stimulus so high that practically nothing in nature can compete anymore. The companies behind the apps you use and the websites you visit are using bright colors, interesting sounds and distracting animations to capture as much of your attention as they can get their hands on, and you’re the one paying the price for it.
A great way to combat this on a day-to-day basis is to set your phone’s display to black and white (credit to Jack Denmo for the idea) and drop the white point very low. You’ll notice a marked difference in your screen time within a few days, and you’ll find yourself impulsively checking your phone less and less. The minuscule dopamine hits your brain gets from your tech won’t be as important to you. (Full transparency, I don’t do this myself full-time, as I depend on my phone for checking mobile responsiveness and usability for the websites I build, but I have done it in the past and can attest that it works.)
If nothing else, set aside specific times of the day to disconnect from your phone, laptop, and other digital devices. This can be as simple as taking a walk without your phone, turning off your notifications during meal times, or dedicating an hour each day to unplug and relax. If you can take it a step further, disengage from your electronics for several days or even a week from time to time to allow you to get in touch with your brain in its natural state.
Engage in automatic activities
Engage in creative activities that allow you to express yourself without worrying about the outcome or focusing too intently on the process. This can be anything from washing dishes or mowing the lawn to reroofing your house. Anything that allows your brain to disengage and gets you into a physical flow state is a good thing. Running, cycling, driving, parkour, a batting cage, you name it. Personally, my go-to is rock climbing.
The act of doing something simple without judgment or expectation can be a powerful tool in enhancing creativity. However, if you choose an activity that requires a significant degree of logic and thought, such as writing or programming (anything that depends on a system or rules), you’ll likely find your positive results diminishing.
Allow yourself to daydream, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day. Whether you’re staring out the window, walking in nature, or sitting on a park bench, give your mind permission to wander and see where it takes you. Remember, this is the key to the DMN frame of mind that allows your brain to make insightful connections.
In many cases, longer times with nothing to do will result in higher quality and quantity of output. For example, I tried three different times to write a book in my late teens and early twenties. It wasn’t until I took a job that entailed sitting at a desk for hours at a time with very little to do that I was actually able to get it done.
Go into situations that are conducive to daydreaming armed with a notebook and pen, and you’ll come out of it with some of your best and most creative ideas.
Remember, intentionally making time for boredom doesn’t have to mean doing nothing at all. It’s about intentionally creating pockets of downtime in your day to allow your mind to rest, reflect, and recharge. By doing so, you can enhance your creativity, reduce stress, and enhance your overall well-being.
When we take the time to deliberately be bored, we give our brains an opportunity to reset and forget the pressures of daily life. By disconnecting from our devices and intentionally making time for a bit of boredom, we can reduce stress, increase creativity, and enhance our overall well-being. Some ways to deliberately be bored include taking a walk without your phone, sitting quietly and observing your surroundings, or even just allowing yourself to daydream.
By taking these intentional moments of boredom, we also become more present and mindful, improving our ability to focus and engage in the present moment. We can also develop stronger relationships, as we become more attuned to others’ emotions and better listeners. Ultimately, taking the time to deliberately be bored can be a powerful tool in unlocking our creativity and enhancing our overall quality of life.
For further reading on the immense power of being bored, I would highly recommend reading “The Comfort Crisis” by Michael Easter. It paints a series of beautiful pictures and imparts a perspective I think everybody would find valuable.
That’s it for this week. Thank you very much for reading, your attention means a lot to me. It’s been an insane week—I’ve taken on four different projects and have been delightfully busy. Some of my new clients are working on very interesting projects that have a lot of potential to change lives for the better. If you have something you’ve been working on and want to talk about building a website to help you sell it to the world, get in touch with me. I want to hear all about it.