None of us like to be bored. Can you imagine a world without Netflix or social media? When we turn to these often used allies against the shades of boredom, we also feel it as a negative outcome of our attempt to cure boredom.
But did you know that boredom is actually a hidden tool in your creative toolbox? Learning to use it can become a game-changer in your career.
When the 17th-century bubonic plague hit Europe, it forced Isaac Newton to travel to Woolsthorpe farm and self-isolated for two very, very boring years. And since he couldn’t have a Tik Tok account yet, it’s said that those boring years in contemplation blossomed into a series of discoveries that changed the course of civilization forever.
In this 21st century, researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman of the University of Central Lancashire conducted two experiments to test this “bored” theory. In the first experiment, they assembled two groups, one control group doing nothing, and then the boring task of copying numbers from a phone book to the other.
They then assigned both groups a standard divergent thinking test by giving participants plastic cups and asking them all to generate as many uses with the cups as possible.
The result — the bored phone-book copiers made significantly more uses of the plastic cups than the control group.
Bring in the Third Group!
Mann and Cadman wanted to test this even further, so they assembled a third group and made these new members complete the most boring task of all — reading the phone book.
This was quickly followed by assigning a creative task to both the second and third groups. Which resulted in the new third group—the one with the most boring task—performing even better than the phone-book copiers.
Mann and Cadman concluded passive activities like these lead people to daydream, which can then bloom into creative-thinking. Coined as the “daydreaming effect” of boredom. You can practice tapping into this with mindless tasks such as reading reports, attending tedious meetings, or trying your hand at also reading the phone book.
Sandi Mann expounded on this effect in her book The Science of Boredom.
Bottom line? As much as we loathe boredom, its creative benefits can outweigh its cons. What if Isaac Newton didn’t spend those two years in isolation? Calculus, the science of motion, and unraveled theories of gravity may not be around. So, on your next creative venture, you might try taking some time to focus on the clock on the wall or trace the patterns on the floor or ceiling. You might not conquer gravity, but the boredom might spark your lightbulb.
Shafeeka Hafeez grew up escaping into a world of books where she discovered a love for writing and a fascination with trees. When she’s not taking up a new marketing skill, or typing out a blog post, you can find her Googling the best therapy for abandoned cats.