Scheduling time to be bored isn’t what I expected when I decided to take up entrepreneurship. Boredom always came as a side effect of poor planning or else was imposed as a punishment, never a value. As a culture, we have been fed an obsession with being busy and (sometimes) productive. I recently came across a few works on boredom as a topic, and I have to tell you, boredom is interesting.
We all have a conventional notion of boredom. The one that kids have that drives their parents up the wall. And the one we have occasionally, where you can’t find anything interesting or exciting to do. Science is telling us that boredom is great for our minds. Recent studies show us that in controlled experimental environments, people who went through a boring activity before completing a complex task did much better than the ones who did not.
Before we go further, let’s understand boredom itself.
Boredom needs no definition. We understand what it is. But there are some interesting ideas around boredom that most of us probably haven’t thought about. Here, I’m primarily referring to a sort of boredom that is good for us. But I’m not saying boredom is always good. Studies show that boredom is linked with a lot of behavior issues such as bad driving and gambling.
But beyond this, good boredom has a positive role to play. Doing meaningless, repetitive tasks forces us to get creative and find meaning. Boredom happens when we don’t find meaning in our regular, day-to-day affairs. Good boredom can spur people to take on unpleasant tasks just because they’re meaningful. This is what we are dealing with here.
We are increasingly becoming a digital people that do not have the tolerance to do nothing for a while. Constant noise has forced us into a situation where we are not always comfortable being by ourselves. We’re always look for distractions. It is this situation that makes the conversation about boredom so relevant and so interesting.
Why Entrepreneurs Should Be Bored
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work says “To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life, but from the perspective of concentration training, it’s incredibly valuable.” A lot of things are scrambling for an entrepreneur’s attention. Why take time to be bored?
I’ll tell you.
Boredom encourages creativity.
Studies show that we become more creative when we are bored. In experiments where the participants were challenged to do something creative and complex, the ones who engaged in a boring activity before, such as sorting beads from a bowl, did much better than others. When we are bored, our mind finds a way to engage itself. Some people daydream. Others think deeply about a problem. Either approach can positively impact our creativity. Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire says that “boredom is a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied. If we can’t find that, our mind will create it.”
We can’t always find creativity and innovation in our regular environment. It’s certainly not in play when we are distracted. I constantly find myself coming up with new ideas when I am doing something entirely unrelated to what I’m pondering. If we go into our minds, perhaps we see new things we did not see the first time round or we may see things differently.
Boredom encourages grit.
Almost by definition, we learn grit the hard way. Facing failures, getting through tough tasks, and even finding things to do to ramp up stimulation are all ways to imbue grit into your character. Recently, researchers and writers have developed a lot of literature about grit and its links with boredom.
Having the free time to be bored encourages us to look for activities and things to do. It creates an environment when we are dealing with failure in a safe space. Think about how a lot of us picked up some new hobby or another during the COVID-19 related lockdowns. We did suffer through a lot of hardship to learn something new because we needed a way to engage ourselves and as a way to deal with difficult mental health.
Boredom is good for your mental health.
With screens and content flashing all around us, we are not giving ourselves the breaks we need. Instead, we are constantly thinking or involving ourselves in online chatter about issues or people we can’t solve. This constant chatter and distraction is deleterious to our collective mental health.
Being bored is actually of help here. Being bored gives the brain a much-needed rest and a way to focus attention on yourself. Taking these breaks and pauses doesn’t come easily. But our minds bounce back strongly after such spells. We are fresh when we approach the next task.
Boredom improves problem-solving skills.
We already discussed the brain’s quest for mental stimulation when we are bored. This is related to problem-solving skills in many ways. When we are engaged in tasks that are not too meaningful, our mind finds ways to engage itself. We are engaging our creative brains much often. This aids problem-solving skills a lot. We can look at problems quite differently and creatively. The experiments above clearly illustrate this correlation too.
John Mark Comer, author of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, has this to say – “In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to…. As if we “give” it in the first place; much of it is stolen by a clever algorithm out to monetize our precious attention.” This is perhaps the best summation of what we have been talking about.
Being an entrepreneur is a tightrope walk. We have precious little attention to give, and we have to make an active choice to invest that attention in the right things. Boredom is the consequence of not having things steal your attention.
When we know what we are doing with, boredom can be a good thing. It does come with a warning sticker, sure. Boredom has a lot of correlation with behavioral issues. But when we use boredom well, it gives us a lot of benefits we stand to gain a lot from.
Being bored is good.
When are you going to be bored next?