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Is Boredom the Silent Muse?

Unlock creativity through boredom? Our fast-paced lives fear silence, but stillness may be the key to focus and innovation. What should you do? Embrace boredom, reclaim your attention, and unlock your full potential.

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
3 min read
A man walkin the woods deep in thought
Boredom can unlock your creativity and innovation

In this fast-paced world, where every moment is scheduled, and every tick of the clock is a siren call for productivity, we are often afraid to embrace the quiet of boredom, a state ripe with potential for creativity and introspection. Yet, is it not also curious that in the same breath, we lament the loss of our ability to concentrate? The irony is not lost that as we chase ceaselessly after stimulation, our attention spans wane, undermined by the very technologies and habits devised to quell our idle time.

Could it be that in dodging boredom, we are inadvertently eroding our capacity for focused, deep thought?

Boredom, as philosopher Bertrand Russell noted, is less prevalent in our lives compared to our ancestors, yet we fear it more than ever. We view it as a negative state, something to be avoided at all costs. But what if we've got it all wrong?

What if boredom isn't the enemy but an ally?

The myth of boredom as a negative state has been perpetuated by our fast-paced society. We're conditioned to believe that being busy is synonymous with being productive and, therefore, valuable. Consequently, boredom is seen as a sign of laziness or lack of ambition. This perspective, however, couldn't be further from the truth.

I have experienced the benefit of boredom firsthand. As a writer, I often struggle with creative blocks and periods of self-doubt. During these times, it's tempting to fill every moment with distractions - scrolling through social media, binge-watching TV shows, or mindlessly surfing the internet.

But when I allow myself to be bored, my mind has permission and freedom to wander, to explore new ideas, and to make connections. During these moments of mental wandering, I often come up with my most creative ideas. Albert Einstein, for example, believed that his imagination, which often sparked during moments of boredom, was more important than knowledge. Similarly, Steve Jobs saw boredom as a breeding ground for curiosity.

On the flip side, while technology has made our lives easier in many ways, it has also contributed to shrinking our attention spans. The constant pings, notifications, and updates have conditioned us to crave quick fixes of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Over time, this has led to an expectation of instant gratification and a decreased ability to focus on tasks that don't provide immediate rewards.

Rather than viewing boredom as a negative state to be avoided, we should see it as a gateway to creativity and innovation.

Here is what I do to embrace boredom:

  1. Designate Times to Disconnect: I set aside specific periods when I purposely steer clear of technology. For instance, I set aside the time early in the morning as a no-internet hour. During this time, I resist the impulsive checks of my phone or computer. I allow my mind to adjust to the silence and embrace the stillness that comes with it.
  2. Pursue Solitary Walks: I take a leaf from the great thinkers' books and walk alone. Nietzsche, Kant, and Beethoven all found solace and inspiration during their solitary strolls. I allow myself to observe the environment, follow the rhythm of my breathing, and let my thoughts meander like a leisurely stream, unguided and untamed.
  3. Engage in Manual Tasks: I choose activities that require a bit of effort yet minimal cognitive strain, like gardening or organizing my studio. Remember how Sherlock Holmes would play the violin when he was pondering a complex case? Similar repetitive and somewhat mundane tasks can serve as a sort of meditation, letting creativity surface.
  4. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation/Prayer: Whether it's focusing on your breath for a few minutes each day or mindful eating—savoring each bite of your meal—sitting still and praying -- such practices can be a prelude to boredom, but they also teach patience and awareness, key virtues for nurturing a longer attention span.

Boredom is not our enemy but an opportunity for creativity and personal growth. Our attention is precious and should not be hijacked by the allure of instant gratification. Embrace boredom, reclaim your attention, and unlock your full potential. It's a challenge worth taking. Are you ready?

boredomcreativitythinkingattention spanbored

Phil McKinney Twitter

Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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