“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Blaise Pascal
There’s a supply shortage of boredom in our world.
We’ve largely left it in the past, in our pre-internet era. The last time you were bored probably wasn’t intentional. It was likely because your phone died, you didn’t have service, or being on the internet would have been inappropriate where you were at. And that’s no small thing.
We evolved with boredom - we accounted for boredom being a part of our lives every day.
So what are we missing out on now that we’re so rarely bored?
A lot actually.
For whatever reason, this concern for boredom has arisen in the most timely week for me.
I’m off to a little Tennessee mountain for some relaxation out in nature, a chance to step away from the grind and unwind.
Leading up to the trip, I have seen 3 different people in my feeds promoting the importance of boredom.
I’ll lay out what these guys had to say and unpack their take on boredom a bit more.
“To the pregnant void of infinite possibilities, only possible with a lack of obligation, or at least, no compulsive reactivity. Perhaps this is only possible with the negative space to—as Kurt Vonnegut put it—fart around? To do things for the hell of it? For no damn good reason at all?I feel that the big ideas come from these periods. It’s the silence between the notes that makes the music.If you want to create or be anything lateral, bigger, better, or truly different, you need room to ask “what if?” without a conference call in 15 minutes. The aha moments rarely come from the incremental inbox-clearing mentality of, “Oh, fuck… I forgot to… Please remind me to… Shouldn’t I?…I must remember to…”That is the land of the lost, and we all become lost.”
If you leave it up to the world to decide, you’ll be booked full for months.
Favors, dinners, errands, ‘quick’ calls, to-do’s, & “what should I be doing’s”. The valve of obligation will never turn off on its own. It’s up to you to put a little slack in the system and protect it.
Without this intentional lack of obligation, your time, energy, and effort will be required for too much of the day - missing out on the important mental space to let things breathe.
Open-ended activities are good for you.
Things that are intrinsically motivating, that need no external outcome.
For one, it takes the pressure off. It’s also less constraining on the possible serendipity that can enter the scene.
If you’re after one specific result with what you’re doing, there’s a good chance you’ll overlook a golden detail. A crucial insight, hidden in plain view.
The brain won’t fall for your tricks - you are one & the same.
You won’t get the boredom needed to truly drop in if it’s scattered in small batches. You need a decent chunk of time. Imagine curiosity as a guest to your house. It’s not going to want to stop by to hang out if you’re in the middle of something - constantly busy with your gnawing ‘productivity’. Vouch for the wiggle room.
It’s about being in a state of receptiveness. Opening yourself enough for something new to come in.
“We really need to normalize boredom.Some of your most creative moments come during periods of boredom.In the shower, on a walk, at a dinner by yourself.You’re bored, your mind wanders, your thoughts mingle. Bam! Creative insight strikes.Schedule boredom into your weeks.”
Boredom has a negative ring to it.
Our culture sees it as a problem, something to overcome & not allow.
And when society is reinforcing this idea all the time, you’ll unconsciously embody it too. Boredom allows for quietude. Quietude gives way to new ideas forming and interesting connections being made.
Being in an unending mode of ‘next, next, next’ prevent these ideas from ever crossing paths.
Ideally, boredom is on your daily and weekly agenda.
Not that you need to act monkish and sit down in silence doing nothing.
But you can engage in activities that promote relaxation and free-flow thinking. Walks are the crown jewel here. (Obviously without the headphones)
Walks, especially in today’s world, are so understimulating they always get the job done.
Your mind finally has a chance to unpack your recent consumption, organize what’s out of order, and stir up a bit of new perspective for you.
Of course, there are plenty of other downshifting activities you can do too:
You get the idea.
There’s a lot of wisdom in that Blaise Pascal quote I dropped at the beginning.
Solitude can do us some good. And I’m not talking about meditation here. Simply being alone with your thoughts. It’s a brilliant way to check in with yourself and see how you’re doing.
Seeing what comes up can lead to transformative introspection, needed self-discovery, or a the very least - a frustrating sense of where you’re slipping up.
(All net-positive in the long run)
“It’s only after you’re bored you have the great ideas. It’s never going to be when you’re stressed, or busy, running around or rushed. Make the time.”
There’s got to be time away from distractions, both the ones placed upon you and the ones you create for yourself.
The mind needs a chance to wander around. It needs a chance to bump into new possibilities. It needs a chance to explore.
Idle moments and stretches of time are perfect for this.
They create the fertile ground needed for innovative thinking to grow and bloom.
Stillness is underrated.
Even just by implementing an ounce more stillness in your life, you’ll be ahead of the norm. Any competition out there you perceive isn’t doing this. Their strategy (or lack thereof) doesn’t account for genuine inspiration. Inspiration thrives on this negative space in your momentum. It reliably pops up in these gaps.
You have to cultivate a mindset that appreciates the power of pausing and reflecting.
You have to go against the grain in this way.
Mental rejuvenation is the goal.
It’s the best chance you have at fostering creativity. The world, with its psychological warfare, will get the best of you given the opportunity.
Strip it of this. Don’t allow it. Regain a healthy buffer of downtime. Time to settle your twitching compulsivity. Time to bounce back to center.
The best part is it’s all within your control. It’s free. And it’s immensely rewarding.
Friendly reminder. That is all.
Turns out there can be a lot of overlap between building design and building a life. John Ruskin (unknowingly perhaps) tells us how to live life better.
It's never too late to stumble upon an underlying principle of reality. (Especially one that can be put to use immediately)