Creative People: Give Yourself the Gift of Boredom

Creative People: Give Yourself the Gift of Boredom

In this episode of the Fine Art Photography Podcast, a gift every creative person should give themselves (according to science)

Fine Art Photography Podcast, episode 64 full transcript

In this episode of the Fine Art Photography Podcast, a gift every creative person should give to themselves (and no, it’s not a new lens).

Happy Holidays everyone. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Rohatsu, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Festivus — whatever you celebrate this season — I hope it’s a joyous one.

Here’s a gift you may want to consider giving yourself, because it will ultimately make you more creative. The gift is this: real, true, honest downtime.

I don’t mean vegging in front of the television. I don’t mean listening to a podcast while you jog. I mean do absolutely nothing. As a guy who has worked in several creative careers, I believe this to be a key for recharging the creative batteries. Think of your creative energy as a deep well. When you dip into it constantly, the levels drop. You can refill the well by reading good books, looking at great art, enjoying poetry, seeing plays, and listening to music. But to help digest all of that and convert it into your own personal creativity, you need to do nothing. Even let yourself be bored!

Creative people tend to have a low tolerance for boredom. Myself included.

By our very nature we seek novelty, stimulation, and inspiration. But in this device driven age of Instagram, facebook, 24/7 news, podcasts, and TikTok — boredom may be exactly the missing ingredient we need to be more creative.

But don’t take my word for it.

Here’s what a December 4, 2021 article in the magazine Fast Company said on the matter.

The title is “Science says it’s essential to make time to do nothing. Here’s why making more time for downtime will help you stay sane, creative, and productive over the long term.”

Written by Jay Dixit of the Neuroleadership Institute.

The point of that article is that we think we are getting downtime when we are actually partaking in constant distractions. Here’s one quote from the article, “The brain also requires “downtime”—unstructured time with no goal in mind and no targeted focus of attention.”

All the things we do to use time wisely and efficiently may actually be squashing creativity and hurting productivity.

An article by Clare Thorp on BBC Culture titled “How boredom can spark creativity,” said this about boredom: “… for any creator – whether a writer, musician or artist – being boring is possibly the worst thing you can be labelled. Yet boredom itself is, conversely, one of the most important factors in creativity – a silent muse that has inspired countless great songs, novels and paintings.” The article quotes Booker Prize-winning novelist Anne Enright talking about life during the pandemic lockdown: “Boredom is a productive state so long as you don’t let it go sour on you. I wait for boredom to kick in because boredom, for me, is a very good sign.”

Thorp quotes author Neil Gaiman as saying: “You have to let yourself get so bored that your mind has nothing better to do than tell itself a story.”

The BBC article also cites a 2013 study in which two groups competed to solve a creativity challenge. One group first was asked to do some boring tasks, reading numbers in a phone book. The bored group outperformed the competitors.

Boredom clears the space of your mind and allows fresh ideas to spring forth.

BBC’s Thorp quotes John Eastwood, author of the book Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom, who said “Boredom triggers mind-wandering, and then mind wandering leads to creativity.”

In other words, allow yourself to daydream. Stare blankly at the wall.

A Harvard Business Review article called “The Creative Benefits of Boredom,” written by David Burkus, illustrates several examples where boredom has led to improved creative performance.

Burkus even cites a personal example, where he spent ten excruciatingly dull hours in sales conference sessions, followed by super-productive and idea-laden conversations over a late night dinner with colleagues.

Popular Science magazine supports what I’m saying about letting boredom come. Like being hungry or thirsty is unpleasant and reminds us to seek nourishment, being bored spurs the brain to get busy and motivates us into creativity. However being bored is not the same as suffering chronic boredom — a situation that can lead to negative outcomes.

An article in Forbes Magazine goes a step further saying boredom is actually good for brain  — it’s even in the article’s title “Why Neuroscientists Say, ‘Boredom Is Good For Your Brain’s Health.’” Author Bryan Robinson says — and I’m quoting, “Boredom can actually foster creative ideas, refilling your dwindling reservoir, replenishing your work mojo and providing an incubation period for embryonic work ideas to hatch.” End quote.

I know before I said do absolutely nothing. But some activities can clear your mind and even stimulate the so-called flow state. That’s the state where a person becomes so fully immersed in something that they can even lose track of time. The psychologist who conceived the concept of flow described it this way, and I’m quoting: “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” (Source)

Author Margaret Atwood enjoys birdwatching to bring on the flow. A lot of creative people swear by walking as a way to allow ideas to come forth, as long as the walking can be done without focusing on too many distractions (like thinking about paying bills or formulating your grocery list, or maybe dodging city traffic?).

OK I don’t want to belabor my point here. Yes — definitely enjoy all the fun and stimulation of the holidays, but don’t forget to give yourself the gift of doing nothing.

As always, the links to sources are in the episode description and full written transcripts can be found on my blog at i catch shadows dot com. 

That’s all I’ve got for this episode. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you again real soon.

Sources and Links:

BBC Culture. “How boredom can spark creativity.” Clare Thorp. May 22, 2020.

Fast Company, “Science says it’s essential to make time to do nothing. Here’s why making more time for downtime will help you stay sane, creative, and productive over the long term.”Jay Dixit. Dec 4, 2021.

Forbes, “Why Neuroscientists Say, ‘Boredom Is Good For Your Brain’s Health.’” Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. Sept. 2, 2020.

Harvard Business Review. “The Creative Benefits of Boredom.” David Burkus. Sept. 2014.

The Very Well Mind. “The Psychology of Flow.” Kendra Cherry. April 09, 2021

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1 comment

  1. Thanks for the reminder Keith! I sometimes wonder if I’m doing enough – then realize I need a balance. I walk to be present in nature and not think. I meditate to make space in my head and spirit. I spend a lot of time alone which nourishes me. I think everyone has to find their own balance in creativity. Thanks for the great tips as always!

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