I hate doing dishes. It feels like time squandered—even though I almost just as much dislike a messy kitchen. I have always had a hard time with time not used in the interest of good—good for me that is. If I need to wait for somebody being late, my body starts to ace. If I have a minute off in between work projects, I find a book or something else to read. I bet it doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that I also have to admit that I loathe standing in lines, can’t stand slow drivers, get irritated when things aren’t working as they are supposed to do.
But of course. I do dishes. I do wait for late friends. I do stand in lines. And surprise: over time I have found that it’s actually not time squandered. You know why? Because our brains need to wind down in between the battles. Brains get tired of always having to be creative, to find solutions, to navigate challenges, even to always be entertained—which seems to be modus operandi these days. Yes, I hate being bored, but my brain doesn’t. It thrives and expands on boredom.
I think you know exactly what I mean. You have worked on a project for hours, maybe even days and weeks to an end, and suddenly it’s full stop. You seem to not be able to progress with the project any more. Where you almost moments ago where sky high and taken away by the creative flow, suddenly it’s as if the muses have left you behind. Dropped you dead. Certainly, you feel dead.
What happened? Brain is overworked. That’s what happened. It just needs time to recover. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. You still push on, though, try a little more, but nothing happens. You simply cannot move forward with whatever you are working on. In pure despair—and probably a little irritated with yourself—you go out and do the dishes. Slam around with the cutlery, getting all worked up about how unfair everything is, now that you were almost done with the project. And you hate doing dishes, it’s so boring. Dull. Uninspiring. You hate being bored. Out of pure boredom, your mind starts to wander. Then out of nowhere, half an hour later because you have procrastinated doing dishes for all these days you were in flow—not wanting to interrupt the flow—out boredom comes a blink of an idea. Something you haven’t thought about that will move the project ahead.
It’s not rocket science. When actively working on a project, we sometimes need to step back in order to gain perspective. Such as getting bored. Sometimes clarity and renewed energy can only come with distance. Particularly if we have pushed the brain to its limits over a sustained period. Brains are like us, they need to rest, to recover, to reconnect, to deactivate. We need to get bored a little—that’s how our brains can get a bit of rest. Walk around the block, perform some physical tasks, such as filing papers, cleaning the desk, or washing the breakfast dishes. Relaxing the mind—while you bore yourself—will eventually stimulate the flow of insight.
Fact is, boredom is an integral factor in the creative process and one not to be ignored. Our minds are regularly tied up, often on our devices, and as constant stimulations leaves no space for idle thoughts, who knows whether some of our greatest ideas have already been pushed aside while we were gaming or checking social media?
The German word for boredom is “langeweile” meaning “long while”, which seems very appropriate, as boredom is essentially about nothing other than our interaction with time passing. However, boredom provides the exact nothingness in time that allows our minds to wander and invent. Unlike meditation, where you concentrate on keeping your mind focused and away from escape, boredom concentrates on seeking the most creative exit.
Apparently, the scientist Galileo Galilei was bored during a religious service in Pisa. He started to measure the duration of the oscillations of the cathedral’s giant chandelier by counting the beat of his pulse. By letting the mind wander, he had discovered a way to measure time.
Once you acknowledge that boredom can play a meaningful part in your creative journey, the most tedious of jobs—like washing up, cleaning or queuing—will show you that they nurture motivation and some of your best creative sparks. You are still bored, but at least there is a purpose to the boredom.