Creativity: Why Boredom is a Good Thing

I’ve been mostly couch-bound for the past four days with allergies or a cold or maybe a sinus infection (time will tell), and I’ve been bored. I’ve been frustrated. I had plans to organize my office and clean my house and work on my novel this past weekend and instead I was on the couch going through boxes of Kleenex and various medications that may or may not improve my condition.

But while I was stuck in my favorite spot in my living room, I had an idea for a new writing project. I didn’t have a ton of energy to act on it—I was too miserable to open a new document and begin writing. But I did have enough energy to let the idea roll around in my mind. I had enough energy to take a few notes in my journal. I had enough energy to email someone I trust to see if he has any book or article recommendations on the topic.

Would I have thought of this idea if I wasn’t sick and bored? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here are three ways boredom is good for creativity:

  1. Some studies suggest “boredom boosts creativity because of how people prefer to alleviate it. Boredom, they suggest, motivates people to approach new and rewarding activities. In other words, an idle mind will seek a toy.” I’m pretty sure this is what happened to me on my living room couch.

  2. Various researches say boredom lets you know when something’s amiss. Boredom can be a signal that we aren’t doing what we want to be doing, and that can inspire us to switch gears. So if you hate your job or feel like changing one more diaper might do you in, give some thought to how you might be able to do something you really want to be doing for a portion of each day or week. (Jobs and diapers are good things. Being miserable all of the time isn’t.)

  3. A British study showed it is beneficial to do a boring task before a creative task. “One group of subjects did a boring activity first, while the others went straight to the creative task. Those whose boredom pumps had been primed were more prolific.” So maybe that tedious job or all of those diaper changes have a positive impact on our creativity after all.