Why Boredom Is the Superpower of the 21st Century
Our world is a hive that we buzz around, glued to our phones and anxious to fill up the silence. Here’s what's happened since I started taking the opposite approach and flooding my senses with silence:
Every morning, just as the sun is coming up, I sit down at my desk to write. I’m talking deliberate writing that I do with a serious expression on my face. This isn’t a game. I don’t do this out of novelty. I don’t do this for money (most of the time). I don’t even do this for fun.
I do it because I have to. I do it because managers manage, doctors doctor and writers write. I do it because if I don’t write today, I will inevitably find a reason not to write tomorrow. And that’s liable to initiate a chain reaction of “tomorrows.”
Sometimes, the writing process is actually one of the most boring parts of my day. And through this experience I’ve actually come to love the feeling of boredom. I worship it. I pray to the "God of Boredom." Did you get that? I’ll say it again: I love being bored. And I love when people think I’m boring.
This is counterintuitive. This is counter-cultural. Nobody wants boredom. And nobody wants to be called boring. But I do. Most of the things humans have created throughout history have been aimed at alleviating boredom in some way -- yet I run toward it, not away. I’ve even dubbed myself “The Most Boring Man Alive.” So, what does it mean to be bored?
Most people think it means having nothing to do. Or having nothing exciting going on. Most people think it means being understimulated, waiting expectantly for something to change their state of being.
Most people also think that boredom is at odds with creativity. In my estimation, nothing could be further from the truth. When you begin to feel bored, that’s your mind’s way of telling you that it’s running out of entertaining things to think about.
The graphic novel in your head has ended. The music has stopped. Your mental projector has flickered its last scene, and now the crowd in the theater is getting up to leave. But you’re still stuck in the back row.
Being bored is like scrolling to the bottom of the Facebook newsfeed and seeing that there’s no new content to refresh. Well, good riddance, I say.
I’ve never felt this sensation of non-stimulation more acutely than when I lay in a sensory deprivation tank. If you haven’t heard of this experience before, it's very “California.” The tank is a completely soundproof, lightproof box filled with more than a thousand pounds of salt and water heated to the temperature of your body.
When you get in, you’re buoyant without having to swim and the separation of your skin and the water completely dissolves until you literally can’t feel any sensations except your stomach gurgling, your heart beating and your mind thinking. It’s the closest environment to the womb that an adult can experience.
It’s terrifyingly boring! For the first 30 minutes, your mind won’t shut up. Floating in that tank with yourself is like being locked in a cell with a mental patient. The chatter is incessant. But, after some time, a creeping sensation of calm sets in and you realize that no matter what, you have to remain in the tank. Then, the ideas start to pour in. An avalanche of ideas. A non-stop suffocating flow of material comes at you from every direction.
I’ve been trying for quite some time to figure out what exactly it is about being bored that leads to these creative bursts, and it’s been hard to articulate. But I think I’m making headway in understanding it now. Boredom is your brain operating without the luxury of distraction.
Think about it: Most of the things we do are an attempt to remove the burden of boredom from our lives by way of distraction. We scroll mindlessly through socia medial, looking for something to give us a little hit of dopamine. We watch videos to pass the time and pop headphones into our ears to silence the boredom from the inside out.
But what happens when we embrace that boredom? What happens when we sit with all the discomfort inside and just exist without trying to turn up the volume? I think that boredom creates a space inside because the noise outside has finally faded into the background.
That silent gap of “nothing” you feel between your thoughts and the outside world is the first step in setting your brain free to be creative. It’s the only place where your thoughts are truly unedited and unadulterated. Those ideas are truly yours. That space is where you’re raw.
Instead of the anticlimax you’d expect from doing “nothing,” you’ll likely find an endless well of fresh ideas and inspirations that will come to your aid just when you think you’re at the end of your rope. Boredom is just another word for stillness -- and a little stillness is something we can all use more of, don’t you think?
So, don’t be afraid. Embracing boredom is the superpower of the 21st century. If you can harness it, you'll possess a power that most people can no longer access.