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Bored and Brilliant

How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self

By Manoush Zomorodi
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Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi
Synopsis

Bored and Brilliant (2017) posits that the constant distractions of modern life – from smartphones to advertisements to email – are depriving us of a crucial resource: boredom. When we’re constantly busy or being entertained, we have no time to process information or let our minds wander. This not only makes life more stressful; it harms our creativity, making it harder for us to come up with brilliant ideas.

Key idea 1 of 9

Our avoidance of boredom might be hurting our creativity.

It’s Sunday afternoon and you’ve got nothing to do. Truly nothing – the internet is down, you’re all alone, your phone is dead and there aren’t any books. You get the picture.

Does this sound like the most mind-numbingly boring and awful thing ever?

To give you a sense of the level of dislike we have of boredom, consider a study conducted at the University of Virginia. In the experiment, participants were exposed to three types of stimuli: music, images and mild electric shocks. After some time, the participants were asked whether they’d be willing to pay to stop the shocks, and 75 percent of them said they would.

The participants were then given 15 minutes to think things over. They were left alone and given a button that, if pressed, would shock them. Here’s the weird part: one-third of the participants who’d said they’d pay a fee to make the shocks stop decided to press the button in an attempt to keep the boredom at bay.

So we prefer the pain of minor electrocution to the agony of boredom. This is a shame, because boredom is a boon.

For starters, it can boost creativity.

Think back to the last argument you had. Did you manage to deliver quip after biting quip, utterly vanquishing your opponent? Or was it later, when you were alone, that you came up with those perfect comebacks?

When we’re engaged in the moment, our executive attention network kicks into action. Although this makes us more ready and alert, it inhibits and controls our attention, making it harder to cook up great ideas. It’s only in moments of boredom that this network switches off, and our brains shift toward creative thinking.

You see, our brains don’t just shut off when we’re bored. They’re still very active, using about 95 percent of the energy that an engaged brain requires. The difference is this: when bored, we become less focused and our mind starts drifting, shuffling through old memories and reflecting on the present and the future. We create unexpected connections, which lend themselves to creativity.

So boredom isn’t all bad – but it sure is rare these days.

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