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Get Bored & Unfocused To Spark Creativity

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

My title sounds rather counter-intuitive, doesn't it? I encourage you to get bored to be creative. But bare with me, there is a certain logic to my madness.
a dog looking bored

We are used to treating boredom as something evil. Remember, as a child whining at mom: 'I am bored!' Which in child's language meant - tell me what to do next or play with me.

But boredom has its place as it helps to access certain areas of our brain that we cannot reach on a regular basis.

Why can we not access those areas?

Because we are constantly stimulated and bombarded by information, thoughts, ideas. And as a result, we tend to live our lives in a reactive rather than active state.

What it means is that after a while our brain becomes so lazy that it does not want to think anymore. It wants quick and instant rewards. You can imagine what inability to think could lead to. Not much.

So many things distract us from boredom. Tut-tut. We can rely on smart phones, TV sets, computer games and other devices that any time boredom shows itself - we eradicate it by reaching for something electronic.

How helpful really are our smart phones and other gadgets?

Linda A. Henkel conducted an experiment where she sent university students to a museum. She's asked them to take pictures of the art. A simple idea, isn't it? Some might think: well, now that those students take pictures of some art they will be able to remember that day they went to the museum.

But the finding was fascinatingly contrary: it showed that if students snapped some art because they were told to, they would instantly forget it. That means the day at the museum would not even register as a memory.

But this research also showed that if students showed genuine interest in an art - they would retain a very good memory of a piece of art and, obviously, the day itself. So if you think your smart phones and other gadgets are helping you in any way - think again, quite often they hinder your experience.

Boredom and unfocused attention to the rescue!

Tips that might help to be more creative and use boredom and unfocused attention to your benefits:

Monotonous work before creative work

Next time you need to come up with something inventive or creative, force yourself to do something monotonous and boring first and see what happens.

Sample boring exercises might include washing dishes, walking, reading serious academic books, knitting, not doing anything at all.

More about the benefits of boredom in Manoush Zomorodi book Bored and Brilliant.

Positive constructive daydreaming

Michael J. Kane and his colleagues at the Attention and Memory Laboratory at University of North Carolina at Greensboro recommend engaging in positive constructive daydreaming where we gently lead ourselves down the path of thinking about wishful things.

  • How long: 10 - 15 minutes

  • How/where: knitting, walking, etc.

  • The process: When you are out on a walk, start thinking about something genuinely enjoyable. For example, you have a dream of going on a sea cruise. Imagine yourself on that ship surrounded by your loved ones or friends. Or you dream of buying a super luxury car - imagine yourself steering the wheel of that car. After 10 minutes of daydreaming about things that you like or enjoy, you should be able to come up with new and inventive solutions to some problems that's been bothering you.

Read more about other ways you can use daydreaming in my article 5 Uexpected Ways You Could Benefit From Daydreaming.

Attention training exercise

Another way to improve your creativity or increase academic or work performance has been recommended by Dr Carmel Mevorach who studied attention training activities for children with autistic spectrum disorders.

He suggests for trying to find something, like an object on a puzzle, in a short period of time. The achievement of such a simple task triggers reward systems in our brain, which makes us feel good. But it also trains our attention. So instead of doing something idle like watching TV or potentially damaging, like social media scrolling, why not try playing attention game with yourself.

How long: 5 - 10 minutes

How/where: inside or outside, using board games, puzzles or photos.

The process: Give yourself a limited time to find something. For instance, if you are on a walk, race yourself to find 10 maple trees or 10 yellowish leaves.

If you are playing with another person, ask them to choose an item for you to find.

And there you have it. Use boredom and unfocused attention to cultivate creativity and new ideas.

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