The Beauty of Boredom: Finding Creative Inspiration in the Bathtub

About this point in the summer, I start hearing echoes of that dreaded “b” word. “Mom, I’m bored.” I used to cringe at the thought of it, but now, I nearly get excited. You’re bored? Great! Go with that. What can you do to explore the world around you?

Seeing boredom as a unpleasant place to avoid, we’ve overstimulated our kids with every option: Kindles, computers, IPads, digital games, and the Internet. Bored? Never again. Let technology wipe it all away. But, if we’re quick to offer a “solution” to our child’s boredom, we skip out on something vital for their development: creativity, inventiveness, and initiative. The spunk and steam kids find when they have “nothing to do” sparks inspiration to make something amazing happen.

Thoreau explored his nature, Einstein developed ideas while working at a Swiss patent office, and even Steve on Blue’s Clues has a thinking chair to brainstorm possibilities. Whether poet or mathematician, detective or inventor, we all need quiet places where the creative synapses can fire freely. Not just children, but adults need this time as well.

“Boredom might spark creativity because a restless mind hungers for stimulation.” Clive Thompson

As most writers will tell you, one can’t wait for inspiration: writing requires discipline and consistency. We don’t lean against a cushion and delay work, anticipating the muse to sprinkle visionary dust over our ideas.  Sometimes we feel the influence of some outer insight, but most of the time, we push through doubts and dryness, hoping our efforts will get us to the other side.

Even though we can’t just drop the diligence, we must recognize the vital importance of distancing ourselves from a problem. The phrase, “just sleep on it,” does carry merit. At times, we need to step away from a work, a problem, a situation, so that our brains can come at the solution from the back door.  Distance, without distraction, is key. If we escape the boredom by numbing out on Netflix or scrolling through Facebook, we’ve missed the point.

In his article, How Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative, Clive Thompson shares the following:

“Unless it turns out ennui is good for us. What if boredom is a meaningful experience—one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?

That’s the conclusion of two fascinating recent studies. In one, researchers asked a group of subjects to do something boring, like copying out numbers from a phone book, and then take tests of creative thinking, such as devising uses for a pair of cups. The result? Bored subjects came up with more ideas than a nonbored control group, and their ideas were often more creative. In a second study, subjects who took an “associative thought” word test came up with more answers when they’d been forced to watch a dull screensaver.”

 

If you find yourself frustrated and burned-out, try letting the problem simmer for a few days. Instead of forcing yourself to crank out more mediocre work, research further solutions, or scream over a computer, try taking a bath. Yes, you heard correctly. [Incidentally, it’s my husband’s solution for whatever ails you: stomach ache, fatigue, stress, headache, etc.]. I’ve snagged upon some of my best ideas either in a tub or on a trail. If the bath mode isn’t your style, try taking a walk. Don’t spend the whole time ruminating; just walk and notice what’s around you. Because many of our mental efforts leave our brains overwrought, try doing something with your hands. For men, this might involve tinkering with a vehicle or piece of machinery. It might involve gardening, baking, or even cleaning. Whatever you decide on, try to make it as mentally effortless as possible, giving your brain time to reflect and rest.

Now, inevitably what often happens when we allow our brains to release a problem is we find the solution presents itself more readily–like finally thinking of an old friend’s name after we quit trying to recall it. But, don’t follow Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment and leap from the bath house enthusiastic and naked. Better yet, keep a notebook close to you. Many artists keep a little spiral notebook with them at all times. Or if you are less traditional, use your phone or laptop to save ideas.  And don’t be afraid of a little daydreaming. You never know what might spark when you are floating in the water.

 

Kristin L. Hanley, author of Navigating a Sea of Emotions

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