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Benefits of boredom: why being bored is good for your brain

The best ideas usually come when you’re in the shower. That’s because boredom and idle tasks give your brain space to be creative and problem solve

Boredom is a rare thing in the modern world. We’re overwhelmed with information and choice of entertainment at our fingertips. Where ‘doing nothing’ on the weekend equates to cleaning, life admin or sitting in front of the TV. It’s no surprise that having access to instant-everything has killed our ability to embrace being bored.
Boredom can actually be very useful for your brain—it helps your brain concentrate, come up with new ideas and solve problems more creatively. Who knew?!
 
Key takeouts
  • Boredom prompts bursts of creativity, original thinking and imagination
  • Attention is a finite source, so use it wisely
  • Your brain needs rest, even when you’re awake
 
Focus and attention is finite
Focus and attention is finite

The science behind boredom

Boredom is a natural state that we should embrace, not run from. It’s culturally labelled as a ‘bad thing’. And yes, in most situations calling something boring isn’t great. But according to researchers, letting your brain be bored sometimes can actually be really beneficial.
Removing distraction and stimulation from work or social media gives your brain the time it needs to relax and rest - which turns out to be incredibly effective at increasing creativity and problem solving skills. In one study, giving participants a boring task before asking them to come up with product ideas resulted in more creative solutions than the control group.
 
Boredom can be a catalyst for humour, fun, reflection, creativity and inspiration Sandi Mann, The Science of Boredom
 
Sandi Mann, in her book The Science of Boredom, says boredom can be the “catalyst for creativity” and we should harness it rather than avoid it. By allowing yourself time to mindless wander and meander through simple thoughts, you can spark creative and original thoughts. Every wondered why you always get the best ideas in the shower? Yep, this is why.
Boredom also motivates us to make decisions. Professor Brian Little (University of Cambridge) explains “Boredom provides physiological and psychological motivation to search for new activities or pursue different projects. The evolutionary significance of boredom is that it created the motivation for exploration”
 
Manoush Zomorodi Ted Talk on how boredom can spark creativity and new ideas

Attention takes effort

Attention is a limited resource. Just as an overworked muscle grows weak, overworking your attention can wear it out. We’re constantly giving things our attention, even during down time. Yes, that includes scrolling - watching a TikTok requires attention.
When you’re over-using your brains attention mechanisms, you can suffer “attention fatigue” that effects your mental processing. You can feel tired, irritable and struggle making decisions (similar to that pesky brain fog).
Attention fatigue is caused by over indulging and getting ‘too much’ of stuff. Distractions (like your phone), multitasking, loud noises, bustling urban environments, poor sleep, and many other features of modern life seem to promote attention fatigue.
 

Your brain needs rest, even when you’re awake

Your brain needs rest and down time to work properly, it won't perform well if it's overworked. Think of it like a workout - after a hard session at the gym, you need rest to allow your muscles to rebuild themselves stronger than before. Your brain need rest for the same reasons, even when you’re awake.
Whilst sleep is crucially important in revving up your brain horsepower, doses of boredom is also important for you brain health. It may feel like a waste of time but it plays a big part self-reflection, memory and creativity. This kind of idle thinking is also believed to lead to innovation by allowing new connections between existing ideas or concepts from different fields of knowledge.
 
“Soft fascination” in nature is good for concentration and creativity
“Soft fascination” in nature is good for concentration and creativity

How to embrace being bored

Being bored can be very difficult and irritating. After 5 minutes without your phone can trigger a twitchy knee and hunt for something to do. In one study, subject even resulted in electrocuting themselves for ‘something to do’. But there’s a few ways to embrace boredom.

1. Start practicing soft fascination

“Soft fascination” is when attention is held gently, where thoughts are able to pass through and meander around freely. Different from “hard fascination” which requires more attention, such as watching TV or scrolling.
Being in nature is the perfect spot to practice soft fascination. Take a walk, watch the waves or observe wildlife to give your brain permission to pause. This means no books or podcasts - just listen and watch the outside world. As well as increasing your ability to concentrate, being outdoors has been shown to reduce stress levels, spark creativity and improve sleep.

2. Take a few minutes of distraction free time a day

Take a walk, meditate or just watch the world go by in nature. Doing nothing can be hard, so start small - 5 minutes is enough - and then build up to around 20 minutes a day. We’ve popped 7 tips together on how to digital detox during the everyday.

3. Don’t over-plan your weekends or holidays

The need to pack everything in to your weekend trips a is probably driven by FOMO. You don’t want to miss out on anything. Challenge yourself to leave some time ‘unplanned’ and ‘unplugged’ so you can do whatever you feel like. Better yet, actually plan in trips focused around doing nothing, such as an off-grid cabin.
 
Practice being bored to boost creativity and productivity
Practice being bored to boost creativity and productivity

Being bored isn’t always bad

Whilst being idle can be restorative, we’re not advising to sit and do nothing all day. Just take some time in your every day to let your mind run free. When you’re sat in a waiting room or having your morning coffee, try doing it with no distractions from your phone or the TV. Don’t hate boredom, embrace it.
 

 
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