Bring Back Boredom

Our brains think. It’s their natural function. Left alone in an empty room, we will quickly become aware of our own thoughts.

Sometimes we need a break from all that thinking. We need to quiet down, let our thoughts drift by, without notice, like clouds passing overhead. Millions of people are learning how to do that through meditation classes, books, and apps.

Those meditative breaks, where we tune out our thoughts, are great for resting our brains and reducing stress. But we also need time to tune in—and turn up—our thoughts.

Mug by Barbarah Robertson Pottery

We need time to wonder about the world around us. Time to be curious. Time to imagine how things work, why things work, and how they might work differently.

We need time to put down our phones, turn off our TVs, close our books, and be alone. With nothing else to do.

We need time to be bored.

Boredom leads us to the space where creativity lives. Boredom leads us to those aha! sparks of inspiration. To the epiphanies and eurekas.

Yet we often avoid being bored. We preoccupy our brains incessantly. As a defense mechanism. We keep our brains busy with other things because we can’t stand to be alone with our own thoughts.

Because our thoughts hurt.

We dwell on regrets from the past. We worry over fears for the future. We judge, and compare, and criticize ourselves. So, we try to stop thinking. We try to keep our brains distracted.

But when we preoccupy our brains to avoid the thoughts that cause anxiety, we cut off our other thoughts as well. We don’t give our brains space to process our experiences or to be creative.

What if we weren’t so afraid of our own thoughts?

Before we let our minds wander, we need to feel safe. We need to stop beating ourselves up for things that happened in the past. We need to stop beating ourselves up for the things we think we might do wrong in the future.

We need to stop judging ourselves every waking moment.

That’s easier said than done. But what if we can practice positive, healthy boredom, the same way we practice quiet, mindful meditation?

If we can’t stop the anxious thoughts all of the time, we can still set boundaries on our thoughts during planned periods of boredom.

We can give ourselves permission to spend a set amount of time just letting our thoughts flow, without judgment. During that time, we can idly think about something—anything—besides ourselves.

Wonder about the stars in the sky, the dust bunnies under the bed, the sounds of the traffic passing by. Make up silly stories in your head. Picture an imaginary animal. Maybe you’ll capture those creations on paper later, maybe you won’t. For a time, just let them take shape in your head.

Observe the ideas that come up, without judgment. Give yourself space to see where your thoughts go when you give your brain time to be bored.

But, more than anything, just appreciate that boredom isn’t a bad thing. Boredom is the break your brain deserves.

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