My childhood memories are full of all the things I did when I was bored. Boredom, made a fort with my neighborhood besties in a dilapidated tree out in a field at the end of our cul-de-sac. It also led me to look up “ Are Scorpions Poisonous” in the Encyclopedia (Remember those Britannica sets, I’m really dating myself now). That same tree was chock full of them. I worried all night whether or not I just got my best friend killed by my fort idea.
Boredom also built a 10-foot skateboard that was the talk of the neighborhood. Supplies found in a construction site next to our house, and wheels and trucks “stolen” from my brother’s old skateboard…shhh, he still blames my littlest brother for that one. There were lines outside my house for weeks as all the neighborhood kids waited to get their rides. Because we lacked patience we ended up packing on as many kids that would fit. Needless to say, the board lasted a mere week.
At its core, boredom is “a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied,” says Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K. Mann is the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good, and a proponent of embracing the emotion, including the negative connotations.
“If we can’t find it, our mind will create it.”
As demonstrated in the study, boredom can enable creativity and problem-solving by allowing the mind to wander, and “There’s no other way of getting that stimulation, so you have to go into your head,” Mann says. You may be surprised by what you come up with when you do.
The statistics are astounding on the effects of social media due to the constant stimulation of having a phone in our hands during times when we used to be bored. We no longer sit in a check out line, a doctor’s waiting room, go on a road trip, or even go for a walk without a phone in hand.
“We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems”
The research showing the effects of social media on children, teenagers, and adults is astounding. The concerns on our cognitive development and mental health are through the roof and are at the forefront of research by mental health professionals. Depression and suicide rates are at record levels. Depression leading to Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds and is #11 overall
But I’m not even talking about mental health here. What I am trying to bring to light are the benefits of feeling boredom to create change. We as parents are always looking to alleviate our children’s “pain” but this pain is highly crucial for their development.
Our children’s days are so structured and orchestrated we don’t leave room for our kids to develop their own curiosity. As parents, we need to leave room for them to wander, to cruise the neighborhood with their friends and make forts, to be bored and see what they come up with. I remember as a young girl making mud pies and planting watermelon seeds to see if they’d grow.
EMBRACE THE MESS
Neil deGrasse Tyson (author of my son’s favorite book) uses a simple example with his own children to illustrate this point. “Your child reaches up to grab the egg…we don’t say anything. You know what’s going to happen. They’re going to play with the egg and then the egg will break,” he said. But the marvelous thing about such a small act is the valuable lesson it can teach curious children. “Right here is a child performing an experiment but it was 20 cents worth of knowledge gleaned about the natural world.”
And this can be a valuable process as they get older. “This might be a child’s first experience with something that is hard yet fragile. How many hard and fragile things exist in this world? Not many,” he said. “Children are entropy centers. All they ever do is disrupt and dismantle and destroy whatever is in their way. We know this. So the question is, how much will you let them do it? Because everything they touch is a manifestation of curiosity.
My parents would get so frustrated with my brother when he was younger. He would take every bike, skateboard, scooter, and even my roller skates apart. Then he would reverse the process to see if he could put them back together. I’m grateful my parents never squashed this curiosity. His curiosity led him and taught him a valuable skill. My brother loves anything with wheels and now he owns his own company buying used cars and refurbishing them. He LOVES his work! Not a day goes by that he doesn’t find fulfillment, because that curiosity was fed. Children will find what feeds them if we give them the space to do so. If we let them be bored!
INNER STIMULATION VS OUTER STIMULATION
“Allow your mind the freedom to be with itself”.
This fascination we have to over parent, overstimulate, and overactivity (ya, you’re right, I just made that word into a verb) our children, is making them lack the skills to become adults. Children are now growing into unsuccessful teenagers and furthering their growth into unsuccessful adults.
When we overstimulate our minds with constant entertainment we don’t allow ourselves and our children to develop that much-needed muscle. Our mind is a muscle that needs to be exercised like any other muscle. It’s a muscle that NEEDS reps and practice.
An easy way to practice this with our kids is to have times throughout the day where we encourage the thought process.
GO FOR A WALK
Ask your kids to think about all the different trees, birds, people they see. Tell them they can’t talk the whole time they just have to think and when you get home they can tell you what they thought about. Where did their mind wander?
Lay on a blanket and look at the sky, look at the clouds, the birds, the planes flying by. After 15 minutes talk about what you thought about.
FREE YOURSELF OF DISTRACTIONS
Driving in the car is a great time to be alone with your thoughts, to have no music, no electronics, and just start asking your kids questions. See where it leads you. Tell your kids to look outside the window and see the people. Where do you think they are going? What do you think they do for a job?
As a parent, I don’t even get to be alone in the bathroom so the few times I’m alone in the car, or on a run, are the holy grail of “alone time”. I don’t even listen to podcasts or music, I just let my mind run free. I take advantage of these rare occasions to be alone in my own head without distractions or questions. Give it a try?!
ASK QUESTIONS THAT PROVOKE THOUGHT
One of my favorites is to ask your kids how would they make something better? You’re frustrated that the lawnmower is hard to turn when you cut the lawn. How could you make it easier to turn and cut the grass better in the corners? See where this leads them. Does it get them thinking about how they can improve on a product?
“Necessity is the mother of invention.”Plato
In 1899 the paperclip was invented. Before this for six centuries paper was connected by threading ribbon through two incisions in the upper left corner and tediously sewn together. All inventions are just someone finally saying, “nope,” let’s find a better way. So, why can’t this be you or your child?
Start thinking like an inventor.
When you are met with daily annoyances, teach your kids not to just see problems but to also look for solutions. With our kids, we simply say, ” Ya, you’re right! That is annoying. How can we find a solution?” We call them BIG BRAIN MOVES. I don’t want to hear about your problem until you’ve tried at least two different ways to solve it first.
“Boredom is nearly always essential to creativity. It isn’t true that creativity is mostly sparked by having a specific problem to be solved. It’s far more likely to arise because the person is bored with the way something has been done a thousand times before and wants to try something new. Boredom stimulates the search for better ways to things like nothing else does.”Adrian Savage
READ AND RESEARCH
When kids ask about space or the human body, take out one of the books on your shelves, go to the library, or go to the computer and research some information. Print it out and read about it. Follow trains of thought and questions. You finally got your kids thinking and asking big questions. Teach them how to find the answers. Teach them how we learn awesome new information.
TAKE THINGS APART
If you’re doing a project around the house involve your kids, have them measure for the wood needed, and have them write down the measurements, take them to the hardware store to help pick out the tools and parts needed. Ask them questions. I am not handy, so here’s a good way to say, “what do you think we should do here? How would you go about fixing this or making this problem better?”
My oldest daughter loves to make her own clothes, she doesn’t know how to use the sewing machine very well but she’s finding creative fixes to accomplish the look she’s going for. I often give her my old t-shirts and she experiments with them, dying the clothes, gluing, sewing, adding buttons etc.
After detailed pictures of Albert Einstein’s brain surfaced in 2013 (to the delight of neuroscientists), a couple of unique features dropped jaws. One was the great physicist’s incredibly well-connected, thick, and brawny corpus callosum, ground zero for his “out-of-this-world” creative genius.
A highly connected brain is a highly creative brain. While Dr. Roger Sperry’s “split-brain” studies won him a Nobel Prize in 1981, much of the latest research suggests that, rather than simply being a “right-brain” function, creativity is actually a “whole brain” function, requiring a scale of neuro-networks to fire together.
As the bundle of 200 million nerve fibers connecting the left and right brain hemispheres, upgrading our corpus callosum cranks up “whole-brain communication,” and according to the work of a world-renowned Caltech neurosurgeon, Dr. Joseph E. Bogen, really gets the creative juices flowing.
A 2012 UCLA School of Medicine study found that the corpus callosum, the grand central station-like cable of nerves cross-linking the brain hemispheres, was remarkably stronger, thicker, and more well connected in meditation practitioners.
By constructing a hyper-connected, ultra-efficient bridge between our brain halves, the practice of meditation connects the two spheres after a lifetime of separation.
Harmonizing both brain hemispheres opens the door to a smorgasbord of benefits, with better focus, deeper thought, super creativity, excellent mental health, enhanced memory, and clearer thinking.
“A new study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience shows that regular exercisers do better on tests of creativity than their more sedentary peers.
Specifically, researchers noted that regular exercise seems to be associated with improved divergent and convergent thinking, which are considered the two components of creative thinking; the former involves thinking of multiple solutions for one problem, while the latter involves thinking of one solution for a problem.
In addition to creativity, exercise promotes proper brain function by preparing and encouraging nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for learning new information. For kids with neurobehavioral disorders like ADHD and Asperger Syndrome, exercise becomes an essential building block for supporting appropriate development.
If you watched the series Bill’s Brain on NetFlix you too learned how Bill Gates does most of these. He takes a lot of calls and meeting on a walk outside, the effects of movement, exercise, nature, being free of distraction all contribute to his creative genius. He also is dedicated to the practice of meditation.
The world needs us to be creative. Books don’t author themselves. Inventions don’t invent themselves. Music doesn’t write itself. The by-product of boredom is every great achievement the world has ever seen.
“If you want to cure boredom, be curious. If you’re curious, nothing is a chore; it’s automatic – you want to study. Cultivate curiosity, and life becomes an unending study of joy.”Anthony Robbins
Whether it’s Michelangelo’s David, Bell’s telephone, Beethoven’s 5th symphony, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Gutenberg’s printing press, Thomas Edison’s electricity, the Wright Brothers airplane, Alexander Fleming’s penicillin, or Al Gore’s internet (kidding on that one, couldn’t resist!), we need “out of the box” thinking to invent useful things, create timeless works of art, solve problems from new angles, and cure diseases.
Is there any surprise that, according to a recent Gallup poll, about 70% of us are miserable with our jobs? While 84% of those in creative fields view themselves as happy and fulfilled? We need to allow for more time to be bored and have that lead us to think and ponder and wonder-to be creative. We don’t need people that are robots. Robots do what they’re told. Robots don’t invent things, they don’t create change and live fulfilling lives.
I CHALLENGE YOU
See what happens when you say no to electronic devices, it’s amazing how the house comes alive. The kids get off the couch and start making up games, they make forts, they have drawing competitions, they bake together, they give each other facials, they have competitions that they totally make up themselves, they do funny pranks and experiments, and race each other on their skateboards. When they’re tired they actually grab a book and start reading. I often catch my littlest daughter laying outside in the sun with her dog on the balcony. She could lay there for an hour just scratching his belly.
BOREDOM & MENTAL HEALTH
By allowing kids to be bored and providing regular opportunities for downtime, they have to come up with creative ways to occupy themselves. Their imaginations begin to flourish and they develop a rich internal life that serves later as an anchor when faced with stressful situations. They tap into their creativity to help solve real-life problems. They have the experience of feeling content and happy in their own company. This is extremely important in adulthood as there are many times when people are alone.
“Knowing how to feel content and happy in your own company is a skill every person needs to be a healthy human.”
Studies have shown that overstimulation can cause children to become “junkies” that’s right, they get addicted to it. Their natural homeostasis level is always on a “high” because they are continually entertained. This is why kids tend to get moody and irritable.
Being bored is so odd and uncomfortable. We need to know how to feel that emotion, how to let it motivate us and direct us to a healthier alternative. DO NOT FIX this for your children! Going through the pains of withdrawal will result in self-regulation. This can promote self-contentment with the inner stimulation of their mind.
“Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life, which makes them constantly search for distractions and short-circuits the learning process. The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents—will you learn how to focus and move past the boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?”Robert Greene, MASTERY
I love the article below from the Pierce County Tribune in 1959. The message really hits home today.
LET BOREDOM BE A GUIDE
This website is a product of boredom…
For years I felt, to be honest, bored. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything important for my individual needs, my talents, and my own goals. That boredom inspired me to really dig deep and “find” a way to express my individual creativity.
I’m not curing cancer or changing the world but my boredom with not having a way to contribute…lit a fire under me! Boredom made this website – this post! Maybe you’re bored to death reading it, who knows?! But by letting boredom be my guide, by exploring it, I haven’t had a day of boredom in almost a year because I have found what feeds my restlessness of not feeling like I was adding any value to the world.
If anything I hope this post makes you think differently. I hope it inspires you to wonder- to be bored so you too can find what makes you feel whole and productive. Because when you can spend your days doing what feeds your soul and living out your full potential you will feel complete contentment with a life well-lived.
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