In today’s hustle-and-bustle world it doesn’t often occur to be idle. Sure there are the movies, TV series, books, commercials, and mindless scrolling through your Facebook feed while you’re commuting to school or work, but that’s not being truly idle.
Common definitions of “being idle” range from “avoiding work” to “being lazy” to “something that is not active”. I disagree with the latter inasmuch as one thing does become particularly active even though you might not be aware of it: creativity.
I realised this during my 12-month trip through North and South America during which, more often than I liked, I was condemned to either sleeping or staring out of the window for endless hours during bus rides (between 10-20 hours) due to an acute form of motion sickness. After what felt like the umpteenth bus ride, I actually cried because I couldn’t anymore stand the idea of being bored for so many consecutive hours.
But, in hindsight, I have these very boring moments to thank for a splurge in creative projects that I have been working on since I’ve returned from that trip. I, who have never been even close to being creative or inventive, have since started several projects, amongst which: writing a book, doing a photography project, and starting a company! I even sometimes find myself developing ideas in my dreams, like designing clothes or home improvement products. Me, of all people!?
Thanks to doing nothing for a couple of hours every now and then, I have unleashed creativity in myself that I didn’t know even existed.
Tonight I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Manoush Zomorodi (*1), creator of the “Bored and Brilliant” project (*2), which consists in a week full of challenges to help you disconnect from your phone (aka your principal source of distraction), and thereby unlock not only productivity but also creativity.
It all started with the questions: “What actually happens to us when we get bored? Or, more importantly: What happens to us if we never get bored?”
Through the studies Zomorodi conducted, she realised that our hyper connectivity and digital addiction (whether conscious or not) never left room for boredom. What with Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Netflix constantly competing for our attention and the average person checking or “touching” (i.e. tapping, typing, swiping, clicking) their phone up to 2,617 times a day (*3), we never really are BORED.
We don’t give our mind the chance to wander towards existing problems we’d like to find a creative solution for, or towards the exploration of ideas you’ve always had, somewhere in the back of your mind, but never given the time or attention to fully develop because of constant distractions: an incoming Facebook message, a tweet, an exciting Instagram post…
… which is somehow sad, considering that all you really need to make room for creativity is to go for a long walk or sit on a bus with no particular destination in mind, to take in the elements surrounding you.
My time in boredom has taught me how to appreciate the tiniest of details in everyday life, be it food, flowers, a kind smile from a stranger or the clouds. And surprisingly, even for the non-dreamy type such as myself, an action as simple as staring at landscapes during endless bus trips, was often the trigger for ideas that I have chosen to work on more thoroughly since. I couldn’t really explain how creativity happens. It just does, if you let it. And more often than not, you’ll be surprised by the outcome.