The Upside of Boredom

“I’m bored.” 

Paul, age 8, says this roughly every 30 seconds. It’s not that he’s spoiled or overly entertained or more addicted to the internet than his parents. It’s that he’s 8 and 8 year olds bug their parents by saying they are bored even when they aren’t. (Paul said he was bored during the previews for The Avengers. I thought about the $40 I just spent to take him and rolled my eyes.)

I’ve turned the I’m bored syndrome into a bit of a game between us. When Paul says, “I’m bored” I look at him and say “Good. And do you know why it’s good?

Here’s what I’m teaching Paul. It’s the upside of boredom. 

Boredom leads you to creativity. And creativity leads to figuring out things that no one else can figure out. And when you figure out stuff that no one else can figure out that will lead you to world domination. Therefore your boredom will lead you to the world domination you desire. Therefore boredom is a very good thing, right?

It’s a not-so-subtle thing I’m trying to plant in my son’s head. I’m combatting my nature to roll my eyes or scold him by teaching values:

  • Creativity happens when we create space for it.
  • There’s a difference between staying occupied and doing something amazing.
  • I actually think he can create something which might dominate the world.

What are other upsides to boredom?

Photo credit: I Can Has
hmm... thoughts

How to Stop Being Boring

Photo by Ryan Heaney via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Most people are boring.

Thirteen years ago, in our first apartment, Kristen and I lived on the 15th floor of a high rise apartment building. If you looked at just the right spot you could see Lake Michigan. And if you hung your head out the window you could look south down LaSalle Boulevard towards the loop or north towards Lincoln Park.

You could also see directly across the street into your neighbors apartment. (And I’m sure they could see directly into our apartment, too.) It’s hard to describe how fascinating it was to know that 50 feet away were people living life– just like you. All you had to do was look outside and you could see into the apartment windows of hundreds of neighbors.

It was like a human safari right outside your window.

Let me say this. We weren’t perverts who spent all night staring out the window. But it was just one of those things, you’d get up to go to the kitchen, walk by the window, and something would catch your eye…. so you’d stop and stare for a minute without even thinking about it. A light would turn on or something would move just enough to catch your attention. So you stopped and looked until you realized how creepy you must look to other people looking out their window at you.

At first we were curious that we’d see ultra-interesting things. Like crazy parties or people having sex on balconies. All our lives we’d been told that people were freaky in their private lives and here were hundreds of people’s private residences completely open for us to look at if we wanted to.

A couple weeks of living there we both came to the same conclusion: People are pretty boring.

There were times each week where something would capture your attention. But pretty quickly you’d realize that it was just a light turning on or something like that and your curiosity would lessen.

In the year that we lived there were only 3 things that were worth looking out the window for:

  1. To show visitors the view. We’d point and say, “Yup, there’s Lake Michigan. Cool, huh?”
  2. Car accidents. I vividly remember the sound of crunching vehicles in the middle of the night.
  3. The Chicago Marathon. It was really cool to look out our window and see people filling the street all the way down LaSalle Blvd.

Other than that– it was people watching television.

On any given night you could look out the window and see the same thing. Half the windows were dark. (Meaning people weren’t home or were sleeping.) 25% of the windows were mostly dark with the flickering glow of a television. 25% of the windows had lights on, but with people watching television on the couch.

Kristen and I concluded– most people’s lives are as boring as our own.

One of my favorite bloggers, Mark Cuban, wrote about this the other day.

TV is the best cure for boredom.  That is what makes TV so popular.

TV is the path of least resistance alternative to doing nothing. When you do nothing. Time passes too slowly. When you are doing something, even something that barely requires consciousness, like watching TV, there is the chance that time will go by more quickly. We look for the path of least resistance to passing time whenever we are bored. All it takes is a click of the tv remote. The boredom ends and there is even the chance that we will be entertained and really like what we are watching. So there is also significant upside to watching TV. So we watch a *&$#load of TV .

I bump into this phenomenon in a few different ways related to my blog. I love meeting blog readers… especially when someone tells me for the first time that they follow. Typically, people want to know when I have the time to write so much. (I don’t watch much TV.) People tell me that I do really interesting things. (Maybe, but maybe I just write about things that are interesting and 90% of my life is pretty boring?) People ask me where I get all of my ideas. (I’ve written about that before. It’s not that I have more ideas than anyone else. It’s that I’m disciplined to write them down for later.)

I don’t think its that my life is especially interesting. But I’ve come to my own simple conclusion: My life is boring by default.

So I make a conscious choice to not be boring.

How to Stop Being Boring

  1. Put down the remote.
  2. Do something. Anything.
  3. Put aside any excuse you can think of. (“But I don’t have money to do something interesting!”)
  4. Understand this axiom: There is nothing more fascinating than doing something interesting with nothing. Isn’t that what reality TV is? Think about the things you find interesting enough to watch on television and at their core they are typically things you could do for free.
  5. BONUS: You can stop being boring by doing nearly anything. But it’d be awesome if you fought boredom by doing good.