Why You Need to Be Bored (And How to Get There)

That space between active thoughts is where we get our best ideas.

When was the last time you were bored? I’m willing to bet that you can’t remember. If I’m right, it’s because, in 2017, no one ever has to be bored. That smartphone supercomputer you carry around in your pocket guarantees it.

Don’t know what to do next? There’s always an Instagram feed to look at, a text to answer, an email to delete, a podcast to listen to, a cat video to watch, a news headline to click on or a Minecraft challenge to beat. Thanks to the technology, none of us ever have to be bored.

How great is that, right? Actually, it’s not so great. We – you, me, all of us – need to be bored once in awhile. That space between active thoughts is where we get our best ideas. Want to prove that to yourself? Answer this question. Where or when do you get you best ideas? (I’ll wait for you to consider your answer).

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve asked that question of thousands of leaders over the past several years. The number one answer is, “In the shower,” followed by “When I’m working out,” and “Commuting.” No one has ever answered, “At my desk in front of my computer,” or “Thumbing through my smartphone looking at Twitter.” You get your best ideas when you’re not actively engaging your brain with something else to pay attention to or think about.

This topic is on my mind because of a video conference I had last week with a group of executives who were finishing one of our multi-month leadership development programs. One of the women in the group mentioned that on the previous Saturday she noticed that she was actually bored. It was the rare day when she didn’t have a ton of family commitments to attend to or a presentation or some other project that she had to fine tune for Monday morning back at the office. She told us, “I actually didn’t know how to handle it when I had nothing to do.”

That’s because she’s been so used to having her foot on the gas that she’s become physiologically attuned to the feeling of always being busy or mentally occupied. That’s great for dealing with all of the stuff on your daily dance floor. It’s not so great when you need to get up on the balcony to process the patterns or look around the corner to consider what’s next. When you don’t leave any space or opportunity to be bored, you’re a lot less likely to make visits to the balcony where you can see the bigger picture or possibly come up with the next game changing idea.

So, how do you create the space to be bored? It’s simple really. Quit filling up your interstitial (look it up if you like) moments with more input. Going for a run or washing the dishes? Take out the ear buds. Standing in line at Starbucks or the cafeteria at work? Leave your phone in your pocket. Driving home from work? Turn off the radio.

Give your brain a break and allow yourself to be bored. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you come up with.

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