Boredom Is Part of the Creative Process, Stop Avoiding It

I’ve seen countless content creators raise the same issue: “I’m struggling to come up with ideas.” And in turn, I’ve read many responses attempting to save the day with solutions along the lines of “read this,” “watch this,” “listen to this,” “sign up to an event,” and if all else fails, click on the link below to receive 10% off of my creativity potion.

Now, I recognize why this content exists. Content only really becomes popular if it’s helpful, actionable, and at the very least, entertaining. So, any attempt to weave in “13 takeaways” is understandable, albeit, not necessarily helpful.

I’ve written several pieces in which my overarching message is an important point, but the actual detail behind the “how to…” is merely suggestive. For example, a piece I wrote about the importance of sleep is mainly to raise awareness about the alarming health implications behind sleep deprivation. The “tips” I included are just ideas; the reader can choose to take them or leave them.

Yet, as a content creator, you have to remember you’re also a content consumer. When you’re wearing your ‘creator’s hat’ you’re probably thinking, “how can I make this actionable?” Yet when you’re wearing your ‘consumer’s hat’, you probably fail to see the overarching message and dwell on the “how do I implement these healthy habits into my daily schedule?”

The answer is: you don’t have to. Consuming more content about “how to generate more ideas” or “how to boost your creativity” is more often than not counter-productive. You can’t wear both hats at once. Of course, consuming information can help trigger ideas. But to truly come up with your own, original ideas, the single most important thing you can do is, the one you’re probably avoiding.

You’ve probably heard Richard Bach’s famous quote:

If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” — Richard Bach.

Well, I’m hoping this is true. Because I’m essentially about to explain why you should stop consuming content, including articles like the very one I’m writing. I don’t mean forever, but I do mean ruthlessly and regularly.

This topic came up in conversation during an episode recording with Katie Briefel for my podcast. Katie has worked at one of the world’s leading advertising agencies in both London and New York, and she recently decided to go freelance and create content online. So, we could both relate to the struggle of having to come up with creative ideas in a limited time.

And we both came to the same conclusion. We struggle to come up with ideas because we never let ourselves be bored anymore.

As we shared our journeys, we began to draw a lot of obvious parallels. We had both been very creative as kids; I used to write my own short stories, and force my army of cousins to rehearse my plays (yes, Jo March was my i.d.o.l), and Katie described how she hoped it would rain during break-times so she could stay indoors and go nuts at the arts and crafts station.

Then, as we began to “grow up” we were told to focus on our studies and cram our schedules with extra-curriculars to improve our chances of getting into a good university. We both went to the same university actually, during which time, it’s safe to say there wasn’t much room for creativity. Between studying, partying, and general life-admin like eating and exercising, our days were full.

From then, we both went into corporate jobs, and here we are. Wondering why we struggle to come up with ideas.

The reason why we could easily come up with countless ideas as kids is because we were often very bored. We didn’t have iPads, we didn’t have phones, and TV time was limited. We had to create our own entertainment. Look around, use the resources we had, and create our own fun.

I still sometimes feel guilty when I choose to just do nothing. It carries a stigma. We think ‘being bored’ probably means we’re being lazy. We’ve essentially been trained to “execute,” whether at school or at work. And when we can’t, we attempt to by consuming more content, so we can categorize it as ‘research’ and add it to the ‘execution pile’. Heavens forbid we just sit there and do nothing.

But in fact, yes. That’s exactly what you should do. Let yourself get bored.

Best-selling fiction writer of all time, Agatha Christie, known for her 66 detective murder-mystery novels told the BBC:

“There’s nothing like boredom to make you write.”

Giving our minds the space to daydream has been shown to increase creativity and idea generation. And psychological studies have shown that people who experienced boredom outperformed those who didn’t when asked to complete a creative task. The reasoning is that boredom gives our brain the push it needs to explore creative outlets to fill the ‘gap’ it is noticing.

Sometimes we look for a quick fix to fill this gap. We switch on Netflix, scroll through Instagram, or start scouring Medium for idea inspiration. But it’s important to resist this quick fix and ride out the boredom.

Boredom isn’t creative in itself, but it is part of the creative process; it’s the start. When you’re bored, you’re uncomfortable. And in this discomfort, there’s a chance to discover something new. JK Rowling came up with Harry Potter on a train to Manchester, when she didn’t even have a pen and paper on which to note her ideas. Imagine what would have happened if she had had an iPad with every Grey’s Anatomy episode at the ready.

As much as it delights me to know people read my articles and listen to my podcast, if I could only give readers one takeaway; a truly helpful piece of advice, would be to disconnect and allow yourself some time to space out every once in a while.

If you really want to come up with original content and work your creativity, let yourself sit in your own company, listening, watching, reading nothing, and stop reminding yourself of your to-do list.

Do this a few times a week and see what you can come up with.

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