Friday, April 05, 2013

Boredom Leads to Creativity

In a previous entry on boredom we discussed the idea that down time and quiet are essential parts of childhood. The story of Caine's arcade warmed many of our hearts and showed us the creative potential every child has. Today's non-stop lifestyle often fails to allow children (and adults) the space to just be. Now a researcher from the UK confirms that boredom is an essential part of the creative process. 

Dr. Teresa Belton interviewed creative people such as authors, scientists, and artists and questioned them about their experiences growing up. What she found is not entirely surprising, but it should encourage us to relax when our children complain that they are bored! She discovered that boredom played a foundational role in encouraging the creative processes that led these people to their creative vocations. Dr. Belton stated the following about one of the study's subjects: "Lack of things to do spurred her to talk to people she would not otherwise have engaged with and to try activities she would not, under other circumstances, have experienced, such as talking to elderly neighbours and learning to bake cakes."

She also made the observation that "boredom is often associated with solitude," which one writer saw as a positive, "Enforced solitude alone with a blank page is a wonderful spur." Even the passive act of staring out a window for hours was later seen as being key to developing habits of observation. 

Dr. Belton's research in brain development has caused her to see boredom as an essential aspect of life, and one that is good for the brain. Filling every moment of a child's day with some sort of stimulation, especially screen time, "tends to short circuit [the creative process] and the development of creative capacity".

I strongly agree with her observation that boredom is often viewed as "uncomfortable", something society resists. Today we can rely heavily on external stimulus to ensure that we (and our children) are constantly entertained but according to Dr. Belton, creativity "involves being able to develop internal stimulus." She goes on to state "Nature abhors a vacuum and we try to fill it." 

Interestingly, children who learned to be creative during their youth continue to cherish those rare moments of quiet in adulthood. Baroness Susan Greenfield, neuroscientist and expert on brain degeneration, says that even now she does not experience boredom. She looks forward to periods of "quiet time" even luxuriating in long flights when she can reflect and let her mind wander! 

As we're all looking forward to summer, it's good to remind ourselves that being bored is not only OK, it's healthy. 

If you want to read more on this report, here are some links:

BBC article
Article by Dr. Belton for the Huffington Post

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