Can boredom lend itself to creativity?


photo and photo illustration by Alice Yu

Nicole Schroeder

Whether it be from a lack of interest in class curriculum or lack of interaction with teachers and students, nearly two out of three high school students say they are bored every day at school, according to a 2007 survey of more than 81,000 students by Indiana University’s High School Survey of Student Engagement.
Sophomore Camille McManus said while she doesn’t find herself bored every day in school, it does occur on a regular basis.
“I do think I get bored often, though I don’t really think there’s a certain amount I get bored,” McManus said. “I usually just get bored when I don’t have anything to do or if I don’t really want to get something done — usually homework or housework that I’m procrastinating.”

“I really don’t enjoy being bored because it really makes me feel like I’m not getting things done that I could if I had more motivation, but I usually just end up putting those things off.” — Sophomore Camille McManus”

In fact, much of the boredom McManus experiences occurs because she is disinterested in performing the task and is trying to put it off for later. However, McManus said when she is bored, she isn’t really productive in getting things done anyway, causing her to procrastinate even more.
“I usually don’t really do anything productive because I don’t have much motivation,” McManus said. “I really don’t enjoy being bored because it really makes me feel like I’m not getting things done that I could if I had more motivation, but I usually just end up putting those things off.”
Junior Louis Youmans agrees with McManus and said he gets bored anytime he doesn’t feel motivated to do something. When that happens, he said it is easy for him to get distracted and stray from his original plans.
“During class, when I get home — pretty much any time I’m not focused on something or invested in it, [I will get bored],” Youmans said. “[Then] I usually play video games or listen to music. I enjoy doing stuff like that because it’s something I know about.”
Yet a study by University of Central Lancashire in May 2014 shows that boredom in itself might not be as bad as it seems. The study, which required participants to perform a boring task and then a creative one, found that boredom, a majority of the time, increased participants’ creativity and innovative thought processes when performing the second task.
David Beversdorf, Associate Professor of Radiology, Neurology and Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said he agrees with the study, as boredom can allow people to relax and focus on their thoughts alone rather than any activity they might be doing.
“When you’re in a relaxed state, your mind can wander … more freely and there are definite advantages to that,” Beversdorf said. “We’ve done research ourselves on the effects of stress on cognition and it impairs your ability to think flexibly. Boredom can be the opposite extreme of that [since] you’re in a relaxed, mind-wandering state.”
Boredom and allowing one’s mind to wander is very different, Beversdorf said, as boredom refers to an unhappy feeling while “mind-wandering” is a conscious choice to stop and daydream. This mind-wandering state, Beversdorf said, is very beneficial, making a person “more capable of coming up with creative solutions to problems.”
Because of this, he said people should schedule time in the day to allow themselves time to just think, even if it is only for a few minutes at a time.
“There are times when it is quite advantageous. It is probably helpful to [let your mind wander],” Beversdorf said. “Unfortunately, sometimes your tasks at hand don’t allow it. If you’re trying to navigate a difficult traffic condition, then that wouldn’t be a good time. But as something that you could actually allow into your schedule, I think it could be very helpful, as with meditation for similar reasons.”

“When you’re in a relaxed state, your mind can wander … more freely and there are definite advantages to that.” — Associate Professor of Radiology, Neurology, and Psychological Sciences David Beversdorf”

However, McManus said she doesn’t agree with the study because she believes few people would use their boredom to allow time to think. Rather, she said people would simply search for new activities until they were no longer bored.
“I think if some people do end thinking more creatively, the boredom could be good but … I tend to get lazy when I’m bored and don’t usually get much done,” McManus said. “I don’t exactly agree with the article because I usually don’t think about anything when I’m bored that I wouldn’t [think about] if I wasn’t bored.”
Nevertheless, Youmans said he understands how boredom could allow people to think more creatively, as it could open their minds up to new and innovative ideas. Still, he said people should be careful in how they handle the feeling since it could also allow for someone to make poor decisions in an effort to cure their boredom.
“It lets your mind wander. It’s good if you have a little to do and too much time, not vice versa. I agree with the articles, the mind is a powerful thing. [But] it opens the mind up to pressure and ideas that may or may not be the best idea,” Youmans said. “If you are constructively bored, it can lead to great things, but the same goes for destructive boredom — it can run rampant.”
In much the same way, McManus said she thinks boredom can be both a positive and negative state of mind, depending on how people use their time. While she doesn’t think people should search for activities that will cause them to grow bored, she said people should use the feeling to their advantage and take the time to relax and just think.
“I think it’s better if people try not to get bored for the most part because then they’ll be more likely to be productive,” McManus said. “But I also think being bored at times and having some down time is necessary as well because people really can’t be overly busy or I think there would be negative impacts to their health.”
Beversdorf agrees and said everyone needs to take a few moments to relax throughout the day and allow their mind to wander. However, he said such relaxation won’t happen if people immediately search for relief from boredom when it does occur.
“That sort of mind-wandering state is not going to occur when you’re checking Facebook or your social app of choice. There’s a place for not doing it as well and just letting your mind wander,” Beversdorf said. “Particularly, if what you are doing in school or in your work or in your recreational time involves a high degree of creativity, there would probably a significant advantage to [letting your mind wander].”
By Nicole Schroeder