Value of sitting alone

From news sites, games, apps, and social media, our use of smartphones has considerably decreased the amount of free downtime we experience in our daily schedules. Inasmuch, we become less and less prone to boredom in our lives in ways unimaginable to our ancestors.

Not only is being bored less common in the world today but also admitting to boredom often carries a cultural connotation that someone does not have anything to do and is therefore lazy. So, a reduction in boredom, as well as less discussion around admitting the same, overlooks some key aspects around the surprising benefits of boredom.

As highlighted previously in Business Talk in the Business Daily, the modern world bears little resemblance to the ancient world of our ancestors. The thrill of walking up a new mountain and peering out onto a previously unseen vast expanse with new valleys, streams, and animals below.

But today, before we go on a trip, hike, or adventure we likely see pre-departure pictures of our intended destinations on Instagram, read recommendations of where to stay on, investigate restaurant reviews for our destination on TripAdvisor, and share our experiences through WhatsApp status.

Exploration in the modern world comes with much less intrigue and wonder of the unknown. Then once we arrive, we usually do not marvel in splendid isolation at the majesty of new surroundings but snap landscape photos and myriads of selfies that we post live across multiple social media channels. Therefore, those periods of exploration also lack another common ancient reality: boredom.

Timothy Wilson and a team of researchers uncovered that the idea of sitting alone with one’s thoughts and being bored is highly undesirable to most people. Humans would rather undertake a negative task than do nothing at all.

Surprisingly, approximately 25 percent of women and an alarming 67 percent of men would choose to receive a small unpleasant shock of electricity jolted into their bodies than to sit alone quietly with their thoughts for only 15 minutes of solitude.

Extensive research by Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman, among numerous others, finds that boredom increases one’s ability to produce creative results and think imaginatively. In fact, daydreaming can serve as an added catalyst to innovation and creativity.

Nicholaus Brosowsky and team uncovered during the early days of the Covid pandemic that boredom did not enhance creativity unless given appropriate intentional channels to express one’s creativity.

However, not all boredom is good. Julia Haager, Christof Kuhbandner, and Reinhard Pekrun find that when someone’s work tasks are so uninteresting and tedious that they lead to someone getting bored, then that type of boredom leads to reduced task performance.

So, we must consciously choose the type of boredom we endure. I recommend a solution to my students at USIU-Africa: purposeful boredom. One of my favourite business psychology authors Jeffrey Davis discovered that when he tries to block off days at a time of solitude, it overwhelms him since he is not accustomed to it in the modern world. So, I instead suggest shorter periods of time.

Intentionally carve out continuous chunks of time for 30 minutes to one hour out of your schedule once per week. In that time alone, sit quietly in nature, look out a window, or lay on a sofa and gaze at your ceiling. Turn off your phone. Turn off any music, television, or radio.

Do this during your regular waking time, not before you try to sleep. Then let your mind wander. Do not try to push out thoughts or focus on something in particular like in meditation. Just instead think without distraction. Daydream.

But why does boredom trigger creativity? Jennifer Hunter, Eleenor Abraham, Andrew Hunter, Lauren Goldberg, and John Eastwood’s research finds that someone’s proneness to boredom is a positive predictor of curiosity which triggers creative solution seeking.

Humans need time to ponder their pain points and solutions to those observed or felt pain points instead of merely becoming ingesters of content from external sources like phones, television, tablets, computers, radios, and billboards.

In short, create purposeful time for solitude and boredom in small doses in your weekly schedule. Not only will it significantly boost your creativity, but it will also enhance your mental health and well-being.

[email protected] Twitter: @ScottProfessor

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