Being busy has become a badge of honor. (If my schedule is full, well then, I must be important and successful!) However, being busy is a hollow bargain: We need downtime to fuel creativity and feed our souls.
Studies have shown that boredom actually fosters life satisfaction.
“When our minds are running nonstop, we don’t have time to pause and reflect,” says meQuilibrium Chief Science Officer Dr. Andrew Shatté. “Downtime allows our minds to wander, which encourages creativity, allows for problem-solving, and helps us recharge.”
So, go ahead, let yourself be bored! Here’s how:
1. Confront your iceberg beliefs. Many of us feel downright guilty if we’re not in motion, and this is often due to ingrained, fear-based iceberg beliefs that have nestled into our psyches over time. We might think, “If I’m not busy; I’m not important” or “If I’m not productive, I’m not useful.” Dislodge these unhelpful—and untrue—Calvinistic statements with mantrasreplacements like, “I’m entitled to this time. I work hard, and this will make me more focused.”
2. Schedule it. If you find it tough to set aside downtime, deploy the same strategies that you use when prodding yourself to the gym or to cook dinner. “Just like the difference between reheating a burger or making a healthy salad, you need to mindfully choose how to spend your time,” Shatté says. Make downtime a priority, the way you would set aside time to eat properly, exercise, or carve out date night with a spouse.
3. Use logic. If you’re tethered to an on-the-go mindset, take a step back and perform a cost-benefit analysis. “Challenge yourself: ‘If I give up 10 minutes to take a break, it might take 70 minutes instead of an hour to do something—but will I walk away with a better product?” Shatté asks. The answer is probably yes.
4. Be bored in the right way. A lot of our day-to-day routine is, well, a bit dull. “But we can get into a groove where even cranking through something mundane leads to fulfillment,” says Dr. Shatté. Think of how your everyday tasks connect to something bigger; how the spreadsheet you’re working on will become part of a big presentation, or how the clothes you’re folding will keep your children warm. Connecting boring tasks with a higher purpose helps us feel engaged with what we’re doing. Shatté calls this “flow,” a restorative process where you’re so engaged in a task that you don’t notice the passage of time.
Finally, realize that a little bit of boredom is beneficial, even when it doesn’t lead to a creative epiphany. “We live in such a stressful environment,” says Shatté, “that a bit of boredom can offer us an oasis of time to refresh our minds.”