Why is it that we live in a time and space where boredom feels like a luxury? Take a moment to think about it — being bored is not a bad thing; in fact it is quite lovely and something for us all to lean into.
For some of us, being bored might feel irresponsible, uncomfortable, and unproductive. For others, being alone with yourself and your thoughts can bring on its own kind of terror, while distraction and activity can be their own sort of crutch. But if you’re interested in being more creative, managing your time better, and improving yourself, you ought to give boredom a try. In one of my recent favorite reads, “Originals,” by Adam Grant, he writes about how procrastination — or extended rumination — can lend itself well to boredom, which then begets creativity. We may find that being unoccupied and putting things off can possibly supplement our work or passions, rather than detract from them.
I was talking with my wife about this idea of boredom and how she would approach it as a child and family therapist, and the first thing she adamantly said is, “Do not rescue children from their boredom!”
Most children have a very structured day with school and extracurricular activities and sports; their time is managed for them. Then, downtime presents itself or summertime rolls around and those kids are looking for constant entertainment. Children need to encounter and engage with the raw stuff that life is made of, which is found in unstructured time. This is how they learn to engage with themselves and the world, to imagine and invent and create. Look at Einstein, a man who was led to discovery through a dream, and said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Initially this unstructured time can be uncomfortable. We may even want to be rescued from it; but what if we stayed in it just a little longer and listen and respond to the stirrings of our own hearts, what some might call our passions. Our kids might be led to study the bugs on the sidewalk (as Einstein did for hours), build a fort in the backyard, write a short story or song, or organize the neighborhood kids into making a movie or dance video. Nancy Blakely (author of a number of books, including “Mudpies: Recipes for Invention”) really captures the essence of the space we can create for our kids and heck why not for ourselves!
“I cannot plant imagination into my children,” she wrote. “I can, however, provide an environment where their creativity is not just another mess to clean up but welcome evidence of grappling successfully with boredom. It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves, the ones that long for risk and illumination and unspeakable beauty. If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”
So, back to the conversation with my wife. I then asked, well, what do we do then if we do not rescue our kids from the boredom? She replied — their boredom is telling us something, so listen to it. Stop what you are doing and sit with them, cuddle, chat; this might be what they needed to refuel and enter back into their imaginative, creative world. If your kid needs more than this — hear this as a desire for a deeper connection with you and figure out how to provide that — include them in what you are doing or take a break and play together. Once you can tell your kid’s love tank has been filled up, then go back to their initial request for something to do. I like to use this acronym found on Pinterest as a guide to help trigger their brains, try and keep it as their responsibility to be, imagine, create and invent!
Read a Book
Do Something Helpful
Boredom is our desire to be connected to something deeper, something meaningful -some might even say magical. So when you hear yourself or your kids say, “I’m bored!” try not to automatically jump into DOING, instead try BEING and see what you or they might create. As Dr. Seuss so brilliantly said, “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
DR. NATE CLEM is a chiropractor specializing in pediatrics and family wellness at Discovery Wellness Center (www.discoverywellnesscenter.com) in Queen Anne.