A woman sitting on a chair outside in a hilly area that is overcast

For many of us, creativity is this elusive thing—an enigma of sorts. We seek it out and search for it, but we never quite understand where it comes from. A book, an illustration and even an advertisement can make us stop in our tracks and marvel in awe.

Who created that? How? We assume they have a gift we simply weren’t given. We assume they’re the artists, and we’re not.

The truth is, we all have the potential to dream up larger-than-life ideas. We are all artists in our own way. Creativity is within us, but there’s something obstructing it—our need to stay busy. Sound familiar?

We are all artists in our own way. Creativity is within us.

Boredom, or not being busy, can make us uncomfortable because it makes us confront our own thoughts. What do we do? We distract ourselves, of course. We clutter any idle moments in our day with endless activities: a side hustle, a dinner reservation or a FaceTime call.

For whatever reason, doing nothing isn’t worthy enough if it isn’t productive in some way. Always being preoccupied eliminates the opportunity for deep thinking. Imagine that somewhere inside us is a life-altering epiphany—maybe a new business concept or an ingenious plot for a novel. That idea will only be found when we allow our minds to wander rather than reaching for our phones.

A study from the Academy of Management Discoveries proved how embracing moments of ennui, which is defined as a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement (aka boredom), can result in more creative thinking. A group of research participants were given the mind-numbing task of sorting a bowl of beans by color. Simultaneously, another group was given an artistic craft to complete. The first group out-performed the other in generating new, inspired ideas.

How often are we actually willing to put ourselves in such a monotonous situation? Is this possible when we’re surrounded by forms of entertainment wherever we go?

As we’ve collectively quarantined this year, we’ve had to accept a new reality that doesn’t include happy hours, concerts or travel. Staying in—as the days and weeks faded into one another—in a way, brought us closer to ourselves. For once, we weren’t busy with social outings and events.

Beyond the mandatory Zoom meetings, our schedules were empty, which freed up time to explore the minds we inhabit every day, but rarely come to know. With our lives on pause, we were able to reconnect with a side of ourselves that is usually ignored. While our worlds may have felt smaller in the confinement of our homes, our creativity suddenly became boundless. 

With our lives on pause, we were able to reconnect with a side of ourselves that is usually ignored.

Once our familiar routines are able to resume again, let’s start making the time to daydream. Let’s leave the house untethered to our phones, drink coffee at cafes without Wi-Fi and fall asleep without a device under our heads. Let’s start twiddling our thumbs and celebrating stillness. Buried underneath our mental to-do lists are bits of brilliance we never knew were there.

In moments of boredom, how do you fill your time? Have you come to appreciate stillness?

Image via Meredith Bruner, Darling Issue No. 17

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