In Defence of Boredom
The life-changing art of curiosity
When was the last time you felt curiosity? When was the last time you let yourself fall down the rabbit-hole of thoughts that wasn’t based in anxiety, or the last time you allowed yourself to truly wonder, and then take the time to research something you were interested in? When did you last let yourself feel boredom and just exist?
For most of us, the answer to this may be harder than we care to admit. In a world of constant stimulation, the art of just being has been lost. It appears we are constantly doing something. Even in the most mundane of moments, like when we are cleaning or are in the shower, most of us listen to a new podcast or put on our favorite album to fill the air. When we are waiting in line for our coffee or riding the subway, we scroll through our feeds, filling the time with an action just to keep us from staring into space. Why do we do this? Because it seems unproductive to just sit, or just to clean, or just to shower. We couldn’t bear to “just” do anything, because then we aren’t being productive. We wouldn’t be making the most of our time, and god forbid our days be “empty”.
But see, I think there is a value in seemingly boring, unstimulated, raw moments. The ones where we are simply in one place, just existing—the time where we can be present in our environment simply by disconnecting for a moment. These are the most fulfilling moments, even though they are the simplest. I am speaking, in a way, in defene of boredom; in defence of slowing down and entertaining our train of thought. Out of boredom is born curiosity, and with curiosity comes learning.
The key to boredom and curiosity is slowing down to think, allow the mind to wander, and stopping to listen to the music of life. Slowing down is a cornerstone of ‘a good life’ and seems to go hand-in-hand with minimalism. Here are the ways I have found that make it possible to just be.
Passive Quiet Time
This is the easiest way I’ve experienced the ease of true presence and lack of stimulation. Passive Quiet Time is the act of doing one thing at a time, in silence. In essence, this is the opposite of multitasking. It’s getting ready in the morning without listening to a podcast, or going for your daily run without your earbuds in. It’s walking to and from class, listening not to your phone, but to your footsteps and the world around you. The passive nature of this practice simply means taking your current habits, and simplifying them, rather than adding to or changing them.
Active Quiet Time
This is probably the classic definition of slowing down and allowing for silent moments in your life. Active Quiet Time is making space in your day to add moments that invite boredom and curiosity. This could look like sitting meditation, looking out a window, going for a silent drive, walking meditation, or even prayer. Where Passive Quiet Time is making our normal day more quiet, Active Quiet Time is changing our days to make boredom and curiosity just as important as catching the subway or eating.
Dopamine Fast/Stimulation Detox
By now, we all have heard of a digital detox or Screenless Sundays. These are helpful for removing arguably the biggest hindrance to boredom, and therefore allow ample space for shower thoughts. If you’re looking for a 180-degree flip and complete reset, a more extreme version of a digital detox might be just the thing you are looking for. According to Nathaniel Drew, a minimalist YouTuber whose entire channel is about finding mental clarity, a dopamine fast comprises of just that: no dopamine. This means no screens, no books, no social interaction, no eating. It is essentially asking yourself to be as bored as humanly possible in order to really invite in curiosity and allow our train of thought to go places we didn’t know they could go. I myself have never done this, but it certainly seems to embody the extreme of “slowing down”.
So, we have discussed why boredom is good, and how to thereby invite the consequential curiosity into our lives. Now, what is there to do with our shower thoughts and seemingly deep life questions that are bound to come up when we give ourselves nothing to do but think?
Write It Down
I encourage you to write out your train of thought as another way of journaling. From seemingly unimportant thoughts to big life questions, every idea is fair game. Over time, you’ll be able to look back at your thoughts and see where your curiosity lies.
Do Some Research
When was the last time you looked something up because you were curious about it? Probably recently, given that we have Google at our fingertips. But when was the last time you actually fact checked a social media post, or opened a book to learn something new? These are the moments that allow us to expand our range of knowledge, even if the only times we use this knowledge is on trivia nights.
Talk About It
I have a lot of thoughts. And when I have these shower thoughts, I can’t help but share them. I understand and learn best by talking. So, for me, my close friends and family get the brunt of my “uselessly” philosophical questions and thoughts. It is through these conversations about things like why a pair of pants is always referred to as the pleural that my family is allowed to express their own curiosities and use their boredom for good. Maybe for you, you tell your dog or partner about your shower thoughts, or dedicate your Twitter feed to them and allow the internet to think along with you. Whatever you do, shower thoughts are a wonderful conversation starter.
I invite you to take the next 15 minutes to stop and sit in silence, to make a little space for simplicity and active quiet time. Allow your mind to simply wander, have a shower thought or two. Once that 15 minutes is up, I invite you to encourage that curiosity, and see what kinds of things you can learn about from both yourself and the world.