If I could go back in time, to Monday September 3rd 1984 and speak to 12 year old me on my way to the first day of secondary school, I’d tell myself to simply regard the next 5 years as an invitation to find out what I’m good at and, most importantly, what I’m interested in.  I’d suggest that if something doesn’t tick either of those boxes then to not worry about it too much.

Being deeply interested in something is incredibly important to me.  If I am interested then other traits like determination, perseverance, resilience, creativity and risk-taking naturally follow.  But interest isn’t something that can be manufactured on demand.   It is a spontaneous spark that arises in the moment between me and the activity or ideas that I am currently experiencing or anticipating experiencing.  A symbiotic, magnetic attraction between me and the interest that draws us towards and into each-other.

At school a lack of interest was frowned upon and regarded as disruptive or disobedient.  One of my old scathing school reports even went as far to say “When Stephen is interested he produces good work, otherwise results are poor”, spelling my name wrong in the process!  As an adult I can now see the irony in that statement coming from the one who was there to teach me, but as a young child it was one of many interventions that taught me that boredom was wrong.  Boredom was rude.  Boredom was irrevocably tethered to underachievement and a personal struggle to try and manufacture interest.

But what if boredom is in fact an important state, designed to keep us aligned with what is deeply important to us?  What if experiencing boredom is a sign that what we are doing isn’t good for our creative spirit and that something is not quite in alignment between us and our environment at any particular moment?  And, like bad smelling food being a warning that we shouldn’t eat something, what if procrastination is simply a process of instinctively knowing that an activity is inherently not good for the soul so should be avoided.

Instead of making boredom bad or something we have to learn to endure, what if we were taught to take it seriously in early life?  To notice it and be deeply curious about why we are experiencing it.   And, if we were to regard it simply as a finger pointing towards something we are more interested in, then maybe we wouldn’t need as much help in later life trying to re-discover our purpose.

  1. spigmite says:

    Excellent stuff. There’s also boredom as ‘creative catalyst’. (I think Frank Zappa wrote about this?). I notice something with my kids though – that it’s much harder for them to experience the motivating force of being bored. There are too many things that are ‘distracting’ instead. (Which is boredom’s evil twin, perhaps?).

    Interesting note: the word ‘bored’ didn’t exist until the 18th century. Before then, one could ‘be a bore’, but people didn’t talk about ‘things’ being ‘boring’. (True fact: I once nearly wrote a book about boredom…)

    1. Steve Chapman says:

      Thanks Nick. Agree with the evil twin thing. The positive might be being deeply curious about why one is experiencing boredom. The near enemy might be to quickly escape from it through distraction. Am sure gadgets help with that. And please write that book.

      1. spigmite says:

        I’ve also had to cultivate an understanding of the difference between procrastination because something is boring (the smelly food / avoid theory), and procrastination borne out of ‘resistance’ because something is difficult / outside of comfort zone (where the best response is to go towards, not away from). It’s always amazing how my inner critic can try and persuade me that things that are hard are boring..

      2. Steve Chapman says:

        Yes, was wondering about that when I wrote this piece but with a slightly different subject matter. Procrastinating over writing a proposal for something I’m not interested in feels different to say putting off going to the GP because of a health concern. Maybe procrastination and avoidance are another pair of subtly different siblings.

  2. Ben says:

    I love this, and fully agree with the point about boredom being a creative catalyst. I find this in my (very mediocre) guitar playing: it is only when I become bored with my own repetitive “stuff” that I push myself to do something new. I’m also finding this increasingly at work, where I get bored with the same old patterns and find myself wanting to disrupt them. So could we say lack of boredom risks lack of creativity?

  3. Kathleen says:

    interesting conversation, I certainly empathise with the school aged person who got perpetually in trouble for making mischief because she is bored… I’m also curious about finding ways to just get on with minor things that are not that interesting (such as admin tasks) rather than making a huge to do about it and telling myself all sorts of daft things in the process like: I’m no good at this, I hate this, etc. when the job is just to fill in an expense report. What’s that all about?

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