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To Be Creative, First You Must Be Bored

With its natural habitat bulldozered by the internet, boredom is becoming an endangered species. That’s not good. “Boredom is nearly always essential to creativity,” says Lifehack writer Adrian Savage, and the research seems to agree with him.

First, Karen Gasper and Brianna Middlewood made Pennsylvania State University students sit through some boring videos, then sent them off to do some creative thinking exercises (word association). As you probably guessed, theboring videos turned the students into creative geniuses. They certainly did better than the students who were made to feel ‘excited’ or ‘distressed’, anyway. A victory for boredom.

Then, another study, this time at the University of Central Lancashire. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman made 40 people copy out numbers from the telephone book for fifteen minutes. Boring task over, Mann and Cadman asked the group to come up with as many uses for polystyrene cups as they could (like a plant pot or … Can’t think of any others). They did brilliantly, much better than the control group. Apparently it worked even better when the group read, rather than wrote down, the phone numbers – suggesting the more daydreamy the boredom, the better.

Manoush Zomorodi, a host on WYNC public radio, encourages her listeners to put down their smartphones and get bored. She’s also a fan of what you might call ‘creative boredom’, and her method is simple – you fill out a big sheet of paper with 1s and 0s, like this: 0101010101 etc, making sure you fill the whole sheet. Try it. Or you could give Mann’s suggestion of just doodling a go (classic). The trick is to give your brain a chance to wander – not to BuzzFeed or to the fridge, but to somewhere more interesting: your imagination.

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