The Value Of Boredom
Nature abhors a vacuum in the mind.
I’ve noticed an interesting dynamic over the last few months, maybe even longer. I’ve noticed that my writing tends to suffer when I watch TV. So I’d watch a movie and stay up late to watch it, and I’m tired the next day. Or I’d find a way to get to sleep early and wake up early to write and then watch an episode. Even if I can watch a movie in the afternoon while my kids are playing upstairs (my wife is minding the kids, Mom), my writing still suffers the next day. No matter how I try to balance things, my writing suffers from TV.
Yesterday I was talking with one of my neighbors and he mentioned that it’s good for kids to be bored sometimes. Not all of the time, but enough time to just make the mind work at something to do. When I was a kid, I didn’t have all of this stuff, these computers, phones, giant TVs, and gadgets. It was just me, books, the radio, and maybe a little TV. I had a bike, I had places to walk, I just found stuff to do. I wasn’t waiting for something to happen. I was so bored, I made stuff happen.
I think all of this technology is wonderful for what it can do for us, but I think we need to be mindful of what it is taking from us. I see my kids watching YouTube and I see just how much junk there is in there. The videos about video games are the worst. No plot, no point, no real lessons to be learned. That stuff is not even close to Saturday morning TV. At least then I had Schoolhouse Rock (OMG, Disney owns it). I look at what my kids are attracted to on YouTube, even with filters on, and I see that they leave kids waiting for something to happen. Life becomes passive.
So I turned off YouTube. My wife and I restricted the amount of time available for TV. We blocked video on all the Google Home Hubs. I even scheduled downtime on my Hubs so that they couldn’t just sit there and roll the dice all day.
My kids have friends now. And their friends come over often. And they spend time together, playing, joking around, sometimes arguing, but they’re still friends. People are unpredictable, and they require energy to make decisions that make relationships possible. Everything in our lives requires a decision to be made.
Then yesterday, after their friends had left for the day, I found my kids drawing on a whiteboard we had installed for them. They were bored, so they reverted to creation again. There is something about creation and consumption. It’s kind of a yin and yang thing. But let me tell you one more story about boredom…
When I was a young man, I found the joy of comic books. I was in my 20s, installing and fabricating air conditioning systems. At the end of the day, I’d go to a local comic book store and buy a few for reading. When I got home, I’d just spend a Friday afternoon reading, lost in fantasy. I got into Spiderman, Iron Man, Zot!, and Heavy Metal.
Let me tell you something about Heavy Metal Magazine. It was a magazine of illustrated comics with fantastic artwork and stories from all over the world. Heavy Metal was founded by a french man, Jean Giraud, and his pen name was Moebius. Moebius draws incredible artwork and he worked with incredible writers to give us amazing stories of human space travel, or advanced technologies. Here is a great example:
Notice the beautiful details, the glint of light on the dome, the gradients in the colors, and the depth of perspective. All of this is from the mind of a man who has been drawing since he was a boy. A really, really bored boy. With a little persistent searching, I found a documentary on Moebius, he’s famous in Europe. I learned that he knew Stan Lee, the creator of Spiderman. I also learned that he was well cared for by his parents, but his parents were too busy for him. So he found relief from his boredom in the playground of his mind by drawing what his mind created. That is one of the values of boredom.
Boredom forces us to create something to think about. It forces us into action. I’m talking about what people do when they don’t know what to do. Creation is what people do when they’re bored. The dynamic between boredom and creation is easy to see. The mind is always looking for something to do. Each and every action of the mind requires energy. We get to decide where to put that energy. That is called, “agency”, and we become more aware of our agency as we grow older.
There is a limited amount of energy available to us throughout the day. This limit is set by our capacity to eat and digest food and drink water. The energy available to us each day is limited by the amount of sleep we took the night before. And as I’ve alluded to earlier, the energy we have for the next day is limited by what we did the day before.
When I watch a movie, that requires time and energy. Enjoying a movie is not a passive experience. The mind must be engaged in the experience. I know, because I know what it’s like to watch a movie and hear the words and not understand just before I nod off to sleep. Everything we do, every person we interact with, everything we touch, requires a decision to be made. Every decision requires energy. Creation and consumption both require energy.
So if you have a dream, you need the energy to execute on the dream, to take the action required to create what you want. Every successful person that I’ve observed has done this. They are not watching someone else’s dream. They are building their own dreams. They don’t have much time for TV, for they know at some level, that watching TV requires energy that could otherwise be used for building their dream. A successful person directs his limited supply of energy to build his dreams.
This is the message I get from the fatigue I feel after watching an intense movie or binging on a series on Netflix. There are only so many ergs in a day. I get to decide where to direct my supply of ergs. My supply is limited, so I must be judicious.
I’ve noticed that there is a very different feeling I get from creation than from consumption. I derive greater satisfaction from creation than from consumption. I can’t explain exactly why, other than to say that what I created is mine. Whatever I consumed belongs to someone else. I like that feeling more than the feeling I get from watching something someone else created on a screen.
So I allow myself time for boredom. I start in the morning with boredom. I might read an article while eating breakfast, but I allow no TV, for I don’t like the way TV interrupts my mind, my train of thought. I write on an empty brain. Now that I think about it, I will make a point to eat my breakfast without reading anything, so that when I start writing, I’m completely empty. I think of this often:
I will take care of the quantity.
You will take care of the quality.
That is what I live by. I want my mind to be empty in the morning. I want to be bored in the morning. I want that boredom so that my mind is wide open to receive what I can from the Great Creator and put it here. That is the value I receive from boredom.