Leaning In to Boredom Can Help You Become More Creative
Boredom makes us uncomfortable.
Boredom makes us uncomfortable.
For most of my adult life, I’ve seen silence as a void that has to be promptly filled with something enthralling or productive.
As we entered the first month of quarantine, I felt the dullness of boredom — nowhere to be, no one to see, nothing to do. And then, like millions of other humans around the globe, I downloaded TikTok. I haven’t been bored since.
If you think about it, none of us are ever really bored anymore. Anytime you have a small window where your heart rate isn't spiking, you open your phone for a dopamine hit. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I sat in a room feeling … bored.
But I recently realized something: I have boredom to thank for my passion for writing. I grew up as an only child, and there were many days spent trying to figure out new ways to entertain myself.
I started with scribbling all over my parents’ college textbooks. Then, I progressed to a 101 Dalmations-branded journal. Finally, I moved up to writing (and illustrating) my own books. They were loose pieces of paper bound together with string.
But then I grew up, bought an iPhone, and got used to the mental clutter. There’s always a notification here, an email that needs responding there. Things compete for your attention at all hours in the night.
Here’s the thing, though: You know what wildly successful people do when they need new ideas? They seek out silence, and work to create an environment conducive to boredom. When he was still running Microsoft, Bill Gates began an annual ritual he refers to as a “Think Week.” Once a year, he goes to a secluded cabin in the woods with a tote bag full of books, and just reads. No distractions — only books.
There’s something to this. Boredom can actually enable creativity and problem-solving by allowing the mind to wander and daydream. Spanx founder Sara Blakely gets her best ideas in the car. For Albert Einstein, it was while shaving. Research suggests that people’s most creative ideas strike when they’re not actively thinking about anything — that’s why showering, running, meditating, or any sort of rote activity can spark inspiration.
“Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place,” says boredom researcher Dr. Sandi Mann.
In other words, excessive stimulation can actually be bad for creativity and innovation. Because boredom is “a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied,” we often mistake it for loneliness. Rather than avoiding it, try leaning into it.
If you have some down time, resist the urge to scroll, swipe, or shop the boredom away. Try running without music, going on a walk without your phone, or just quietly observing your surroundings.
As philosopher Bertrand Russell said, “A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live.”
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Q&A: I did a Q&A with Obi Ezeadi, the author of the Headway newsletter. Obi had really thoughtful questions around developing resilience, executing on your vision, and the importance of consistency. Read the Q&A here.
THE PROFILE DOSSIER: On Wednesday, you received The Profile Dossier, a comprehensive deep-dive on a prominent individual. It featured Shonda Rhimes, the TV powerhouse behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. Become a Profile member to read Rhimes’s feature, and receive all future dossiers here.
— The investor whose bets turn into billions
— The mega-mansion king
— The mercenary who botched a coup
— The master auctioneer
— America’s most resilient students
— The economics expert with no degree
— America’s ghost kitchens [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The ice cream paradise in meltdown
— The newsletter entrepreneur factory
— The marketing company selling knowledge
PEOPLE TO KNOW.
The investor whose bets turn into billions: Lee Fixel, the notoriously low-profile investor behind Tiger Global’s investments in Facebook, Spotify, and Flipkart, mysteriously left the firm last year. But now, he’s (kind of) breaking his silence. Fixel has raised $1.3 billion for a new multi-stage venture capital firm called Addition, which will invest one-third in early-stage startups and two-thirds in growth-stage opportunities. (Forbes)
“He’s been willing to make contrarian and aggressive long-term bets.”
The mega-mansion king: Promoting a $500-million home before it’s finished is an unusual move. But not for Los Angeles developer Nile Niami. Niami has traditionally taken a “sex sells” approach to marketing his homes by featuring scantily clad women in his listings. But behind the flamboyant lifestyle, designer cars, and entourage of beautiful women, is Niami just at the top of a big, luxurious house of cards? (WSJ; If you can’t access the article, reply to this email.)
“I’m like the original Prada. Many people out there are like the Prada knockoff from Hong Kong.”
The mercenary who botched a coup: Jordan Goudreau, a former U.S. Army Green Beret, is now the head of a Florida security firm called Silvercorp USA. In 2019, he signed a contract to carry out a coup in Venezuela by capturing Nicolás Maduro’s “criminal organization” and restoring democracy. But Goudreau’s plan to heist an entire country backfired in a really terrible way. (Bloomberg)
“I’ve been a freedom fighter my whole life.”
The master auctioneer: In an economic downturn, auctioneers might find themselves busier than ever. One such wildly successful auctioneer is Mike “McGavel” Jones, founder of America’s Auction Academy. There’s something hypnotic about an auctioneer’s “chant,” the blur of words and numbers that builds to a crescendo as a sale is finalized. Jones says you need rhythm, you need melody, and you need to project from the diaphragm. (Texas Monthly)
“May our chants be the best they can be. May they serve the Lord’s purpose.”
America’s most resilient students: The graduates of Paradise High School in California may be some of the most resilient people out there. Their tight-knit town of Paradise, Calif., saw the destruction of the Camp Fire in 2018, which was the deadliest blaze in California’s history. Then, COVID-19 upended the school year, and seniors once again graduated into a world that looked very different than it did when the year began. “I’m wondering what next year’s disaster will be,” says Paradise High’s valedictorian Katie-Lynn Chandler. (The Verge)
“After all of the accomplishments we’ve made in the face of adversity, I believe there is nothing that can stop us.”
The economics expert with no degree: Nathan Tankus, 28, hasn’t finished his bachelor’s degree at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He has, however, mastered enough knowledge of economics and finance to become a widely followed commentator on the Federal Reserve. His newsletter has followers at the Fed, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Department of the Treasury. Take a look at Tankus’s unorthodox diploma-free rise in the elite world of economics. (Bloomberg)
“We’ve kind of stretched the space for gatekeepers in economics.”
COMPANIES TO WATCH.
America’s ghost kitchens: Imagine a restaurant with no physical storefront, no dining room, no waiters, no tables, and no chairs. Dubbed “ghost kitchens,” these establishments exist only within food delivery apps. Reef Technology operates “ghost kitchens” across 18 cities in the United States. The restaurants are “internal” to Reef: designed and staffed by its own employees. The ghost kitchen business model seemed marginal before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it now looks like it’s the future of the restaurant industry. (The New Yorker)
“As in most restaurants, the apparition is for customers; the ghosts are the workers themselves.”
The ice cream paradise in meltdown: Maryellis Bunn was supposed to be the millennial Walt Disney after she built a business around happiness and ice cream. Instead, Bunn’s Museum of Ice Cream turned into a “millennial shitshow nightmare.” The company was valued at a whopping $200 million, but the reality ex-employees describe is much less impressive. (Forbes)
“I would regularly go on walks to just cry.”
The newsletter entrepreneur factory: Substack, the publishing tool behind many of your favorite newsletters (like this one), has brought about the rise of niche publications. Founded in 2017, the company allows writers to build their own paid subscription businesses, taking a 10% cut of revenue. As more writers go solo, will Substack’s monetization model be enough to turn side hustles into full-fledged media companies?
“There’s a whole 20-30 years of innovation to come that more fully innovates around a subscription model.”
The marketing company selling knowledge: MasterClass might claim to be selling education, but the company is actually selling credibility and inspiration. The company has mastered the art of marketing through a framework called “AIDA.” It assumes the buyer goes through a linear process of awareness (A), interest (I), desire (D), then action (A).
“If a person crosses this greatness threshold, they are admired across generations. And that's what MasterClass is building.”
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AUDIO TO HEAR.
Hugh Jackman on living a disciplined life: Every single morning, Hugh Jackman meditates, takes a cold shower, and reads a book with his wife for 30 minutes. No exceptions. “And we know that, no matter what happens in the day, which invariably gets away from you, you’ve had that quality time together,” he says. Here’s why Jackman believes a good life requires self-discipline — and why anyone can achieve it. (Link available to premium members.)
Holly Thaggard’s endless persistence: In 2005, Holly Thaggard was a harpist when one of her friends was diagnosed with skin cancer.She realized that cumulative exposure to the sun — day after day — can be harmful, so she had an idea for a sunscreen that would be applied daily. Not only did she manage to change the minds of some of the beauty industry's biggest retailers, but she also built Supergop into a profitable, multi-million dollar brand. What a story. (Link available to premium members.)
Jon Stewart on structural change in America: In this conversation, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart discusses how 2020 is a year ripe for structural change in the United States. He shares his views on how the financial and political systems are flawed, and why the deck is stacked against the most essential workers in our society. It’s a good one. (Link available to premium members.)
Annie Duke on making sound decisions: Why are people more likely to get fire insurance for their house but less likely to get a prenup for their marriage? It has to do with how we think about luck and control in decision-making. When we think about decisions that put our values in question, things get more personal. “I don’t think we like to hedge very much against our identity,” says Annie Duke. Here’s how she says we can avoid the most common decision-making traps. (Link available to premium members.)
VIDEOS TO SEE.
Manoush Zomodori’s boredom prescription: The average person shifts their attention every 45 seconds, checks email 74 times a day, and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day. To cure our anxiety and burnout, journalist and podcaster Manoush Zomodori has a prescription: boredom. “Take a break, stare out the window and know that by doing nothing you are actually being your most productive and creative self,” she says. (Link available to premium members.)
James Lawrence on doing the impossible: One Iron Man consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. Successfully completing a single Iron Man race counts as an incredible lifetime feat. James Lawrence has completed 50 Ironman distances in 50 consecutive days in all 50 states. Take a look at the insane mental, physical, and emotional journey that shows just how far you can push the human body and spirit. (Link available to premium members.)
Russell Wilson’s secret to training the mind: On June 8, 2010, Russell Wilson’s dream to be drafted by a Major League Baseball team came true. On June 9, his dad passed away. In one day, he went from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low. “Life happens to all of us,” he says. “Loss of family members, divorce, fear, pain, depression, concerns, worries.” As an elite athlete, Wilson doesn’t just train his body but also the mind. In this video, he talks about how he uses “neutral thinking” to achieve mental resilience, too. (Link available to premium members.)
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