The Brilliance of Boredom

When was the last time you were really bored?

When was the last time you were really bored?

I am fortunate to be on the team that reviews submissions for Photographers Ignite each year and we see and select from a crazy variety of interesting – sometimes whacky, ideas for presentations. The hardest part is narrowing our selection down to just 12 speakers. Sometimes we watch a submission video (this is where the potential speaker gives us a quick overview of what they hope to talk about) and when it's over we just sit there – silent.

Sometimes the silence is because we aren't even sure what they were trying to tell us, but more often the silence is because we are deep in thought (or trying to tactfully hide tears). They really got us thinking – and that's the sign of a good presentation waiting to Ignite the stage. 

One of our Photographers Ignite speakers this year at the upcoming WPPI convention in Las Vegas will be Phillip Blume, and his submission video was one that made us all stop, and ponder. I asked Phillip to share a little bit about his presentation with my readers:

Think back to your early school days. Ever get your knuckles rapped for daydreaming in class? Well, thank heaven the negative reinforcement wasn’t as effective as your wart-nosed old teacher thought. As it turns out, daydreaming helped you build a stronger, more creative brain than warty old Miss Wart-face ever could!

Okay, let’s give the old hag a break. She tried her best. Besides, who could have imagined the power of a wandering mind?! As cognition expert and author of The Organized Mind Daniel Levitin puts it, a mind in “daydreaming mode” is absolutely critical if you hope not only to process the overload of information that hits your cranium each day, but also to synthesize some of it into fresh, creative ideas for your art and business. What a great excuse to take a break! If you aren’t giving yourself time to be bored, you’re actually passing up huge ideas and opportunities!

But that’s also the trouble. We never want to be bored anymore. At the first hint of boredom, I whip out my phone. It’s instinctive. It’s scary! It’s like I’ve become warty old Miss Wart-face! My brain is a seesaw, and I’m willfully standing on the “task-positive” side – bullying my neurons, their little neuronic feet dangling in the air, unable to touch down and start processing again.

Now my wife raps my knuckles. I drop my phone on the white tablecloth. It’s our seventh anniversary. She has every right to call me out on my information addiction. She’s no Miss Wart-face. She is a vision, looking at me alluringly from across the table. (Okay, she’s actually scowling. But I’m putting away my phone this time. So it’s about to get hot-t!) Anyway, we’re a busy couple. We’ve got places to travel, clients to photograph, classes to teach, articles to write, and a business to run. But also kids to raise. Family and friends to love. An adoption to complete. If we’re going to do this right, it’s time to switch off for a while. Right. Now. #watchthepaintdry

The idea of allowing ourselves to be bored again is significant to me. I realized that I am guilty of never being bored. Whenever I have to wait for something, I pull out my phone and pass the time. Maybe that's why time seems to slip by so quickly these days – or maybe it's old age, or both. 

I used to sit and daydream, come up with crazy ideas, people watch and talk about silly things with the person next to me. I used to work harder at finding things to talk about. Now, if there's nothing obvious to discuss, we bury our noses in our phones. Relationships and fresh ideas don't usually come from eavesdropping on what everyone else in the world is doing in their digital world. No, good things come when we have to work at it a little bit, when we have conflict, differences, and thoughts that we discuss face-to-face. Good ideas come to us when we're bored. 

Those of us with children have known, or at least heard, that kids need to be bored to be able to be creative – to come up with solutions to their boredom. They make toys from random objects, fabricate complex games in an empty room. This is brilliant creativity at its finest – and we need to encourage more of that, in our kids, and ourselves.  If their minds are fully engaged by a stupid TV show or complex video game, there simply is no mental space, or need, for them to be creative on their own. We are just as guilty as our kids – perhaps more so because we know better, or we should.

I've made a conscious effort lately to be more bored. I hope you will consider doing that too.

I also hope you'll come see Phillip and 11 other fantastic presentations at this years Photographers Ignite at WPPI in Las Vegas. Thurdsay, March 5th, 10:30AM - noon. Attendance is free with your WPPI convention registration. Find out more: PhotographersIgnite.com