It has happened to me. The first time I recall the experience, an algebra problem had me stumped. No amount of re-reading, backing up, starting over and checking my math helped. So I told my parents I had finished my homework and did the usual – rode my bike, listened to the radio, daydreamed to escape the stress of too much homework and feeling like an idiot because I couldn’t solve that problem. Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up with the solution!
Our family of five lived in an upstairs apartment; the only one I was assured of not disturbing by traipsing around to find book, paper and pencil was my brother at the end of the hall. I thought I had succeeded! Nope. Mom caught me sitting in the bathtub in my jammies, book propped up on bended knees, scribbling. To her it looked as though I had lied about not being finished with my homework. Already labeled a difficult child, I didn’t bother with the cockamamie story that I had solved an algebra problem in my sleep.
There have been times in the ensuing years that I can recall similar incidents when faced with ‘problems’ with no apparent solution. It turns out that pacifying the brain with a bit of daydreaming – planned boredom – is a marvelous way to flip the creativity switch. There is even research on boring people, then giving them an object to see how many uses they can dream up for it. (That might sound a bit familiar to some of my former language arts kids.) To be bored for the sake of research, participants were given numbers to copy or read from a phone book. To bore kids in an English class – easy – just instruct them to open their books. If I had written structured boredom activities into a lesson plan, with, say, five minutes of copying from the dictionary, then giving them the ‘fun’ writing activities, we might have had more immediate success minus sound effects – kids groaning in unison in the same key. (How do they learn that?) In retrospect, I can imagine the raised eyebrows in an evaluation conference.
It turns out that creativity is connected to critical thinking, which IS considered important in lesson plans and life paths. Planning a bit of boredom into a curriculum or a work routine might seem a bit far out, but it seems our brains welcome it. It does not mean grabbing the smartphone and checking emails and flipping through social media. As useless and time-wasting as that appears sometimes, it is not giving the brain a suitable environment for boredom, and boredom is necessary for daydreaming to occur. Ask any teacher.
Planned boredom and a bit of daydreaming in the classroom, boardroom and living room might produce some innovative solutions to nagging issues.