Creativity Boosters + How-tos, From Lina

Watching Water Boil May Help Your Creativity

Since the birth of the smartphone, we’re rarely bored.  If I’m waiting in the school parking lot to pick up my son, I’m mindless scrolling Facebook and clicking on photos of cats. When I’m sitting at the doctor’s office for my yearly, I’m catching up on the hundreds of emails that have piled up on the drive over. (Ok, maybe not hundreds. I’m not that important.)  Even without the phone, as moms, we know that boredom isn’t a state we’re often in. How can I, when my son is in a perpetual state of imminent danger due to his affinity to  sharp/poisonous/bacteria-laden things?

But new research is showing that the absence of boredom can hurt our ability to think creatively, according to New Tech City’s project, Bored and Brilliant.

During bouts of boredom our brains can’t help but jump around in time, analyzing and re-analyzing the pieces of our lives, says Jonny Smallwood, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of York in the UK. He says inspiration strikes in the shower because it’s a moment when we’re not really looking at or focusing on anything else.

In short, day dreaming and mind wandering is the stuff ideas are made of. And we lose out on that when we constantly keep our brains occupied.

“You come up with really great stuff when you don’t have that easy lazy junk food diet of the phone to scroll all the time,” says Sandi Mann,  boredom researcher Sandi Mann of the University of Lancashire of the U.K.

I’m no scientist, but I had a hunch about this. In a post I wrote earlier this year, I associated the 20 minute walking commute on the streets of NYC with the most creative stage of my life. No phone, no music, just me and my thoughts.

The Bored and Brilliant Project’s mission is to examine this effect and help us reclaim some boredom by setting up challenges to consciously seek it in our lives. I joined in on  Challenge 6: Dream House. My task: bore myself silly by watching water boil, then empty my wallet and create my dream house using the contents.

I was up for the challenge. Plus, my wallet needed to be cleaned anyway. Here’s what came out of it.


Apparently, my dream house is one with a luscious garden, that properly retains it’s monetary value, and is on a lot paved with massive amounts of 2-year-old receipts. The bills made an excellent exterior cover over the weighty credit cards, holding up the structure. I even installed 2 columns to accentuate my enchanted garden landscaping. I was especially happy to finally use my neglected gym card (as the door) and to find a forgotten strip of stamps. All in all, nothing I would call “brilliant”, but a fun challenge squeezed into the 30 minutes before picking up my son from school.

Did the experiment make me more creative? Hard to tell. But I I do know, as I watched the water boil, my thoughts raced and ideas flowed as I planned my wallet creation. There was nothing else to think about!

As moms we know boredom is a complete luxury, but spending a few times a week seeking it out may help us in our creative practice. Now go watch some grass grow!