I hate being bored, not so much because of the restless sensation, but because I dread wasting time. Boredom just feels wrong, so I maintain a ready backlog of productive tasks. But could boredom be as essential to your creativity as hard work and tenacity?
Boredom seems to be the mind’s desperate cry to hunt down a more constructive activity; to combat it, I typically do some writing, edit a photo, market new work, or ring up a friend. Otherwise, my fingers will mindlessly twiddle with social apps on my phone.
So I was a bit taken aback by Manoush Zomorodi’s brilliant TED talk arguing that boredom is essential to creativity. On the surface, it wasn’t controversial: some boredom in the shower or on the walk to work is inevitable, and if it feeds creativity gratis, great! But the deeper takeaway was riskier: what if we didn’t just tolerate boredom, but facilitated it?
What if we purposefully neglected “productive” tasks so we could engage in boredom? Suddenly, the opportunity cost becomes stark: either you spend this time getting something done or you spend this time getting nothing done.
As a productivity enthusiast, that’s a tradeoff that doesn’t make sense, especially during a landscape photography trip. But it works, and it’s become essential to staying inspired for a year of landscape photography.
Problem Solving Through Boredom
When I worked 100 percent remotely as a software developer, I often went for a walk when I was stuck on a problem or had a sprint, planning meetings coming up. Not tedious, tricky hikes, but the kind of mindless walks that require no concentration. Allowing my mind to wander long enough would often unravel not just the problem at hand, but five others I forgot were standing in a subconscious queue.
It’s no coincidence: mindless tasks like walking, showering, or folding laundry initiate boredom, but numb the restlessness we typically associate with boredom. That’s when the mind wanders and sorts out problems, plans, and dreams.
Boredom and Leaving Your Camera Behind
Perhaps boredom is essential to creativity, but the practical application to landscape photography is downright terrifying: leave your camera behind, even if there’s a possibility you’ll get a good shot.
I’m scared of regrets. It’s no big deal to miss something you didn’t know about in the first place, but discovering amazing scenery during a hike and being unable to capture it is torturous.
So, when I go to the effort of committing to a hike, you better bet I’m bringing all my camera gear! I’ve spent years honing my ultralight camera kit so I can bring all of it without a second thought. But lately, I’ve caught myself skipping hikes altogether because of this regret-averse mindset: I’d rather not carry a bag at all with me, but if I leave the camera behind, I’ll regret missing shots. The outcome of this dilemma is that I second-guess doing the hike at all!
Like many cognitive biases, this regret-averse mindset sounds nonsensical when articulated, because it implies that hiking without my camera kit is a waste of time.
Benefits of Leaving Your Camera Behind
But what results am I really getting from “wasting a hike without my camera”? From a photographic perspective, scouting the location allows you to discover viewpoints or move on altogether while investing as little effort as possible.
You could still scout a location with your camera on hand, but what would you miss out on if you did bring your camera?
- Boredom: when the mind doesn’t have an extended period to wander, we handcuff our ability to break out of ruts. In other words, we miss out on creativity.
- Health: hiking with or without a camera will improve your physical health, but hiking without your camera makes room for the mental health benefits of boredom: exercise helps us deal with stressors and anxieties, while boredom empowers our mind to discover creative solutions to deal with them. Exercise and boredom are a powerful combination for your physical and mental health!
- Commitment: you might not have hiked in the first place if you didn’t want to go to the effort of carrying your gear. I’ve often stopped along a drive and debated whether I should drive on, or spend a half-hour exploring a nearby hill. The added legwork of grabbing my gear makes me reconsider if I should just move on.
If you struggle with leaving your camera gear behind, remember that you will actually walk away with valuable results you wouldn’t otherwise!
Most of my best choices and creative breakthroughs in the last few years can be traced to a period of boredom during a hike or long walk: transitioning to full-time teaching, becoming a travel writer, and deciding to take a year-long sabbatical to photograph the world.
Although bringing these ideas to fruition was anything but boring, discovering and evaluating these ideas began with boredom.
Practical Ways to Nurture Boredom on Your Next Hike
Next time you consider a hike but don’t feel like dragging your photography gear along, here are some practical ways to facilitate boredom and make the most of it:
- Pick walks or runs that are at least an hour and won’t require much concentration. Hikes that feature rocky scrambles and constant changes of pace can make it difficult to get bored.
- Turn on your phone’s Do Not Disturb mode. The faintest notification will easily prevent the mind from wandering. I’ve gotten into the habit of turning on Do Not Disturb all the time to improve concentration; it turns out I already check my work notifications with disturbing frequency.
- To help guide your mental wanderings, try selecting some problems and goals before walking so your mental ramblings have a relevant starting point. But don’t worry about wandering off track; most of my travel writing and lifestyle choices have come from wandering on tangents, then noticing how two ramblings relate to each other.
- Keep a journal nearby to jot down thoughts, but save in-depth writing for after the walk. The space will give your more meaningful thoughts time to coalesce and strengthen; jotting down every thought will distract you.
I still think that ultralight packing and gear shakedowns are a fantastic way to enjoy the best of both worlds: if your pack is light enough, you won’t be tempted to turn down any hike. But from experience, I have trouble facilitating boredom when the temptation to whip out my camera is ever present.
Boredom is essential to creativity. And sometimes, that means leaving your camera behind, even when you might get some great shots.
Do you struggle with getting bored? Skeptical about leaving your camera behind for uncertain benefits? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
Lead image by Oziel Gómez via Pexels.