Maybe We Need More Boredom

“Do tank.” I’m not kidding. People were unironically naming things that.

About a decade and a half ago, it was popular to criticize think tanks and mission based organizations for too much thinking and not enough acting.

I get the sentiment. Most nonprofits and academic institutions waste a bunch of other people’s money on disconnected ideas and status games. That is what drove me to entrepreneurship in the world of profit and loss signals.

In business, action bias is awesome. Try stuff. Build stuff. Experiment. Get your ideas into the world. It’s the fastest way to get feedback from the market so you can create the most value.

But in many other aspects of life, it’s better to slow down with your ideas and opinions. Especially when they involve the lives of others. Especially especially when they are grand schemes or harsh judgements.

My friend TK Coleman has talked for years about the idea of noble boredom. A mind devoid of temporary titillations. A mind in search of interestingness. What happens when you become comfortable with that?

Well here’s what doesn’t happen: Rage. Reactionary movements. Hot-headed ill-tempered shallow arguments. Mindless dopamine benders. Arrogant attempts to control the world.

It seems all everyone does now is act. Everything seems to be screaming, begging, demanding from us action and reaction. Opinions must be stated and stated now! And loudly! And cleverly! And you must work to ensure they elicit action and reaction from as many other people as possible. All day every day.

You may call this talk rather than action. But expressing oneself is an act. And the act of instant expression creates a lot of problems.

Instant expression spurs sub-optimal action and takes the steam out of more productive action.

It spurs escalatory, reactionary, instant, “emergency” action. The kind with little thought, little depth, and little long-term impact. It stokes fires and triggers all the darker instincts looking for an excuse.

It kills productive action. When something troubles you and you do nothing and say nothing, it builds. It rolls over in your mind. It gets worked with, refined, and clarified. Given enough time and silence, you might be compelled to some productive action. But the instant release valve of shouting your discontent steals all the impetus before it’s had time to mature into something worthwhile.

This isn’t always the case. Sometimes instant expression is a good thing. Sometimes its instinctive, reactive nature moves quickly to save lives or prevent disaster. But this seems rare.

If you’ve ever studied learning patterns, you’ll be familiar with research on boredom, classrooms, and attention “disorders”. The TLDR is this: kids conditioned to constant external stimulation lose the ability (innate in humans) to be alone with themselves. To think. To stay in the moment with nothing but their thoughts. To generate a robust internal life.

What would happen if you let yourself sit in one place until all your thoughts slowed to a crawl and then you sat some more?

There are parts of the human mind only unlocked slowly. Parts only accessed after long silences. Parts only those who can handle boredom ever access.