Article by Now to Love /
March 25, 2019 /
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You’re in the lounge, the internet’s down and your phone battery’s dead. You fidget, looking around for something to do and end up pacing or, worse, cleaning. Yes, that’s how bad things are.
Because the alternative to boredom is like setting your phone on fire. Completely incomprehensible.
But is our avoidance of boredom causing us more harm than good? Are there benefits to be had from simply being bored?
In Yawn: Adventures in Boredom, the author Mary Mann explains how boredom is something we should embrace, rather than try to avoid.
Contrary to previous studies that have shown the potential negatives to come from boredom, Mary cites studies that show the opposite.
For example, in one particular UK study participants were subjected to a creative challenge. Two groups were formed, the first of which completed a boring activity prior to attempting the creative task.
The result showed that this group came up with the most innovative solutions, as opposed to the group who did the creative task first.
Another similar study published in the journal, Academy of Management Discoveries, concluded the same.
Yet still so many of us hate being bored.
In fact, some will take their avoidance to shocking levels.
In an experiment in the US, participants were given a small electric shock that was unpleasant and something that three-quarters of them said they would pay to avoid.
However, when asked to sit idle in a room for 15 minutes with their own thoughts, 67 per cent of male participants and 25 per cent of female subjects were so eager to find something to do that they shocked themselves voluntarily.
Lead researcher Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, says, “I think [our] mind is built to engage in the world, so when we don’t give it anything to focus on, it’s kind of hard to know what to do.”
While daydreaming is spontaneous and can be enjoyable, Timothy believes that the pressure to think on command may be what’s difficult and unpleasant for so many.
Having effortless access to constant stimulation also means that being bored is generally avoidable.
“Sitting and being alone with your own thoughts can be perceived by some as indulgent, time-wasting, and unproductive,” says Dr Lauren Rosewarne, senior social scientist at the University of Melbourne.
“It doesn’t have to be any of these things of course, but this is the popular perception.
“Even scrolling on the phone makes people feel productive and stops them spending too much time in their own head – which, for some, is anxiety-inducing,” she adds.
Living in a culture that’s constantly urging us to do better doesn’t help either.
At every turn we’re being told that we need to be richer, thinner, more successful and busier in order to be happy.
“Being ‘bored’ seems to be out of sync with a culture that wants us to constantly be striving for betterment,” explains Dr Rosewarne.
“Equally, some people pin their identity on being ‘busy’ and, therefore, it’s important to their sense of self to always be – and be seen to be – doing things.”
Conversely, Dr Rosewarne notes that being excessively busy may actually just signal poor time management or, alternatively, signify being in a job that has too much work for one person.
But boredom doesn’t translate solely to sitting twiddling your thumbs, it also relates to your lifestyle.
Maybe things are too predictable, too monotonous, or too routine?
We all know that eye rolling feeling when we think tomorrow will be the same as today.
We know we’ll spend the morning commute stuck in traffic, we’ll likely have the same argument with our husband over those wet towels on the bed again and we’ll have to walk the dog in the rain.
This type of boredom can lead to resentment or a desire for change, which is something that can be turned into a positive.
However not being able to cope with boredom on the whole can signify anxiety, stress or misguided feelings of guilt and restlessness.
“The pressure of being constantly ‘on’ can sometimes be a negative influence,” says Dr Rosewarne.
“For example, research indicates that many of us experience disrupted sleep because of our constant connectivity and inability to settle and relax into slumber.”
Other research has linked busyness to burnout, physical sickness and general unhappiness.
So, what are some of the benefits of boredom, and why should we learn to embrace them?
1. Boredom boosts imagination and creativity
Much research has linked daydreaming to increased imagination and creativity.
So, see boredom as a chance to let your mind wander.
Who knows, when you return to reality you may be able to solve that work issue, doodle plans for your renovation and book your next holiday all in one go.
2. Boredom helps us make a change
Learning to recognise the cause of your boredom is key to fixing it, particularly if it’s affecting your happiness.
Whether it’s work, exercise, or relationship related, view boredom as ‘feedback’ and a catalyst for change.
Perhaps you need a new job or to discuss your current role with your manager, maybe your workout is not challenging or
varied enough, or maybe your relationship needs some help.
varied enough, or maybe your relationship needs some help.
3. Boredom allows us to reflect
Being bored gives you time to think about your purpose and what you want to achieve for yourself and those around you.
The consequence of this can be positive for all.
Research has shown that people are more likely to engage in prosocial and altruistic behaviors, such as donating to charity and signing up for blood donations, to help re-establish feelings of self-meaning.
4. Boredom teaches us the joy of quiet
Next time you feel the boredom itch, don’t scratch it by reaching for your phone.
Instead, unplug and remove yourself from external stimulation, even if it’s just while eating.
Learning to ‘just be’, no matter how bored you may feel, is a great way to slow down, calm down and realise that you can cope without constant entertainment or engagement.
The disconnect from the ‘noise’ may be just the boredom you need.