Embrace boredom and give your brain a boost
When was the last time you were bored and didn’t reach for your phone? These days, every commute, every queue and every lull in conversation is filled with Instagram, games and YouTube. Our devices mean that boredom is extinct, and we are hypersensitive to empty time. We do anything to fill that void, longing for the next distraction.
Is this lack of boredom and constant digital stimulation causing us harm?
What is boredom?
Boredom is hard to define and even more difficult to quantify and measure. It’s not depression, or apathy. It’s a lack of stimulation that people find unpleasant and uncomfortable – so uncomfortable that some people prefer danger or outright pain.
For instance, boredom is a trigger for binge-eating. US teenagers who were bored are also 50% more likely than non-bored peers to take up drinking, smoking, and illegal drugs. Boredom makes you a dangerous driver — for example people on a driving simulator drive faster if they were bored, drifted over the centre line more and took longer to react to hazards.
One experiment had people sit in a room for 15 minutes, and do nothing. 67% of men and 25% of women participants preferred to give themselves small electric shocks rather than be bored.
It’s easy to see how your phone has quickly become the way to avoid boredom. It’s far more pleasant than giving yourself an electric shock.
It’s hard to measure boredom
In 1986, Norman Sundberg and Richard Farmer created a Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS). Rather than previous studies that relied on asking “Are you bored?”, it asks participants to agree or disagree with statements like “Time always seems to be passing slowly.” The score is then added up, giving the participant a measure for their propensity for boredom.
This is self-reported and totally subjective – it doesn’t tell the difference between someone who gets bored in a certain situation, and someone who is prone to boredom all the time. So we can’t measure boredom accurately – does it even matter? Why do we need boredom?
But why being bored matters
Boredom is surprisingly important. Here are six benefits you get from just doing nothing.
- It makes you more creative. When you have nothing to specifically think about, your brain wanders. It unpacks problems, twisting them around and coming up with innovative solutions and approaches. So next time you have a problem, put down your phone and stare out the window for a while instead. You might magically solve your problem.
- It helps you think about the future. When you stop actively thinking, which holds you in the here and now, you start imagining the bigger picture – what the future holds and how you’ll accomplish goals.
- Boredom makes you realise your life is meaningless. This, conversely to how it sounds, can spur you on to make positive changes or do something altruistic. Have you ever been idle in a queue and then thought about paying someone’s bill? You might have been bored.
- Being bored makes you more productive. While sitting at your desk and staring off into space doesn’t sound all that productive , it actually gives your brain space to process tasks.
- Boredom makes you happy. Those quiet moments make you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines. You can’t hide from your problems in distraction. This helps you to see you’re stuck in a bad situation, so you can create positive change in your life.
- Boredom is good for your mental health. When your brain switches ‘off’, it’s a brief escape from your life. Ironically, the things you turn to in order to avoid boredom – social media and emails – can hurt your mental health.
How can you be more bored?
If you want to make your life a little better, a bit of boredom won’t go astray. Here’s how.
Turn your phone on flight mode
That relentless dinging and flashing light is a constant reminder that someone, somewhere, wants a moment of your time. Turn them off. Choose a time, whether it’s during dinner, or while you go for a walk outside. Give your brain a break. You might even find yourself willing to try meditation!
In general, our phones are making us dissatisfied with real life. That constant novelty means we are always seeking something new. We need more and more stimulus to get the same excitement hit. But rather than scrolling our way to fun times, we’re less entertained and even more dissatisfied
Kill social media
If you’ve ever found yourself watching YouTube videos of cats terrified of cucumbers at 2am, or scrolling aimlessly on Reddit for the past 4 hrs, you know it’s enough internet for the day.
Limit your time on social media – maybe only 2-3 videos in the morning during breakfast, or only 1-2 hrs of stalking people on Facebook or reading r/nosleep stories at night. You’ll also reap extra benefits: without the picture-perfect newsfeeds of your friends’ apparently amazing lifestyles, you’ll enjoy better mental health.
Next time you’re in a queue, on hold, or in transit, wait. Don’t reach for your phone. You have a bonus boredom moment. Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and look around. Maybe even do some shoulder and leg stretches which is always good for you.
Be bored – the right way
What we’re trying to say is, being bored is not always bad. Put the phone down, turn the TV off and embrace your boredom once in a while. Find a mindless task you can do on autopilot. Swimming laps, walking a familiar track, or just sitting without music on. Give your brain a chance to quiet down and think or relax. Let ideas flow and entertain yourself instead of relying on social media.
So next time you find yourself bored, resist the urge to scroll. Sit with the boredom. In this time of constant entertainment, stimulation and novel content, you should be seeking out time off. Step away from your phone and enjoy the benefits of boredom.