The Underrated Value of Boredom

We often prevent ourselves from getting bored or entering boredom completely. Once we find ourselves without a defined activity, we will switch to another one that fills the void – social media, phone calls, replying to messages, or just surfing the internet. Of course, we fill this time mostly with digital devices.

And, why not? This habit exposes us to news, rumors, and information, which are usually exciting and stimulate our dopamine rush.

Good thing? But why do we try to prevent ourselves from getting bored? Is it a bad thing? And how should we deal with it?

In this article, I will try to answer these questions.

What is Boredom?

Boredom is an emotional state we experience when we don’t have anything left to do or to be interested in.

We get bored when we don’t have anything that excites us anymore. It’s not a pathological or depressing state but rather an emotional one.

Boredom, contrary to the common belief, is not when you don’t have anything to do, and it’s when none of the options available is appealing enough.

Having many causes, boredom is perceived as a negative emotion and can accompany depression, lethargy, and lack of energy. Boredom can be unpleasant and distressing.

Assuming that is true, there is no wonder that we try to avoid boredom most of the time. There are, of course, many ways to stay off boredom: Social media, stopping by for a coffee, talking to someone, surfing the internet, and endless options are available.

Resisting Boredom: Why We Don’t Want to Get Bored?

Fear of Boredom

According to The 50th law by Robert Greene, avoiding boredom is a great fear, and we fear staying alone with ourselves.

We live in an era of continuous and nonstop information, in a condition that you can access everything and amuse yourself within a few seconds using a smartphone.

You fear getting bored because you fear missing out; we don’t want to miss out on anything new, exciting, and entertaining that can keep our minds active.

We also fear staying alone because our access to entertainment is straightforward as it wasn’t before.

Boredom will usually arise in our minds with questions and thoughts that we don’t want to deal with. These can be big questions, plans, financial issues, personal problems, career decisions, etc. Dealing with these thoughts and making decisions is not easy, so we try (unconsciously) to avoid them by keeping ourselves busy.

We generally think about and experience boredom as something to be avoided. Our culture (unintentionally) also teaches us to stay busy.

Over time, we developed the habit of keeping ourselves busy, searching for the next amusement. Sometimes, it can be new people, friends, restaurants, attractions, books, or activities. Occasionally, we don’t find something specific, so we get into doing anything to prevent boredom.

Benefits of Resisting Boredom

It sounds like I want you to get bored. But that’s not exact. Avoiding boredom also benefits if you fill it with the right things.

Avoiding boredom means exploration, and it may open new opportunities and options in our lives. We may explore new things, not being aware of their presence in our internal or external world.

We also keep our brain active and busy, stimulating it to get it used to work and thinking most of the time. Unless you dumb your brain with meaningless activities, most new things you do to activate it and train it can build new neuronal connections and strengthen it.

Dangers of Resisting Boredom

But the danger of avoiding boredom is still here, and you have too much to lose. Keeping ourselves busy to not confront boredom means that we may stray from our path, leading to a change in our career or long-term goal. That’s how we prevent ourselves from finding meaning in life by trying too many directions and not persisting in one.

But the root of the problem is not the boredom itself, but how we treat it and our relationship.

Participants in one study were asked to stay alone for 6 to 15 minutes without doing anything but thinking. They can enjoy doing what they want and have the choice to give themselves electric shocks.

More than 50% of the men chose to press the button and get an electric shock. The authors of the study concluded:

“Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.”

This may be an intense study, but the point is obvious: We resist boredom and avoid it at all costs. On the same principle, every time we get bored, we resist it and fill the void with emails, social media, news, messages, etc.

For the same purpose, we keep ourselves busy with endless activities and tasks. Here we try to seek productivity and feel satisfied that we can squeeze the most out of every minute of our lives.

The Hidden Value of Getting Bored – Reversing Your Perspective

While most people will chase any new way to keep their mind active, we can think about the opposite: Disconnecting, unplugging, and getting bored.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Pascal.

Of course, I’m not a person who loves boredom like most people, and I’m no different.

The opposite, as a type-A personality, seeking to perfect and get the most from everything I do or every minute I spend in life, I have plans and tasks that will keep me busy for years from now.

In the last year, I discovered the underrated and hidden value of getting bored.

To do so, there is a need to change the perspective and how we treat boredom. More specifically, it means going in the opposite direction.

Instead of looking for some activity to kill the feeling of boredom, I started to set some time during the week in which I didn’t have to do anything.

When you are bored, your mind wanders, and your attention is not focused on anything specific. If you are too much busy, it means that you are trying to kill boredom. It’s a call for you to slow down, stop for a moment and think about what you are doing. Are you busy because you are moving on the right path, or try to prevent boredom by keeping yourself entertained?

Benefits of Boredom

If boredom is good sometimes, how can we benefit from it? As lifelong learners and better humans, there is no shame in getting bored if it will improve our lives to become better.

Boredom Enhance Creativity

When you wonder and let your mind think without limits, you get to unknown places but interesting. While we can be focused on one task and think about it all the time, letting our minds wander can enhance thinking and creativity.

Don’t misunderstand; boredom is not creative, but it can lead to that, and studies even support it. One study shows that participants engaged in boring activities like writing, reading a phonebook, or other increased creativity.

It can be found to be true. Just take a moment and think about where and when you get your best ideas — while focusing, taking a shower, driving, or doing anything mindlessly.

Disconnecting from your life and giving your mind and body space to think and wonder is the act of being creative.

Boredom Enhance Productivity

If you can become more creative and think better, your mind will have a better picture of your goals and the path you should take. Reaching this point is the start of becoming productive.

If boredom can improve your clarity, being focused during your tasks is easy, enhancing productivity.

Don’t expect dramatic changes; you will not finish writing a post, reading a book, or doing any other task half of the time because you practiced boredom.

Being Inspired

Newton discovered gravity and developed his laws while being bored and watching the apple falling from the tree. He wasn’t sitting in his lab thinking and analyzing gravity, and it all happened by chance (or not).

What happened with Newton is the power of inspiration hidden in boredom. To feel inspired, you must have an experience of being empty and bored. Like getting creative, you will feel inspired by the active process of wandering thoughts in your mind.

Boredom Help in Goal-Setting

Boredom is an excellent way to establish and give a sense of life to your goals. While bored, you reflect on your day, think about what happened, and review every step. This period has the pattern of re-evaluation, which helps redefine and clear out your goals and set them better.

This process is called autobiographical planning: The aimless state of boredom can cultivate a story about your life. Thinking of your life as a story is an excellent way for goal setting.

You can reach your plans during this phase, imagine them in detail, and create an apparent path.

Using boredom wisely, we can focus better on our goals after clarifying and reflecting on them.

Boredom Makes you more Altruistic.

When you get bored, you have the time to think about others and what you can do to help them. You also feel yourself without a specific aim in life, which provides more meaning. Bored participants in some studies were more likely to donor blood and did altruistic activities.

The Calming Effect of Boredom

The tough part is to overcome getting bored. With that complete and behind you, you can conveniently enter boredom.

Over time, you will find a calming effect in the boredom itself because you get inspired and help you solve your problems, and fill the void with exciting and important things rather than distractions.

Boredom becomes your need to slow down, examine yourself, and develop new aspects in your life. With enough persistence, patience, and discipline, you will find so much calm in this activity.

The next level is when boredom becomes replaced by new activities that can upgrade your life and move to the next level you desire. Your pleasure will start coming from these moments and the activity, not from immediate, exciting, fast-blowing distractions.

Strategies for Incorporating Boredom

To incorporate boredom and benefit from it, you must try some strategies. These are usually simple and easy to apply.

The following methods can be used to incorporate boredom:

  1. Make some time alone: Focus on creating time for yourself to be alone. Usually, this period will be dull, accompanied by a strange feeling of inability to sit down still. Over time, you will overcome this feeling and start discovering the benefits of boredom.
  2. Do easy activities without the need for focus: I wouldn’t say I like dishwashing. But, recently, and especially after starting practicing transcendental meditation, I found this activity an opportunity to get bored and wander with my mind. Similar moves that don’t need thinking and are so familiar with can be used for the same purpose. These include walking in a known route (Your daily walk from parking or public station to work, and vice versa), standing in a queue, and others.
  3. Schedule: To overcome the inconvenience of boredom, schedule it in advance. It doesn’t have to belong, and I don’t prepare 10 or 30 minutes here and there; instead, I use my weekly review period to get bored and wander with my mind.
  4. Disconnect: Disconnect yourself from every distraction that may come to you: Calls, messages, social media, news, TV. While this disconnection might be problematic for some, you can use strategies such as leaving the phone in another room, spending a weekend without social media, or traveling with the phone for urgent cases only. Instead of randomly browsing your phone or tablet without a clear purpose, let your mind wander.
  5. Let your mind wonder: When feeling overwhelmed, busy, and too distracted, go into a boredom period and let your mind wander around. Your thoughts, ideas, and sensations will fill the void called inspiration.
  6. Reflect: Once you are in these times of boredom, reflect on your life, day, or the recent week. Such moments should be used to assess yourself in every step: Did you go right? Are you headed in the right direction? Wrong?

Boredom: Putting it All Together

Boredom is not something you should fear or avoid. Overcome the fear of getting bored and give yourself more place to wander with your mind.

I’m not suggesting spending all of your time doing nothing, but some minutes during the day or one hour a week is great to start. It’s a great way to enhance creativity and productivity and find inspiration.

Footnotes

For more information on Boredom and its use in daily life, browse the scientific studies linked in this article.

Other useful resources:

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