You know the signs: bouncing your legs up and down, repetitively tapping your fingers on the desk, shifting in your seat constantly, and scrolling mindlessly on social media. Does any of that sound familiar? Of course it does! 😴 No one enjoys being bored, but there are some surprising benefits that come with embracing boredom, including increased creativity, original thinking, and self-control.
So, is it good to be bored? What does science say about boredom, and how can you stop fighting it? Let’s find out!
The Science: Is Being Bored Good for You?
We’ve all had those moments of stillness, the ones that lack any form of amusement or entertainment. The feeling can be dreadful; time slows down, and we’re forced to live through every dragging second.
But that seemingly boring moment can be both a blessing and an untapped power. Studies reveal that if used to one's benefit, boredom can aid creativity, productivity, problem-solving, and mental health.
So, what’s the main reason boredom is so despised and avoided?
Many people absolutely hate the feeling of being bored. This feeling is so disliked that there is a special phobia for it called Thaasophobia: "the fear of sitting still, of being idle, of being bored."
Peter Toohey, in his book Boredom: A Lively History, offers a theory on why people dislike being bored. He writes: "Nothing speeds brain atrophy more than being immobilized in the same environment: the monotony undermines our dopamine and attentional systems crucial to maintaining brain plasticity."
People may not like being bored because our brains have an ingrained fear of atrophy or the condition of wasting away or decreasing in size. Toohey hypothesized that because of this, people have the need for a healthy dose of stimulation in their lives in order to maintain their brain’s optimum health. Boredom may make people subconsciously wary of how this current state of stillness might affect their brains.
But in our ever-connected and busy lives, there’s no lack of stimulation. In fact, we’re hardly ever still or alone with our own boredom because most of us have a personal entertainment device at our fingertips that’s available at the slightest hint of boredom.
In research funded by The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), it was shown that an individual's propensity for boredom is associated with lower levels of self-control. And it’s easy to see how this can lead to other negative effects, with identified self-control problems including addiction, gambling, and binge-eating.
Although boredom may be something you’ve spent your entire life running from, there are real benefits to embracing boredom, and if you turn to your phone at any sign of a boring moment, you are missing out on these powerful benefits.
The Benefits of Boredom
Boredom Increases Creativity
When you’re bored, you are forced to problem solve on your own—to fill the void and create something of your own from your own thoughts.
Sandi Mann, author of the book, The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good, says, “There’s no other way of getting that stimulation, so you have to go into your head."
When you are truly bored, you are forced to go inside your own mind for entertainment. This is a place many of us avoid going since so many of us run from our own thoughts, filling every spare minute with a distracting activity.
But when you embrace boredom, you force the growth of new connections in your mind. You wander, reflect, and make new connections, which leads to increased creativity.
But you first have to make peace with boredom and understand that its presence does not equal laziness or the absence of passion. Boredom is a benefit, and it’s not something you need to keep running from. By allowing your mind to wander and daydream instead of finding something to fill the void, you ignite your imagination, unleashing your creativity and problem-solving abilities.
Boredom Promotes Original Thinking
Boredom promotes original thinking since all you are left with when you’re bored is your own thoughts. You are able to simply sit, to fully flesh out your own ideas and opinions without any outside influence.
What do you believe? What do you think? How might you solve any particular problem that’s weighing on you? It’s common for us to reach out to other people for advice before we take the time to listen to ourselves.
Boredom provides the time and space for us to sort through our own ideas. It sets the stage for original thinking, which helps us embrace change and innovation.
Boredom Enables Self-Control
The most successful people in the world say that the secret to life is self-control—the ability to regulate your own thoughts and actions while in pursuit of your goals.
But so many of us live in a world of instant gratification. This is the urge to forgo long-term goals and their potential future benefits for more enjoyable and immediate, yet less rewarding outcomes.
Let's say you end up staying up late watching one more episode of Game of Thrones. You end that episode on an exciting cliffhanger, so you squeeze in one more episode, and one more glass of wine. This is the instant gratification monkey taking control, and it results in your waking up tired and skipping your regular morning routine. You made your choices based on what would yield immediate gratification instead of waiting until the next night to see what happens to Jon Snow.
💡 Learn more about the instant gratification monkey from our article: Instant Gratification Examples and What You Should Do Instead.
Boredom is not an enjoyable feeling, and it makes us crave instant gratification. As soon as we feel boredom coming on, we want to spark a conversation, reach for our phone, or turn on the television. But sitting through bored moments exercises our self-control and prevents us from giving into instant gratification.
Exercising self-control is a practiced skill that can benefit all areas of your life, from resisting the urge to eat an unhealthy snack before bed to not reaching for social media during your lunch break. Practice self-control by allowing yourself to embrace moments of boredom.
Instead of learning how to deal with boredom, embrace it. I love to lie around and deeply consider my own thoughts.
How to Stop Fighting Boredom
1. Avoid Picking Up Your Phone in Spare Moments
Modern devices and their addicting applications take a toll on our mental health. We are constantly plugged in, never getting a moment that is truly to ourselves.
The simplest step you can take toward embracing boredom is to fight the urge to pick up your phone. This action is so ingrained in us that we often pick up our phones without even realizing we are doing so. We might get 10 minutes into skimming an article or scrolling aimlessly on social media before we even realize we are doing it.
Become more aware of your actions. How often do you pick up your phone on any given day? Research suggests many people pick up their phone over 1500 times a week. Think you fall outside of the average? If you’re an iPhone user, there’s a simple way to check. Go to your Screen Time settings and look at your activity. There’s a section called “Pickups” that will tell you how many times you picked up your phone each day and what you did first when you picked it up.
Begin building simple habits around your phone usage to keep you from grabbing it any time you’re bored. Set limits on the time you spend using your phone and keep it out of reach at certain times of the day. If you know you’re going to reach for it on your lunch break, put it away in your desk instead so that you have time to sit with your own thoughts. Even if it feels “boring,” know that you are aiding your own creativity and mindfulness while also practicing self-control.
2. In Transit, Focus On the View and the Journey
Another simple step you can take to embrace boredom is to learn to enjoy the journey. Instead of reaching for your phone, a book, or a podcast as you make your way to or from work (or anywhere else), try living in the moment.
Look out the window. What do you see? What happens when you simply sit there? What comes to mind? Where does your mind wander?
Allow yourself to have these moments of boredom so that you can experience more of the world. By not being constantly occupied and stimulated during a journey somewhere, you give your mind time to relax, reflect, and form new connections.
3. Set Time Aside to Sit With Your Own Thoughts
There is power in sitting with your own thoughts instead of running away from them. This is an essential time that we all need for reflection and mindfulness.
Use boredom as an opportunity to reflect on your own thoughts, how the day went, how you can improve, and what you want from life. Become more comfortable tuning into the present moment and spending time with yourself. When was the last time you set aside time for your own thoughts?
With how busy so many of us are, this valuable time won’t appear out of nowhere. We have to schedule time for personal mindfulness and reflection, or we may never get it. At first, spending time with your own thoughts will likely spark feelings of boredom, but push through and allow your mind to wander.
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