Can boredom make you less boring?
Author: Kate Cross
Are you a boredom-evader? Do you expend considerable money and energy avoiding the discomfort? Or, do you revel in the nothingness?
We all experience boredom from time to time, but it seems this unsavoury feeling can be a powerful motivator if we respond to it the right way …
“Boredom is the uncomfortable feeling of wanting, but being unable, to engage attention,” explains John Eastwood, co-author of Out of my skull: The psychology of boredom.
The Associate Professor of Psychology at York University says, “when bored, time drags, we can't concentrate, we oscillate between restlessness and lethargy, and whatever we are doing feels pointless”.
So, is boredom good or bad?
Unsurprisingly, the emotion has been associated with a range of negative outcomes. Associate Professor Eastwood cites attention errors, overeating, risky decisions, self-harming, anger, hostility, depression and addiction.
However, on the flipside, Psychiatrist and Philosopher Dr Neel Burton writes in a piece for Psychology Today that “boredom can be a stimulus for change, leading you to better ideas, higher ambitions, and greater opportunities”.
Senior Psychology Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire Dr Sandi Mann says her “goal is to get people more bored”.
Dr Mann, who has authored various papers on boredom, plus the book The Science of Boredom, says that to become more tolerant of low-level stimulation, people need to let more boredom into their lives.
“[Boredom] fosters creativity,” she says. “Without being bored we lose enormous creative potential”.
While Associate Professor Eastwood agrees boredom can have positive aspects, he doesn’t recommend striving for tedium.
Instead, he says we should try to “cultivate moments of daydreaming, planning and engaging in self-reflection”.
“It is not good to be bored,” says Associate Professor Eastwood, clarifying “it is good that boredom feels bad because it motivates us to avoid stagnation”.
Dealing with boredom – is mindless technology the answer?
While scrolling and swiping is certainly one way to pass the time, it’s not an ideal antidote to boredom.
Dr Mann says that in the age of social media “we have grown so used to high levels of stimulation that we can’t tolerate low levels anymore, so we get bored easily”.
Adds Associate Professor Eastwood: “Technology and social media make it easier for us to find immediate – but in the long-term not helpful – relief from boredom.”
“When we mindlessly scroll through social media to make the uncomfortable feeling of boredom go away, we are not addressing the underlying issue – that is the need to become self-determined rather than passive,” he says.
So, what is the right way to respond to boredom?
Dr Mann says to “embrace it by allowing periods of boredom where you are forced to let your mind wander because there is nothing else to do”.
Says Associate Professor Eastwood: “Don't rush to make the uncomfortable feeling go away without addressing the underlying problem. Boredom is an alert telling us we need to become authors of our lives, so don't dull that message, head it.
“Avoid passive entertainment ... Instead look for activities that flow from, and give expression to, your passion, creativity and curiosity.