Boredom

We have been in this pandemic for months that feel like years. Have you reread all the books from your childhood and college years? Have you put together every jigsaw puzzle from the storage closet under the stairs? Have you binge-watched every Netflix series that caught your fancy? If you have, then you have probably hit that emotional, physical and temporal wall that is boredom. I don’t have anything to do. I just want to go to sleep. Maybe I can find a snack in the kitchen. I should be cleaning or cooking or…
I think we’ve all felt it, experienced it, and dreaded it, but boredom is not something that is to be feared or even endured. I read a January 4, 2019 Time article by Jamie Ducharme recently called Being Bored Can Be Good For You-If You Do It Right. Here’s How. It made some good points and made me think more about how we can embrace boredom and even use it as a jumping off point for creativity and productivity if we just open ourselves up a bit.
Why is boredom, and the act of being bored every once in a while, so important? According to the Time article, boredom “is a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied”. I believe that we sometimes panic when we have nothing to occupy our minds or stimulate us or provide novelty, but being bored pushes our own brains to create the novelty and stimulation from nothing. It forces us to be creative. I love to write, and some of my best ideas to explore have to come to me in such unlikely places as the hot shower on a cold morning, on a steamy trail walk by the river, or when sitting drowsily in the early summer sun in my front porch rocking chair. These down times can be a resting period, a respite from the daily grind that we sometimes do not realize we need. They can happen spontaneously. That being said, can one plan to be bored?
Absolutely. Now, I should say here, as did the author of the Time article, that one should not confuse boredom with relaxation. Acts that require concentration like yoga, meditation, or even putting together a puzzle, do not lead to boredom, even if they are relaxing. Boredom requires that one let the mind wander. No stimulation is necessary. Another crucial aspect of allowing yourself time to be bored is that you must unplug. Having a phone in your hand keeps you from ever reaching true boredom, while it paradoxically fails to truly entertain most of the time. What do I mean by this? Endless scrolling keeps our brains from working out their boredom and coming up with novel stimulation and creative thoughts. At the same time, the quality of entertainment we get from such unstructured time is nowhere near the quality of entertainment that we might get from diving into a good book with characters we truly care about and invest in.
Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, says that we can become addicted to the tiny dopamine hits we get every time we pick up our devices. “Our tolerance for boredom just changes completely, and we need more and more to stop being bored.”
Planning for times that you will be bored may lead to increased creativity, new ideas to explore, and thoughtful reflection about the things that are important to you but that get pushed back by technology and busy schedules. Being bored may help you become more resilient. You may even find that this new creativity and idea generation gets you outside your own head and thinking about doing something that might benefit others. Read, doodle, listen to familiar music, doze in the sun, anything that will free your brain to be quiet, attentive and open to new things. You may be amazed at what you come up with.

Boredom

I want you to do something for me.

I want you to sit quietly for one full minute before you start reading this post. Still. Quiet. Hands in your lap. Doing nothing but timing yourself for one minute.

I’ll wait.

My hunch is that this little exercise was extremely hard for most of you. Almost impossible. You were feeling silly at fifteen seconds, antsy at thirty seconds, twitchy at forty-five seconds and downright anxious at fifty-nine seconds. A minute is a very long time to sit quietly and do nothing.

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday about my weekend activity plans. Part of these plans include taking time, consciously, to be still, to sit and watch TV or read or do something that is slower than my usual pace.

Let’s just say that this is hard for me. Really hard.

I proudly exclaimed to her, “Look! I’m being bored! Watch me!”

She told me that that this kind of boredom is good.

What was she thinking?!? (Of course, she was right.)

We don’t know how to be bored anymore. We’re raising a generation of kids who are antsy, distracted, energetic, fidgety, impulsive and don’t know how to amuse themselves. Many of us adults have lost control of this scenario to the point that all we know how to do is bring the kid in and have him medicated for ADHD, which he may or may not have.

Why is boredom, planned boredom, good? How does it help us?

1) It rests our body physically. Let’s face it, we all burn the candle at both ends way too many days out of the week. We rest too little, sleep too little, and we are not very kind to ourselves. Have you ever been afraid to let yourself slow down, sit still, and do something quiet for fear that you would simply fall asleep, exhausted? (Raising hand with sheepish grin)

2) It rests our mind. When we sit still and let ourselves be undirected for a while, our mind can be free to wander, to dream, to think, to scheme, to plan. It can unplug for a little bit. It can disengage. It can also pay attention to the things around us. Funny, the birds chirp, the wind rustles the leaves on the trees, motorcycles roar by, and there are spectacular sunsets, even when we are tremendously busy. We just don’t notice them.

3) It allows us to be creative. Down time, physically and mentally, gives us that extra little bit of capacity to see things differently, to notice the colors and the sounds and the ideas that get pushed out by our frenetic day-to-day lives. We can do some pretty spectacular things when we give ourselves the freedom to do them.

4) It lets us get reacquainted with ourselves. You’ll have to trust me on this one. I see patients day after day who are chasing after other people or jobs or material things that will make them whole. That will make them feel good about themselves. That will make them okay. The thing that they don’t get is that they ARE okay, but they are not in touch with who and how they really are. If they gave themselves that little bit of time, that boring few minutes to sit and have a heart-to-heart conversation with themselves, they might find that they were actually pretty good people.

Give yourself some time to be bored today.

If you read my post from yesterday, yes, it’s okay to schedule it on your calendar if you want. That means you must do it!

Rest your body.

Rest your mind.

Be creative.

Get to know yourself again.