Photo by meredith hunter on Unsplash
Our senses are constantly being bombarded these days.
Advertisements capture your attention, stimulate the senses, and often create emotional responses, for better or worse. Advertisers have known this for a very long time, yet they are everywhere, with no regard to how it might negatively impact your wellbeing.
In addition, life in society is filled with stimulation. Storefronts and smells, other people, noises, chatter, cars driving by, background noise that you don’t realize is there until you’ve gone far, far away from it. It’s been happening for so long, we are used to it.
We are so over-stimulated, in fact, that “boredom” has become somewhat of a calamity. When we are bored, we reach for our phones to scroll, which leads to tangible, researched mental health issues. When our kids whine about being bored, we shove screens in front of their faces. Or we schedule them, or ourselves, to death.
We don’t give ourselves time to be free from the constraints of sensory stimulation, a schedule, or something to focus our minds on. It becomes so hard to just be.
But boredom isn’t bad, and science proves it. Boredom is actually necessary.
Early in human history, and even not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, boredom was likely prevalent. Our ancestors didn’t have screens or tablets to entertain themselves on a whim. Even books were a luxury to many. People simply had to just deal with it, and perhaps some evolution happened because of it.
So why is boredom good?
Boredom improves brain health.
When you are stimulated, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is basically your body’s “feel-good” chemical. When your body gets used to a constant supply of dopamine, being in a dull, quiet space might feel downright depressing.
Dopamine basically becomes an addiction. Your body craves that rush of dopamine in order to feel normal, and if it doesn’t get it, something feels wrong and your mental health suffers.
Letting your brain rest from time to time can help retrain it to find pleasure and enjoyment in these quiet times, without the drug of dopamine.
Boredom increases creativity.
When we’re bored, our minds wander. We create stories and images in our heads that can take us floating away from the present moment. While grounding and presence are important aspects of daily life, mind wandering can help you look inwards and encourage creative thinking.
Without external stimulation, our imagination soars and we think differently.
In these bored spaces, we can come up with creative solutions to problems, find inspiration for our next project, or have ideas we never would have thought of otherwise.
Boredom means you are daydreaming, and in daydreams, you can visualize what it is you want out of life, the things you want to create, the legacy you want to leave in the world. You create a mental image of something that will move you forward, and if, at some point, the energy of that boredom becomes greater than your strength to move past it, you begin to change.
Boredom can move us forward.
Boredom can be defined as an emotional signal that we’re not doing what we want to be doing. This can motivate us to take on new challenges, try new things, and seek out novel experiences. When boredom becomes a perpetual cycle of daily life, perhaps at the job you are working, it can be a red flag that something about your work needs to change.
Humans are, by nature, curious, adventurous, and intelligent beings that are constantly seeking out the next thing. If we were always completely content and happy in the moment, nobody would have ever sought to travel, try new things, or challenge the status quo. We have found fault in our ways because of boredom. We have pushed back against the things that aren’t working in society because of boredom. We have developed, evolved, and been inspired because of boredom. Boredom is a beautiful thing.
Boredom can help you self-regulate.
Kids often complain about being bored. I remember doing it as a child. However, when kids learn to be bored, they are learning very important life skills). They’re building self-esteem, and the ability to self-regulate and focus has been associated with their ability to handle boredom.
When kids have to learn to cope with unstructured time, they learn to come up with their own projects. They have to plan, allocate materials, and structure their project on their own. This ends up being a super important life skill, instead of turning to parents and teachers to give them blow-by-blow instructions on how to do everything.
As with adults, boredom in children can help them learn important creative thinking and problem-solving skills. These days, kids are often over-stimulated, constantly being handed screens to occupy them while adults do their thing.
To be bored becomes anxiety-inducing, and kids may end up panicking if they have nothing to do nor any guidance on how to get out of their bored headspace.
So, let kids be bored.
How to be bored.
In Italian, “Il dolce far niente” means the sweetness of doing nothing.
Yoga or meditation don’t exactly achieve the same results.
When you are doing yoga or meditation, you are still focusing on something, even if that thing is slow, meditative stillness in the moment. The creativity and problem-solving benefits that come from boredom won’t necessarily happen if you’re still focusing on something.
To truly receive the benefits of boredom, engage in what’s considered intentional mind-wandering.
The concept of mind-wandering is something that has received a lot of attention in the scientific community in the past several years and has been the focus of multiple studies and research projects.
A lot of research, including from the paper linked above, distinguishes between the concepts of intentional versus unintentional mind wandering, both of which play a role in boredom.
Unintentional mind-wandering has some potentially negative impacts, such as an increased rate of car accidents, deficits in reading comprehension, or issues at work. Intentional mind wandering has been associated with increased creativity and problem-solving abilities, as discussed before.
So, let your mind wander intentionally and see where it goes.
Sitting on the couch, lying on the floor, or even taking a walk around the familiar spaces in your neighborhood can induce mind-wandering and a degree of boredom. See where your mind goes here.
But remember, you’re not meditating. Meditation is opening to the present moment with a calm awareness, focusing on being present in the here and now. With meditation, you may focus on something like your breath or a mantra. With mind-wandering, you’re letting your awareness float off to wherever it may go on its own. You don’t have to gently bring it back, just let it fly.
Focus on being instead of doing.
What do boredom, mind-wandering, and meditation have in common?
They all have a focus on being.
You are a human being, not a human doing.
When you are engaging in intentional mind-wandering, meditating, or doing yoga, you are simply just focusing on being. You’re not really doing anything. Doing is not the point.
“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” is kind of outdated advice anyway.
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