Four Reasons Why Boredom Is Better For You Than You Think
Time drips, grain by piddly grain, through an hourglass. It dawdles as you sit, or pace, as you await the commencement of something, anything, because time is snailing away and you're restless. Time loiters. You feel the itch of dissatisfaction. Your brain quests for stimulation.
What is boredom?
Boredom: the feeling of restlessness and irritability that arises when there's not enough happening. If your information processing load is below an optimal level for you, you feel bored. You feel a slowing of the felt pace of time flowing. Boredom arises from an absence of felt meaning in an activity and disaffection for your own lack of interest in the activity. It's the opposite of enthusiasm.
Boredom is a small push from nothing to something. It's a signal to your brain that you should do something—something different, interesting, engaging.
Did you know that when people are in monotonous environments or sensorily deprived, they usually hallucinate? It doesn't take long—often within 15 minutes. Your brain needs information. If it doesn't get enough, it will invent some.
Contrast boredom with a feeling of flow, in which a sense of time disappears because you are so fully engaged in the activity.
Given all that—why would you want to be bored?
1. Boredom drives exploration
Boredom drives you to explore: to find new activities or interests to occupy your hands, your mind, and your time.
Whatever you're doing now clearly isn't fulfilling, which is why you're bored. The restless irritation of boredom prompts you to pursue new goals. It increases your opportunities by alerting you to your need to find new goals, and prompts you to seek out new social, emotional, cognitive, or experiential stimulation.
2. Boredom prompts reflection
Without experiencing boredom, you get tangled in a cycle of stimulation, more stimulation, trying to top the previous stimulation with something more exciting… without the pause that lets you understand and process what you have experienced or learned.
Cycles of learning include reflection. Boredom clues you in to your need to engage, but engagement does not have to come from outside. Internal stimulation—i.e., thoughts, reflection, pondering, being in our own heads, imagination—is vital for learning and growth.
3. Boredom builds creativity
Creativity, at its most basic, is connecting two things that haven't been connected before, or connecting things in a new way. Creativity happens when your mind is working and resting, wandering and wondering, when you consistently seek new inputs from new ideas and spend time letting those ideas become connected with everything else you already know.
Boredom is necessary for creativity because it prompts your mind to wander. Boredom leads to wonder, connections, and insights.
4. Boredom trains concentration and attention
Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, writes:
“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction … it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where … it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”
Allowing yourself to be bored helps you train your attention and concentration. Let there be a break in external stimulation and fill it with internal stimulation. Be alone with yourself and your thoughts. Let your mind rest and wander.
Rest in the present moment
I'm rarely bored.
If I find myself in a potentially boring situation, I try to immerse myself in the present moment. Rest where I am. Notice nuance. Absorb sounds, colors, textures, aromas. Let my mind wander. Let ideas connect.
Or, if it is so frightfully boring, I read a book.