In these days of hustle culture, constant connectivity via social media, and instant access to unlimited entertainment, moments of boredom have become somewhat of a rare phenomenon for most of us.
Just last weekend, I experienced an 8-hour power outage (not the worst I’ve experienced if we’re being honest. The fuel scarcity around Nigeria also left us with no fuel to power our generator. With dead batteries on all my devices and nothing to do but stare at the ceiling, I experienced true BOREDOM. It felt unnatural and a little unbearable. I even picked up my dead phone twice on reflex. The boredom forced me to do nothing and after I accepted the discomfort that came with it, I had a period of mental clarity and creativity that I had not experienced in a while.
The experience made me think “maybe, being bored isn’t so bad after all” and apparently, our psychologists think so too.
Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K. and the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good defines boredom as “a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied.” So, when we can’t get this stimulation from outside of us, “our mind will create it” says Mann.
After a series of studies, Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman discovered that experiencing boredom during passive activities, like reading reports or attending tedious meetings, heightens the “daydreaming effect” on creativity—the more passive the boredom, the more likely the daydreaming and the more creative you could be afterward.
This explains why a lot of great ideas strike during walks, while taking a shower, and even while on the toilet seat! Boredom allows your mind to explore and make connections between the different information your brain absorbs through time. Someone say Eureka?
WHO reports that mental health issues are on the rise worldwide with about 13% of the world’s population affected.
Although boredom isn’t necessarily a cure for mental illness, it can help improve the situation. Amy Rollo, M.A. A licensed psychotherapist and owner of Heights Family Counseling says boredom is a time for the mind to relax, which can help with stress and mental health.
Studies have shown, for example, that modern tools including work emails, social media, and dating apps can strain mental health, which is why taking time away from these things (long enough to be bored) can be a much-needed reprieve for us to recharge. So, taking a social media break might be a good idea
Boredom can feel pretty uncomfortable. Whenever we get bored, the easiest thing for us to do is find some activity to take that discomfort away. But what happens when we decide to embrace boredom and sit with discomfort instead? We build our resilience and tolerance for uncomfortable emotions and situations, which, I think, is a superpower!
This one is pretty ironic. Psychologist Sandi Mann explains it best, “We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems,” She adds that people can become addicted to the constant dopamine hit of new and novel content that phones provide. “Our tolerance for boredom just changes completely, and we need more and more to stop being bored.”
So now that you know some of the benefits of being bored, it's also important to know how to be bored the right way.
It's important not to confuse boredom with relaxation. To be bored, you have to detach yourself completely from external stimuli, so just listening to music or doing yoga doesn’t cut it. Taking a walk on a familiar route, cleaning, or even just staring at the sky is more likely to get you there and let your mind do the necessary wandering.
The next time you find yourself in a boring situation, with the urge to pick up your phone and scroll, I hope you remember that being bored might not be the worst thing in the world and so, you allow your mind to just be. Who knows, a Billion-Dollar idea might just strike you during one of those unbearably boring moments.