When you hear the word “boredom,” you might have flashbacks to a high school classroom, when seconds seemed like minutes, and you couldn’t wait to leave. Or maybe that time you were injured and laid up in bed, unable to go out and have fun. Basically, memories of boredom as a bad thing.
But today, I want to talk about it being a potentially great thing for you, and why sometimes you should let boredom be. First, though, let’s get clear on what boredom is, because there are at least two types, according to researchers.
When It’s Hard to Stay Focused on Something You Care About
One kind—let’s call it Boredom A—is the inability to stay engaged with something that you’re motivated to do, like when you’re trying to get work done and you start fooling around doing other things, like checking out the news, or your social media, turning on the TV, or whatever.
(I think of this as of an issue of distraction vs. focus, personally, and I did a couple of videos recently on stopping procrastination and getting and staying focused, so you might want to check those out.)
But anyway, all that hopping around, looking for new stimulation, doesn’t work to your advantage, in more ways than one.
For example, studies have found that bored people, in many cases, want so badly to experience something different that they’ll choose new experiences that are less pleasant than the one they already have, just because they’re different!
But even if you don’t do that, and instead just spend hours on your phone or computer, or watching TV, consider what you’re doing: taking in a constant stream of information, content, pictures, voices.
Whether you’re paying attention to all of it or, now that you’ve seen or heard that same commercial for the 20th time, you just tune it out, so it’s part of the background noise—it’s all still noise.
If you imagine that your mind is like the surface of water, then all this noise of distractions and constantly receiving input keeps the water choppy and agitated, like on a windy day at a lake.
But what if you weren’t adding all that external stimuli? What would that be like? Well, that’s sort of what’s happening with the other type of boredom—let’s call it Boredom B.
When You Don’t Care About What You’re Doing
This is where you’re apathetic and uninterested. When whatever you’re doing, isn’t doing it for you. Your mind is dull and you’re looking for an escape, real or imagined and you turn to your inner world of thoughts, memories, emotions—in other words, daydreaming.
You might be dreaming up more engaging ways of doing the task, fantasizing about being more content, or just finding stimulation in the act of daydreaming itself. It’s a state where your mind isn’t taking in content, but creating it.
Now this one doesn’t work to your advantage either, if your only goal is to get things done. But, scientists find that being bored and daydreaming like this can promote creativity (and insight and problem-solving). In this way, you could think of boredom as the source of creativity!
(And, in fact, in this video I cover how to use that creativity to stop procrastination.)
So, in either kind of boredom, you want stimulation, engagement, and change. Sometime you fight that, by trying to force yourself to keep working. Sometimes you try to make it go away, and pick up your phone, or turn on the TV. Both of these keep the surface of your mind choppy and agitated.
Finding Stillness in Boredom
The third option is to heed your boredom and let your own mind imagine and create the stimulation, engagement, and change it’s craving.
When you turn off the screens and other distractions, and stop stirring it up from outside sources, or trying to whip it into shape, the surface of your mind starts to settle and clarify all by itself. You can see down into it, and see your reflection in it.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you deliberately spend all your time daydreaming, twiddling your thumbs, and basically being checked out. But I am inviting you to give yourself permission to let yourself be bored sometimes when you’re feeling that way, and not view it as a state that always needs to be gotten rid of.
Recognize that there’s a part of you that doesn’t like something that’s happening, and wants something else to happen. Then, trust that part of you, accept that impulse in a wise way, and drop all the way through it, into stillness.
Making the Space for New Insight to Emerge
I don’t naturally feel bored very often, but not long ago, I actually induced boredom! I gave myself downtime, flopped down in a hammock outside with no tasks to accomplish. I didn’t even meditate.
I just swung there, bored and daydreaming, moving my foot back and forth to swing myself, and after about an hour or so, I had this spontaneous flash of insight about some efforts I was making in my business and these back-and-forth cycles I’d been noticing. It turned out to be really helpful. So, I know this stuff works!
With the clarity you find in stillness, it’s possible you’ll get a new perspective into something you’re working on, a problem that you’re facing. Keep a pen and paper handy, in case you do.
In fact, you might want to let yourself write or draw what’s coming to you while you’re sitting there bored. (Just be careful not to make another task of it.)
It’s also possible that you won’t have some big breakthrough. But if all that comes of it is an opportunity to take a deep breath, relax, and stop agitating your mind for a bit, then I’d say it’s worth it.