Waiting. The slow creep of boredom as you sit there watching the seconds slowly tick by. You’ve scrolled through your Facebook for for the thousandth time and you’re sick of seeing the same meme repeated every five minutes. Conversation dried up ages ago. There is nothing you can do; you’re bored out of your mind!
As a traveler I have spent absurd amounts of time sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting for planes, trains, buses, ferries and just about any other mode of transport you can possibly think of. Sometimes delays have made situations positively awful, like having to wait in Dubai airport for about 25 hours because of a plane accident (No one was hurt).
It is mind-numbing and there are times I have felt like scratching my eyes out. But there is a positive side to boredom as well. It is a great time to let your mind wander, to create , to self-reflect, to remember!
As a kid I was one of those who couldn’t sit still and was always in trouble because I needed to be doing things. I’m sure you know exactly what kind of kid I’m talking about; either you were one or know one. Nowadays I’d probably be diagnosed as ADHD.
In this article I will look at what boredom is. If those facts bore you then skip to the bottom where I discuss how I’ve learnt to deal with it and how I find ways to create constructive boredom in the smartphone era.
What is boredom?
For such a dull idea, boredom is actually really fascinating. Being someone who is highly prone to being bored it is a subject that interests me, so here’s what I’ve learnt!
It is only in recent history that boredom has been researched. With the technology age that we are living in boredom is fast becoming a thing of the past. This why I think boredom has become a more interesting feeling to research.
Boredom is when we have a complete lack on stimulation. When we are left without anything in particular to do or we feel that what we are doing is dull or tedious. Cue a class full of school children.
In the Scientific American, Maggie Koerth-Baker writes:
[Boredom] is not simply another name for depression or apathy. It seems to be a specific mental state that people find unpleasant—a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief.
That relief can manifest itself in things like binge-eating, driving at higher speeds, smoking and drinking. It is also a time when we can let our minds wander, daydream, which creates an opportunity for new neural connections to be created in our minds; hence be more creative.
Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place. It’s really awesome, actually. – Dr. Sandi Mann
5 types of boredom
Interestingly there is more than just one type of boredom. Having been someone who gets bored very easily, and a teacher for several years, I can definitely say that I have experienced all of these types of boredom!
In the journal Motivation and Emotion, the study Types of Boredom: an experience sampling approach found that they could define 5 different types of boredom. See how many you can identify as having!
This boredom is usually calm and withdrawn. It is as its name suggests; indifferent. When we are indifferent bored it just means that we’re not really engaged with the world around us.
The mind is probably wandering. Thinking of all the things it would rather be doing than sitting in the last meeting or folding the clothes. This is a great time for those new neural connections to be made!
I have come up with some great story ideas while I’ve been indifferent bored. I usually find this state when I am on a long road trip. I’ll sit staring out the window but my mind is actually thousands of miles away
This is when you are open to other, more interesting activities. You are not necessarily actively looking for something but you want to be doing something different.
Maybe you’re looking around a party for someone more interesting to talk to or you’re looking for options other than the ones present.
From a personal perspective I have been open to some really interesting ideas when I have been calibrating bored. I have usually found some interesting places to explore and new paths to wander. This is almost my daily state of being, unless I am actively creating!
Searching boredom is very similar to calibrating but it is one notch up in intensity. It comes with a sense of unpleasant restlessness and actively searching for ways to relieve the bored mindset.
This type of boredom is when I have gotten some truly stupid ideas. Growing up in a small town being bored was part of my day. Throw alcohol into the mix and suddenly everything seems like a good idea. Not to get into too much detail, but sometimes I’m surprised that I survived this long!
This is when the desire to escape the boring situation is incredibly strong. Someone has possibly annoyed you to the point that you react aggressively. It is the highest level of energy and negative emotions.
I have to confess that I am really bad with this one. If a meeting or event goes a few minutes over the prescribed time I am clearing my throat, tapping my pen loudly and looking pointedly at my watch. If you keep asking questions after a meeting is meant to end you will have created a life-long enemy out of me.
The final type of boredom is considered different from the others. It is also a very unpleasant sensation but unlike reactant boredom there is no drive to do anything about it. Apathetic Boredom is a low-energy boredom with a lack of positive or negative feelings. It is often described as a feeling of helplessness or depression.
I don’t get this feeling a lot when I’m bored, I often have a high drive to escape the boredom. But when it does hit I just feel like I’m covered in something thick and sticky. Nothing is fun and I can’t even get my mind to work. I consider myself an imaginative person so when I can’t even get the pictures in my brain going it can be highly distressing!
What being bored does to you
When we are bored our brains go into a default mode. It is the auto-pilot mode that we go into when we are doing menial tasks like folding our clothes or cleaning the house.
Default mode is when we connect disparate ideas, we solve some of our most nagging problems, and we do something called “autobiographical planning.” This is when we look back at our lives, we take note of the big moments, we create a personal narrative, and then we set goals and we figure out what steps we need to take to reach them – Manoush Zomorodi (TED2017)
This is a fancy way of saying daydreaming. Just letting our minds wander!
Being bored allows us to be curious. If you were satisfied with everything you ever did you wouldn’t explore something different. The wheel wasn’t created because humans were happy walking and carrying everything!
There is a great TED talk on the subject of boredom, it is definitely worth the 19 minutes to watch!
Boredom and creativity
When I was traveling through Ireland I joined one of the New Europe Walking Tours and our tour guide had an intriguing point. Ireland used to be a very poor country and it was known for its famous poets and writers like Yeats, Beckett and Wilde. In recent history Ireland has had an economic boom and its export to the world of literature and culture has all but disappeared.
So what changed? With more money came the ability to afford distractions. No longer were people stuck in miserable weather with nothing to do but let their minds wander. I don’t know how accurate this description truly is but it highlights that boredom and creativity go hand in hand.
It is also common sense. If you are stimulating your mind with other peoples’ ideas, why does it need to come up with its own? If you never need to create your own entertainment you won’t ever produce the ideas to keep yourself entertained.
Below is a music video I created. The tune I wrote while sitting in train stations, on buses and anywhere that I was just sitting by myself. I created the animation while I was desk warming (When you don’t teach but have to still be at school). The only time I used my phone was to scan the pictures to digitize them. The video is from my trip to the Dachau Work Camp in Germany.
So much of our lives can’t be accurately expressed in words, pictures or videos. They are the feelings that we have in what we do. Travel involves so many different feelings that I try to capture in my music. More and more I find I do not have the time to create my music. and it’s not because I have less time. I just have less time that I am bored.
It is no question that, in almost every case, our biggest distraction is our phone. How can you get properly bored when you have the entirety of the world at your fingertips? I personally don’t think this is a bad thing. Being more connected is the future.
But this means that now, instead of sitting and stewing in my own thoughts on a three hour ferry ride, I am constantly checking Facebook or laughing at memes on 9gag or something of the other thousand things I could be doing.
So having this mega-connectivity means that often boredom needs to be created. I don’t believe it is as simple as just putting your phone away. We are being programmed to be addicted to our phones. Here are my thoughts on ways you can create your own constructive boredom.
10 ways to be bored, constructively!
- Clean your house. If your hands are covered in soapy water or you’re trying to hold a vacuum you can’t check your phone. (On a side note, this can also be good for your general self-care)
- Go for a long run or hike when looking at your phone is impractical.
- Cook something that takes longer than 5 minutes and requires lots of chopping.
- Play with an animal.
- Find an easy hobby that doesn’t require huge focus. I find when I am working with paper mache or clay I can zone out completely.
- Sort through your old things. Not only does this allow you time to be bored it also helps you clear some clutter.
- Iron and fold your clothes. Don’t let your mind wander to the point that you burn your clothes though.
- Make a puzzle or play with something like Lego. It doesn’t require a huge amount of attention but it will keep your hands busy so your mind is free.
- Get one of those adult coloring books. I find experimenting with colors allows me to play more with the thoughts in my mind.
- Learn breathing exercises. This is more zen than boredom but I find my mind opens up in the same way to wander.
Don’t be afraid to be bored
The concept of boredom is often viewed as a very negative thing. In some cases it can be. In the end it comes down to how you use it. The creativity that comes with certain types of boredom makes it a highly desirable state.
As a result of my creativity through being bored I have written numerous plays and stories and even published an entire music book.
I have tried to link this article as much to my own personal experiences as possible so if you have felt in certain ways you do not feel alone! That also means if you disagree with something here that is okay. I’d be happy to hear about your own experiences with boredom!
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