With our iPhones glued to our hands and TV streaming but a click away, it's been a long time since many of us could admit to being bored. But psychologists are cottoning on to the fact a busy life is not necessarily a productive – or happy – one and it now seems we ought to give ourselves some space to get bored.
"Without time to just 'be' we can lose touch of our own inner voice and wisdom, and reduce our opportunities for reflection, problem-solving, creativity and connection with the world around us," says health psychologist Dr Lauren Hamilton.
Why we hate being bored
With so much content at our fingertips, it can feel like a mad scramble to keep up with the latest trending hashtag. "Most of us were given messages from a young age that boredom is bad and our phones give us so many ways to avoid that 'bad' feeling," Dr Hamilton explains.
These days, busyness is so celebrated in our culture that the prospect of sitting idle can almost seem irresponsible and embarrassing, and most of us will scroll our screens on public transport or while waiting to meet a friend rather than stare into space.
One study found people prefer to zap themselves with a painful electric shock than sit idle in a room for 15 minutes.
In fact, one study found many people prefer to zap themselves with a painful electric shock than sit idle in a room for 15 minutes.
"Boredom takes some getting used to," explains clinical and happiness psychologist Aleks George Srbinoski." You have to go through a slow, slightly uncomfortable bit before you move towards insights, depth, meaning and fulfillment."
Finding the beauty in boredom
Cathy Sison, 31, knows firsthand the power of boredom. Sick of being stuck to her screen, the Melbourne letterist now only lets herself use her phone for the first 10 minutes of her two-hour commute – the rest is for daydreaming and doodling.
"I wanted a clearer, fresher mind," says Sison who opts for a two-hour commute instead of a 40-minute drive to work to increase her opportunities for boredom.
"I started to look around and let myself get bored to see where it would go." Sison found creativity flowed and she began writing quotes and phrases, then leaving them on the train for strangers to pick up. "You take a boring situation and it soon becomes a creative force," she says.
Sison found creativity flowed and she began writing quotes and phrases, then leaving them on the train for strangers to pick up.
"A guy posted on social media about finding one of my quotes and said it made his night. It's nice to put positivity out there."
Similarly author Gabrielle Tozer says a rare moment of boredom opened the creativity floodgates. On the brink of burnout, Tozer gave herself a month of rest and despite feeling guilty for not "making the most" of her time off, she soon learnt the power of boredom.
"It lets the mind wander to places it doesn't when you're completely drowning in the stresses of life," says Tozer. "At the end of that month I sat down and wrote my first picture book PIP AND POP, which comes out next year. I know I couldn't have written it without letting my brain relax."
When boredom is bad
Of course, not all boredom is equal. Chronic boredom can be a symptom of depression and can be unhelpful if you're using it to mask anxiety or to avoid things you need to do. "The boredom a person feels because they aren't experiencing meaning and enjoyment in their life is a very different experience to the boredom that someone with a full and meaningful life allows themselves to feel as a way of being curious and comfortable with themselves and the world around them," Dr Hamilton explains.
But if you're feeling burnt out or frazzled, then doing absolutely nothing might be just what you need.
How to get bored
Have a phone-free commute This is a great way to introduce yourself to the world of boredom. "The trick is to freely allow yourself to see boredom as beneficial," Dr Hamilton says. "This relaxed drifting of focus often leads to creative ideas, solutions to problems and more enjoyment of what's around you than if you were focused on a specific task."
Wait patiently If you're meeting someone at a café or restaurant, challenge yourself not to read or scroll social media. "Be curious about the directions your mind goes in and what you notice – both internally and externally," Hamilton says.
Make boredom meditative You don't have to chant a mantra or engage in a deliberate mindfulness exercise to meditate – simply sitting and following your thoughts can be just as effective. "Sitting still and working on doing nothing is important," says Dr Srbinoski. "It allows the unconscious mind to start flowing without interruption, which leads you to be calm and relaxed. We also get ideas and put pieces of puzzles together that we hadn't even consciously been working on."
Embrace being alone "Lonely is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless and lonely is healing if you make it," says songwriter Tanya Davis in her short video poem below:
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Image by Sunny (Flickr).