When was the last time you were bored? Although being bored usually gets a bad rap, a recent New York Timesarticle explains that being bored isn’t all bad.
You’d be surprised to realize just how far back discussions about boredom go–all the way to Pompeii, if not further! Despite its lengthy history, defining boredom has always been difficult because it is discussed in so many different contexts, and is often experienced differently depending on age, gender and other factors. (Bio-individuality applies to mood and disposition, too!) However, the general consensus is that the sensation of boredom is often accompanied by low mood and a sense that time is passing slowly, often due to an environmental issue, such as lack of external stimuli.
Some people are more predisposed to boredom than others. Studies have shown that young people and boys are especially prone to being bored, mostly from the need for external stimulation. But surprisingly, setting up with an iPad or surfing the web can be harmful. Plugging in when bored takes the impetus away from self-entertaining. This kind of self-regulation carries over into other spaces, including self-control.
Counter intuitively, boredom also occurs when disrupted from a difficult or time-consuming task, which has led to the groundbreaking revelation that doodling, for years though to be a sign of boredom, may actually help people stay alert. In fact, recent studies have suggested that kids who are allowed to fidget retain more information than those who are forced to sit still, perhaps lured in by the glow of the television or the challenge of Angry Birds on the iPad.
While boredom certainly isn’t something to celebrate, it shouldn’t be viewed as something too critical, either. It gives us the opportunity to explore new mental frontiers and, if used appropriately, can even help us expand our capacity for self-entertainment and self-control. So the next time you’re bored, think twice before turning to your iPad or computer. (Need help unplugging? Here are some ways to take a technology time-out.)
Like any other addiction, the initial withdrawal can be difficult. You may feel disconnected, jittery or impatient with the slower speed of a non-digitized life, but press through! On the other side, you may find yourself enjoying the leisurely cadence of your relaxed brain’s musings. Here’s how to do it:
1. Set a time goal. Whether it’s just a few hours, a day, or the whole weekend. Shoot a quick email to your emergency contacts to let them know you’re going off the grid. If you must provide a backup method of reaching you, make it by phone – but turn off ALL alerts and push notifications other than your ringer.
2. Hide your laptop. “Out of sight out of mind” isn’t always true in practice, but it’s not going to hurt your efforts.
3. Breathe deeply and clear your head. Let your brain reboot, so to speak.
4. Make unplugging a treat. Enjoy a favorite food, activity, or glass of wine while you revel in all the beauty you can see without your computer monitor.
5. Distract yourself. Get outdoors or meet up with a friend. Spend some face time (the real kind, not through the app) with your family. Leave your phone at home if you can. Pretty soon, you’ll remember this isn’t a distraction; this is living.
What ways do you entertain yourself when you’re bored?