Vegan Wonder

Unlock the Hidden Superpowers of Boredom: How Embracing Downtime Can Transform Your Life

In a world where Netflix and chill is a thing, and The Great British Baking Show can provide hours of mindless entertainment, who would ever choose to be bored?

But what if I told you that boredom—that seemingly-unbearable experience of having nothing to do—is the very thing that can unlock some of your most creative and productive hours? That it can make you happier, reduce stress, and even enhance your mental health?

Welcome to the world of “boredom benefits,” a concept that goes against everything our fast-paced, constantly-connected society has taught us. And yet, the science is clear: embracing boredom can be one of the most powerful things you do for your mind and productivity.

The Myth of Constant Stimulation

In the past decade or so, we have become a society of chronic distractors. The average person checks their phone 150 times a day, spends hours on social media, and binge-watches TV for hours on end. And that’s not even mentioning the constant barrage of marketing emails, text messages, and Slack notifications.

And yet, despite all this busyness, most of us feel more stressed than ever. We are constantly on, yet we are also perpetually bored. How can that be?

The truth is, we have become addicted to constant stimulation. We are so used to having something to look at, listen to, or interact with that we feel anxious and on-edge when it’s taken away.

But here’s the thing: being busy all the time doesn’t necessarily make us productive. In fact, research has shown that the more distracted we are, the less productive we become.

This is known as the “attention residue” effect. Every time we switch from one task to another, some of our attention stays on the previous task. Over time, this can lead to a state of mental chaos, where we are unable to focus on anything.

And that is when boredom sets in.

But instead of seeing boredom as a valuable opportunity for rest and rejuvenation, most of us fight it tooth and nail. We pull out our phones. We watch TV. We scroll through social media. We do anything and everything to avoid being alone with our thoughts.

This is a mistake.

The Neuroscience of Boredom

To understand why, we first need to understand what is happening in the brain when we feel bored.

Boredom is a subjective experience, meaning it is based on our perception of our environment. When we are bored, we feel restless, agitated, and unsatisfied with what is happening. We feel like there is something more we should be doing, even if we don’t know what that is.

At the same time, we feel a strong urge to do something, anything to alleviate the boredom. This is where things get tricky.

When we give in to the urge to do something, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is often referred to as the “feel-good” chemical because it makes us feel good in the moment. It is also the same chemical that is released when we do something pleasurable, like eat chocolate or have sex.

The problem is, the more we rely on dopamine hits from our phone or TV or social media, the more our brain needs to feel happy. And so, we constantly need to up the ante. We need more and more stimulation to feel the same level of satisfaction we once did.

This is known as hyperdopaminergia, and it is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to put down our phones. Our brains have become addicted to the quick bursts of dopamine they get from technology.

But there’s another way the brain responds to boredom, and that is by activating something called the default mode network.

The default mode network is made up of several areas of the brain that are active when we are not engaged in an external task. It includes the medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in self-referential thinking (i.e., thinking about ourselves), as well as the hippocampus, which is involved in memory.

When the default mode network is activated, we experience what is known as mind wandering. This is the experience of thinking about things other than what is happening in the present moment. It is the experience of being lost in thought. And it is a major cause of stress and unhappiness.

Research has shown that people who have more mind-wandering are more prone to anxiety and depression. They are also more likely to experience negative thoughts and emotions. In other words, mind wandering is the opposite of mindfulness.

But there’s another way to look at mind wandering. It is also the birthplace of creativity.

This brings us to the next point.

Boosting Creativity through Boredom

One of the most well-known benefits of boredom is its ability to boost creativity.

Research has shown that when the brain is in a state of boredom, it becomes more able to engage in a type of thinking known as divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to generate many ideas from a single prompt. It is the kind of thinking that is used in brainstorming sessions, and it is the opposite of convergent thinking, which is the ability to focus on one solution.

Boredom is a catalyst for innovative ideas. When we are bored, we are more likely to look at things from different angles and to come up with novel solutions.

This is because boredom frees up the brain to explore. When we are bored, we are more likely to daydream, to let our minds wander. And it is during these moments of mental exploration that some of our best ideas are born.

This is why so many famous creative people have talked about the value of boredom. Igor Stravinsky, the famous composer, once said, “You have to go through the desert, and you have to come out of it, and you have to believe that it’s beautiful and you have to sing.”

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, said that one of the reasons he dropped out of college was because he was bored in class. He said that it was only when he dropped out and started tinkering in his parent’s garage that he was able to come up with some of his best ideas.

And Marilyn Monroe, the iconic actress, once said, “I don’t want to make America great. America is great. I just want Americans to be great.”

These are just a few examples, but the point is the same: boredom can be a powerful catalyst for creativity and innovation.

So, how do you become bored? How do you get to the point where you can sit with yourself and allow your mind to wander and explore?

Improved Mental Health and Well-being

One of the reasons boredom is so beneficial for mental health is because it allows the brain to rest. Research has shown that boredom activates the default mode network, which is also activated during mindfulness practices like meditation.

This means that boredom, when approached in the right way, can be a form of mental rest and restoration. It can give the brain a chance to recover from the demands of the day.

And when the brain is given a chance to rest, we experience the benefits. Studies have shown that people who are more prone to boredom are also more likely to experience lower levels of stress and anxiety.

One study found that people who were more bored were also more likely to engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga. The researchers speculate that this may be because boredom triggers a natural urge towards introspection and self-awareness.

Another study found that people who were more bored were more likely to engage in positive behaviors, such as exercising and reading. The researchers speculate that this may be because boredom triggers a natural urge towards exploration and seeking out new experiences.

This brings us to the next point.

Enhancing Productivity and Focus

Contrary to what you might think, being bored can actually make you more productive.

One study found that when people were given a boring task to do, they ended up spending more time on it than those who were given an interesting task. The researchers speculate that this may be because people feel the need to justify why they are spending so much time on a boring task.

Another study found that people who were given a boring task to do were more likely to prioritize it over more interesting tasks. This suggests that boredom can help us focus and prioritize.

I have written before about how boredom is the gateway to deep work. When we are bored, we are more likely to engage in activities that require sustained focus, such as reading a book or doing a puzzle.

And when we do these activities, we enter a state of flow—a state of complete absorption in the task at hand. It is during this state that we experience the greatest sense of productivity and enjoyment.

But in order to enter a state of flow, we first need to embrace boredom. We need to allow ourselves to sit with the discomfort of not knowing what to do and trust that something will come to us. And often, that something is the very task that will allow us to enter a state of flow.

So, how do you use boredom to your advantage? How do you get yourself to a point where you are willing to sit with the discomfort of not having something to do?

Embrace Boredom: Practical Tips and Techniques

The first step is to recognize and accept boredom. Most of us are so good at distracting ourselves that we don’t even realize we’re bored until we’ve already reached for our phone or turned on the TV.

One way to recognize boredom is to pay attention to your body. Boredom tends to manifest as restlessness, so if you find yourself tapping your foot or fidgeting, chances are you’re bored.

Another way to recognize boredom is to pay attention to your mind. Boredom is the experience of having an unfocused mind. It is the sensation of thinking about nothing. So, if you find yourself lost in thought, that is a sign of boredom.

Once you have recognized boredom, the next step is to allow it to be there. This is the hardest part. Boredom is uncomfortable, and it is natural to want to escape it. But if you want to reap the benefits, you have to sit with it.

One way to do this is to remind yourself that boredom is temporary. You will not be bored forever. And while you are waiting for the boredom to pass, you might as well take advantage of it. You might as well use it to your advantage.

Another way to sit with boredom is to remind yourself that there is nothing wrong with doing nothing. Our society values productivity and busyness above all else, but that doesn’t mean that doing nothing is bad. In fact, doing nothing is essential. It is during these moments of rest that our minds and bodies are able to rejuvenate.

Now that you have allowed yourself to be bored, the next step is to engage in “boredom-friendly” activities. By this, I mean activities that do not require much attention or effort, but that are still enjoyable. Examples include:

  • Doing a puzzle
  • Reading a book
  • Cooking or baking
  • Coloring
  • Knitting or crocheting

The key is to find activities that you enjoy but that do not require much focus. This will allow your mind to wander and explore, which is the whole point.

Another way to take advantage of boredom is to cultivate a mindset of curiosity and exploration. Instead of reaching for your phone or turning on the TV, ask yourself, “What can I explore right now?” This could be something as simple as looking up interesting facts about a topic that you’re curious about, or it could be something more involved, like starting a new hobby.

Finally, it’s important to remember that there is a balance to be struck between boredom and stimulation. While boredom can be beneficial, too much boredom can lead to depression and anxiety. And while constant stimulation can be exhausting, a little bit of stimulation can be invigorating.

So, allow yourself to be bored. But also allow yourself to enjoy the occasional episode of The Great British Baking Show, or to scroll through Instagram, or to play a mindless game on your phone. It’s all good.

The goal is not to eliminate boredom or stimulation, but rather to find a balance. And when you do, you will find that you are more productive, more creative, and happier than ever before.

Conclusion: Reclaiming the Power of Boredom

Boredom is a powerful and under-appreciated state of mind. It is the state of mind that allows us to rest and rejuvenate. It is the state of mind that allows us to be creative and productive. And it is the state of mind that allows us to be happy.

But in order to reap the benefits of boredom, we have to be willing to sit with it. We have to be willing to embrace the discomfort and trust that something good will come of it.

So, the next time you find yourself with nothing to do, don’t reach for your phone. Don’t turn on the TV. Instead, take a deep breath and allow yourself to be bored. And watch as the superpowers of boredom take over.