Bored? It’s Good For Your Brain

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During our recent travel, we had a 14-hr layover at Seoul Incheon Internal airport. As we waited for our next flight, I texted to our loved ones to let them know that I was bored. It appears that such boredom is beneficial to our brain health as well as for creativity.

In a culture obsessed with productivity, boredom seems like a sin. But sometimes sitting back and doing nothing is, ironically, exactly what you need to do in order to get more done. We were so scared of being bored at all that we failed to appreciate the frightening repercussions of not being bored enough.

– Clay Skipper on GQ Magazine

Why do people get bored? According to Mayo Clinic, boredom is when our brains struggle to find something to do, making us feel restless and uninterested in what’s around us. It’s a common feeling, with more than 60% of adults in the U.S. experiencing it at least once a week. However, when we’re focused on challenging tasks or engaging conversations, our brains stay occupied and boredom doesn’t creep in.

Don’t be afraid of boredom. It’s a normal part of life. Try not to dismiss or dislike it. Instead, try to view is as an opportunity to restore your brain and develop create solutions to problems.

Mayo Clinic

Anne Enright, the Booker Prize-winning novelist, told The Guardian, “Boredom is a productive state so long as you don’t let it go sour on you. I wait for boredom to kick in because boredom, for me, is a very good sign.”

At its core, boredom is a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied. If we can’t find that, our mind will create it. There’s no other way of getting that stimulation, so you have to go into your head.

– Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K(source: Time magazine)

According to Teresa Belton, a visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia, it’s important to take a break from our busy lives from time to time. Taking a break to think about ourselves and recharge is crucial for staying happy and healthy.

You may find the following TEDx Talks video useful learning about the benefits of boredom.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Alyson Meister and Aksinia Stavskaya, suggest when anybody is feeling bored, don’t reach out for your phone because boredom can actually be a great thing, but only if you pay attention to what’s making you feel that way. The article lists five types of research-based boredom to consider to help you understand yours.

Farmers learnt long ago that land which is allowed to lie fallow from time to time becomes more productive. It seems that the same can be true of the human mind.

-Teresa Belton

Teresa Belton, a visiting fellow at the School of Education & Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia, UK, cites on The Coversation magazine that the following creative professionals who promote boredom for creativity.

  • Novelist Neil Gaiman, for example, finds that getting really bored is the best way to come up with new ideas, and because constant social networking makes boredom impossible he committed himself to a period offline.
  • Millionaire businessman Felix Dennis, meanwhile, finding himself grounded in a hospital bed and bored silly without his phone, looked around for something else to do. As all he could find was a block of Post-it Notes on the nurses’ station and “you can’t write a novel or a business plan on a Post-it Note”, he tried his hand at writing a poem. Several published volumes of poetry followed.
  • Winnie the Pooh understood the need for a vacant mind. “Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get,” he said in The House at Pooh Corner. “They’re things that get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you.”
– Teresa Belton on The Conversation

In this article, you will learn that many prominent celebrities have found social media to be detrimental to their work and have either stopped using them completely or started using them more cautiously.

Your brain needs time to get weird. Otherwise, you’re just posting cute pictures of your dog.

– Clay Skipper on GQ Magazine

In Psychology Today, Dr. Shahram Heshmat lists the following five benefits of boredom:

  • Boredom can improve our mental health. “In this age of information, our brains are overloaded with information and distractions. … So taking a break can be a valuable opportunity to help our overloaded brains relax and alleviate stress. It is beneficial to simply step away from social media and other stressors long enough to feel bored.”
  • Boredom can increase creativity. “Boredom can provide an opportunity to turn inward and use the time for thought and reflection. Boredom can enable creativity and problem-solving by allowing the mind to wander and daydream.”
  • Boredom motivates a search for novelty. “Without boredom, humans would not have the taste for adventure and novelty-seeking that makes us who we are—intelligent, curious, and constantly seeking out the next thing (Bench & Lench, 2013).”
  • Boredom motivates the pursuit of new goals. “Being bored means that we are currently engaged not only in an uninteresting or un-challenging situation but also in a situation that fails to meet our expectations and desires. Boredom encourages us to shift to goals and projects that are more fulfilling than the ones we’re currently pursuing.”
  • Boredom and self-control skills. “Boredom affects the ability to focus and pay attention because the interest is lost. Among students, boredom results in disengagement from class and poor performance.”

In a recent Discover article, Tim Brinkhof quotes psychologists Bench and Lench’s 2013 book, and writes that boredom promotes increase risk-taking, which can be good thing. “If a violent river has never been crossed due to extreme danger, there is no way of knowing what potential gains are available on the other side,” Bench and Lench, wrote in the article.

We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems. Our tolerance for boredom just changes completely, and we need more and more to stop being bored.

– Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K(source: Time magazine)

Ready to Dig Deeper?

Below are selected resources that will help you learn more about how boredom can spark your creativity and improve your mental health.

Related Resource Links