April 14, 2021

Why Boredom (or Being Still) is so Hard in a “Do More” World.

When we were kids, we’d whine about being bored.

And our parents’ response? “Go outside and play.”

So, we’d reluctantly drag our feet outside as though our parents were the cruellest people in the world. Before long, we were playing a game we’d made up, and the neighbourhood kids were begging to join in. I remember we played soccer across three lawns. A grouchy old man lived in the middle house, and the risk of being caught or yelled at made the game so much more thrilling.

Our boredom turned into creativity and adventure. It stretched our thinking, brain, and physical movement. We were engaged with others and challenged in new ways.

Listen, I don’t recommend pissing off the elderly. The point is, this gap between excruciating boredom (because that’s how it feels when you’re young, am I right?) and an awesome game was: creativity and problem-solving.

Boredom isn’t always seen as a positive, and it sure wasn’t in my eyes once upon a time. I’m one of those people whose leg shakes up and down if I’m feeling bored. Yep, I’m that annoying person.

By allowing boredom into my life, the term took on more meaning. I see it as space, rest, stillness, room to breathe, allowing, flow. I am continuously falling in love with it; it takes me back to that childlike state of mind.

In this post, I will dig into some thoughts behind the theory of boredom and why it can be good for us. I left space for you to share your own thoughts in the comments. So, let’s dig in.

My Rediscovery of Boredom

One summer, I disconnected from the internet, and I placed my goals on hold. I’d been busy for a long time, and while many amazing things were happening, there was an unease beginning to stir. I tried digging in harder. Working harder. Striving. I kind of felt like a rat spinning on a wheel. I mean, we’re taught this attitude of “never give up,” right? After some time, I said that prayer you usually do when you’re desperate:

“What do I do?”

The response? Stop. A big, red sign and a hand-up-in-front-of-my-face kind of stop.

That’s all I felt, honestly. Of course, I went through a short period of whining:

Stop? What will I do? What does that even mean? Isn’t that going backward? How will that solve anything? 

After my whining, I decided to listen and put down the busyness.

Hiking seemed like the best option.

All I could do was walk, decompress, and allow myself to be. There was no computer, phone, or checklist while I was hiking. For a few months, I focused purely on work and hiking. I laid aside all the ideas and extra goals in my mind, which invited in more space and boredom.

I also stopped writing on social media as I had done for six years which took up a big chunk of my mind space. For those who are still around while I stepped away: thank you.

This wasn’t the first time I had a season like this, so having a point of reference certainly helped. While entering into the unknown was frightening, the boredom or space soon showed its mysterious and wonderful side. I realised I was burnt out and hadn’t taken much time to really unwind. But also, trying to solve problems in my projects was limited because I was only seeing what I was used to seeing. And we all know the saying…

Are we Bored Enough?

Busyness can often deceive us into thinking we are going somewhere even if we are spinning our wheels and staying put. Sometimes the busier we are (or have been for a while), the harder it is to just be still. Boredom seems too slow and pointless, especially when we have an endless list and we’re off trying to save the world.

On the contrary, satisfying our boredom is really easy these days and can be a deception. Just pick up your phone, and there’s a vortex of endless possibility, information, and gratification right at your fingertips. It feels purposeful at times, right? We all have our vices—food, over-exercising, you name it. So even when we do have time for boredom (stillness), we may be disrupting it.

If we dig into the research, we will find plenty on the mechanics of our brain and stimulation. That sensation we get when we eat something delicious, we fall in love, we get a notification on social media? It’s a boost of dopamine. Our brain says, “I love this!” When we’re bored, we don’t often feel that boost immediately and we may reach for a quick fix. Hello phone, chocolate, busyness (insert your own vice here). While we may not initially feel that splurge of dopamine or “feel good” sensation in our brains, allowing boredom into our lifestyle can lead to a lasting effect that far outweighs a momentary boost.

Come Up With Creative Ideas

In stillness and boredom, creative ideas and solutions can form because they have the space to do so. But also, it’s important to note that the ideas are more likely to align with who we are. I’ve chased down multiple ideas and goals only to later realise they weren’t for me. In my shill force and desire to will things into action, I disconnected from the quietness because it felt…boring.

I like stimulation and risk. I wouldn’t have created a lifestyle I love without those factors. However, I had to learn that creative ideas that come from space will also be more in tune with who I am and what I want out of life. They may not always have that instant gratification, but they end up being far more fulfilling over time.

Gives Us Time To Be Contemplative

In the stillness, I am able to feel what truly matters. I can see things for what they really are. Any worry or anxiety can be surrendered in this space. Interestingly, the quiet and boredom used to raise my anxiety levels. It was uncomfortable and fearful. Now that I have seen the positive impact of boredom, the initial anxiety I feel is just an awareness of how chaotic my mind is at that moment. It’s like an extra sign that I need to take a time out, go for a hike, or simply stop.

You never know what’s on the other side of your boredom. It may be as simple as destressing and finding calmness from the turmoil. It may be the adventure of a lifetime. It may be the answer to a problem you’ve been worrying about. It depends on your journey and season.

Why is boredom (being still) so hard for us?

I can’t answer this for you, but I do have a series of questions that may assist:

1. Do we avoid boredom because we are avoiding something deeper?

2. Are we afraid to be with our own thoughts?

3. What is our perspective on boredom and why?

4. Is there something deep within us that we keep pushing down because it’s too uncomfortable to feel or express?

5. Are we keeping ourselves occupied because it’s the easy thing to do?

6. Are we addicted to short-term results or gratification?

7. Are we worried about what people think of us? Of not working hard enough or doing enough?

8. Have we been taught that the only way to succeed is little rest?

Finally, I think where boredom takes a wrong turn is when we settle or fill ourselves up with distractions rather than going within our own tank of creativity.

If our parents always caved to our whiney complaints about boredom, would we have created something adventurous and fulfilling? Or would we have forfeited our creativity and also robbed our fellow neighbours of the opportunity to be involved?

We didn’t have vices that dulled our senses, numbed our capacity for problem-solving, or just filled time. And yet, we discovered joy and satisfaction.

That stop sign was like my parents saying, “Go outside.” 

Get outside of yourself, of the vortex, of other voices, of whining, of greed, of materialism, of short-sighted perspectives, of distractions. Go outside and see the glory.

Be still enough to let the ideas that will positively impact the world come to you—because you’re ready to listen. Be immersed in the stillness so you can hear what really matters, what’s fulfilling, and what will make this concept of boredom a healthy part of your life.

I want to thank everyone who participated in my Instagram stories and answered the poll about boredom. I endeavoured to include thoughts from your points of view. I do feel this is a topic that can be unpacked in multiple ways, and there are many more positives I haven’t listed. I would love for you to share your own thoughts in the comments. They are valued.

What does boredom mean to you? 

What are the negatives and positives about boredom?

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