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The "B" Word

By Karen Vally on 17 Sep 2023

A while ago, I read that, "people have forgotten what to do with boredom."  I knew that these words would one day be the inspiration for one of my blog posts, because, from the moment I read them, I wanted to know more about this aspect of being human. A few days ago, I began my research.

Boredom is "both a warning sign that we are not doing what we want to be doing, and a 'push' that motivates us to switch goals and projects."

 The key lies in learning how to identify it and how to manage it most effectively.

"Boredom is a signal that we're not meaningfully engaged with the world. It tells us to stop what we're doing, and to do it better - or to do something else."

"As boredom and busyness arise from the same source, the same strategies can be used to tackle them and find a sweet spot of a balanced mindset."

Research has shown that work emails, social media and dating apps can put a strain our mental health - so taking a break from them can provide a valuable opportunity to recharge. Sandy Mann, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, says that it's beneficial to step away from our screens, work and other stressors, long enough to feel bored. She believes that our attachment to our smartphones is preventing us from  experiencing boredom. "To tap into pure boredom, you need to unplug," she says.

"Boredom is like a muscle, and if you don't make time to train it, you'll lose it."

What are the clues that boredom exists? It can be triggered by a sense of nervousness or overwhelm, disinterest or frustration. It often occurs when we're feeling tired and listless, due to a lack of sleep or poor nutrition. During such a phase, we would be easily distracted and struggle to focus. We might also feel bored when we experience a lack of control or when choices are severely limited. Boredom often emerges when there are few opportunities for recreation. It creeps in when we perform mundane tasks, when our creativity is stifled or when we're afraid of making a mistake. It often arises when a task is uninspiring.

While there is no cure for boredom, there are several possible ways in which it could be the precursor to great things. It carries within it the potential to unleash a wave of creativity, or to create space in which to engage in a new activity or hobby. When we engage in a new experience, it contributes towards creating a more meaningful life. 

It could encourage us to rekindle a sense of enthusiasm and a zest for life, such as going for a walk, reading, listening to music, contacting an old friend, looking at old photographs, writing a letter, gardening, re-organizing our home, playing a game, watching comedy or planning a trip. It could even create space in which we could solve a persistent problem. What if we were to regularly carve a piece of uninterrupted time in which to immerse ourselves in a sea of pleasure and enjoyment?

Even people who engage in meaningful work sometimes experience boredom, especially if that work is either too hard or too easy. One of our greatest challenges, is to find a career in which most of our tasks are captivating without being overly demanding. What helps, is to constantly remind ourselves of the objective of the task, to take regular breaks and to take good care of our health and well- being along the way.

"A recent study found that subjects who took two minute breaks in the middle of a boring 50 minute task, felt more focused, relaxed and productive." In another study, participants who had just finished a boring task, performed extremely well in a task that required them to think of great ideas. They were in fact, more successful than those who had just completed an interesting task.

The key to a great life is to monitor the level of monotony in our daily lives and to integrate regular periods during which our brains are given an opportunity to rest and recharge.

"Boredom itself is neither good nor bad, only our choices about how to counter it makes it so."

"Next time you find yourself in line at the grocery store, in a tedious meeting or killing time in a waiting room, resist the urge to scroll. You're bound to get bored - and your brain, mood and work performance might just improve."



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