In an experiment, scientists made people wait in an empty room for 15 minutes. The only distraction available was a button which, if pressed, would deliver them a mild electric shock to the ankle. Unsurprisingly, half of the participants pushed the button.
They couldn’t stand the monotony and discomfort of boredom any longer. So, they shocked themselves. That’s how much we hate being bored.
Fortunately for us, we don’t always have to suffer through feelings of ennui. There are ways to make the experience more pleasant, and to reduce or eliminate boredom.
But before we see how to stop being so bored, we first need to understand why we get bored.
6 reasons why we get bored
#1 We look for external stimulation
Extroverts like novelty and excitement in their lives. Contrary to introverts, who are happy being alone, they seek the company of others to stimulate their brains. Unfortunately, this also means the world might sometimes feel dull to them. They turn to meet people online, at parties, concerts, and extreme sports but without their usual levels of adrenalin, they get bored.
#2 We feel trapped
Being in situations where we lack autonomy and control over our decisions can lead to boredom. This explains why two out of three teenagers say they feel bored every day at school. They, and we, want to be able to choose what we want to do.
#3 We have too much free time
Ask any retiree how they felt once they no longer needed to work and they’ll probably tell you they didn’t know what to do for the first few weeks.
Not that work was so exciting, but a suddenly empty schedule is scary. Our ancestors who worked tirelessly never mentioned being bored until after the industrial revolution, which freed enough time to do nothing.
When it comes to being bored, too much free time is worse than none at all.
#4 Our own company is being intimidated
Being alone with nothing but our own thoughts means being forced to look inwards. To reflect on what makes us who we are. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And that is a daunting prospect.
Which is why our minds can’t seem to relax long enough to do that. It is much easier to reach for our smartphone or the TV remote instead.
#5 We don’t know what we want
Not being able to identify what we want out of life is a big reason why we get bored. Without direction, we may lack the focus to set goals that would help us engage with the world around us.
Another issue we may have is misunderstanding our emotions. Are we dealing with depression, apathy, or anxiety?
Not fully grasping what would make us happy is a source of deep existential boredom.
#6 Some tasks are too monotonous
Any task that is either too repetitive, too easy, or too predictable will become boring. We will gradually disengage with the activity until we feel trapped.
With no additional stimulus, and no change in activity, we will inevitably become bored out of our minds. When every day is the same, we become bored every day.
Fear not: Here’s how to stop being bored
By identifying the reasons why we get bored, the solutions are already starting to appear. Let’s have a deeper look, though, because there is a big twist:
#1 Getting to know ourselves
By understanding what we want in life, we’ll be able to set goals and work towards achieving them. This should reduce the amount of downtime in our lives, as we’ll always have a reason to get stuff done.
For that, however, we need to spend some time looking inwards. What are our likes and dislikes? Our dreams? The good and bad parts of our personality?
It may not be easy, but we’ll reap the benefits of this exercise our whole lives.
#2 Putting down the technology
When we look to alleviate the discomfort of boredom, opening a new tab on our browser is easy. Checking the trending videos on YouTube provides a quick distraction from boredom.
Yet, it’s the exact opposite of what we should be doing.
The issue with technology is that it over stimulates our brains, which need to relax, once in a while. Overloading them with information and entertainment leads to mental fatigue. And when our minds are tired, we get bored even faster with everyday activities.
#3 Learning to meditate and get in touch with our feelings
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
With this eloquent quote, Blaise Pascal put his finger on an issue that is just as relevant today as it was four hundred years ago.
We would save ourselves from suffering and pain if we were able to accept the silence of our own company. To accept what we see when we look in the mirror.
Fortunately, meditating is a way to grow more comfortable within our minds. By gradually increasing the amount of time spent in silence, we’ll be able to enjoy more awareness, more self-control, and longer periods of time free of useless external distractions.
The truth about boredom
With that last point, we’ve touched on a key aspect of boredom: it doesn’t have to be something we need to avoid.
Rather, it invites us to take a break and focus. By encouraging us to get creative, boredom helps us change our relationship with the world around us. To learn that we don’t get bored by the things we do, but by how we do them.
There is true joy in the monotony of mowing a lawn. If we ride out the discomfort of the first few minutes of boredom, our minds will relax. Our brains will do their thing and work in the background, undistracted by the noise we crowd our lives with.
And that is how we find solutions to problems without even thinking about them. Important breakthroughs that improve our lives in big ways. Ever heard of shower thoughts? Of writers taking long walks to get their creative juices flowing? The same process is at work here.
Once we view boredom as our ally, it stops being scary.