When boredom strikes, have you ever been in a state of mind when the thought of nothingness strikes you like a giant spark of electricity and puts you into oblivion? You can’t do anything and try so hard to defeat the weariness of your universe being suck into a black hole.
Most of us tend to have the notion that there’s not much stimulation going on around us. However, as ironic as it might seem, pursuing more external stimuli and getting into more external distractions can actually cause us to get bored.
But how exactly does boredom work? Why do people get bored, and how can you overcome the boredom you’re feeling right now?
To answer such questions, let us have a closer look at boredom and discuss a number of things about it.
Boredom Might Actually Be a Good Thing After All, According to Science
It seems that there have been tons of evidence from science-based studies that show that boredom wasn’t just made to torture us. While it might sound unpleasant, boredom actually serves very real purposes involving improving unsatisfactory situations, sparking creativity, and allowing our brains to come up with new and better ideas.
A study that was published in the Academy of Management Discoveries journal stated that boredom can actually spark creativity and productivity, asserting that if you want to come up with a brilliant idea, you should try getting bored first.
The study involved several participants who had to go through a boredom-inducing task of sorting a bowl of beans by their colors. After the task was completed, it was found out that those who have undergone the said task outperformed individuals who went through an interesting activity when performing an idea-generating task.
Specifically, the idea-generating task involved creating excuses for why they came late without having to make them look bad. Interestingly, the boring subjects gave better answers in terms of the quality and quantity of their ideas.
Another finding further substantiated the claim that boredom can actually spark creativity – this time, among children. According to Dr. Joe Austerman, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, boredom can actually do wonders for kids. By giving them downtime, their creativity will have a tendency to go into overdrive, thereby resulting in random and exciting ideas. This simply means that when boredom strikes among kids, their parents should just let them be.
Unfortunately, the same thinking might not apply to employees who constantly experience boredom in the workplace. According to Slack VP Michael Loop, bored people are more likely to quit. This has been in accordance with the 2016 Boredom at Work Report by Udemy which revealed that bored employees are two times more likely to leave and productivity tends to suffer once boredom strikes.
Boredom Can Actually Benefit Your Mental Health
Apart from its creativity-inducing effect, boredom might have just another exciting and surprising benefit. As it turns out, you can actually benefit from boredom by giving your brain time to take a break from the usual stressors that put a strain on your mental health. Such good examples of these are heavy phone and technology usage which are both linked to depression, stress, and fatigue in most adults.
Aside from that, Professor Peter Enticott of Deakin University stated that neuroscience is trying to investigate brain activity during periods of boredom. Interestingly, there has been an activation in the areas that are linked to negative emotions such as disgust and fear. However, it also revealed the activation of various areas of the prefrontal cortex which is a major contributor to our goal-directed behavior.
Boredom Can Be Classified into Five Different Types
People can react differently when boredom strikes. There are those who prefer reading books while bored, and there are those who would rather go out and take aimless walks.
A team of German researchers under the leadership of Thomas Goetz aimed to explore more into the different levels of boredom that everyone faces. They conducted a study which was published in Research Gate explaining the five different types of boredom which are as follows:
Apathetic boredom tends to operate at a different level compared to the four other types of boredom. It’s basically a more negative state of mind which can be linked to depression and even destructive behaviors.
Calibrating boredom leans more on the lack of ideas on what to do. It’s often observed when performing routine work or tasks that are repetitive in nature.
Indifferent boredom can be considered the most neutral among all boredom types. People who experience indifferent boredom tend to be calm and reserved.
Out of the five boredom types, reactant boredom is the most damaging due to its combination of negative emotion and high arousal. It’s often characterized by aggression, and people who feel that way tend to get restless.
As the name implies, searching boredom is characterized by a feeling of restlessness and an active pursuit for ways to reduce, if not eliminate, boredom. Most people who feel this kind of boredom often turn to activities and thoughts regarding interests, hobbies, etc. However, if they failed to find a diversion, searching boredom could become a reactant.
Getting Bored to Death Could Be Literally Possible
One common figure of speech associated with boredom is “getting bored to death”. Surprisingly, as figurative as it seems, there is some evidence that suggests it can literally happen. A study was conducted in 1985 wherein government employees in the UK answered questions regarding social determinants of healths, some of which tackle boredom.
Several years later, the study, which was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, revealed that those who experienced a huge deal of boredom were more likely to die younger than those who were not.
However, the study doesn’t imply the causation of dying at a younger age directly linked to severe boredom. It does, however, insinuate that proneness to boredom can be indicative of destructive behaviors which including smoking, mindless eating, excessive drinking, drug use, and low psychological profiles.
Another study found out that chronic boredom is linked to serious mental health issues such as paranoia. One study which explored the relationship between paranoia, proneness to boredom and self-consciousness revealed that high susceptibility to boredom is a strong predictor of paranoia.
How Exactly Does Boredom Work?
Now that we’ve discussed a number of facts regarding boredom, let’s have a look at how it exactly works.
Though boredom might sound like a 21st-century phenomenon – a common result brought about by briefly unplugging from endless connectivity – it’s actually not a new concept. In fact, boredom already existed centuries ago.
In Roman philosophy, for example, boredom was described as a form of nausea and was even recorded in Christian tradition as “noonday demon”. This just goes to show that everyone during the ancient era – even the greatest philosophers of their time – experienced boredom.
Despite being an ancient concept, scientists are yet to uncover major information regarding how boredom occurs, how the five different “types” of boredom can be classified, and what exactly boredom means.
As of now, boredom’s most widely accepted definition is the following:
“A frustrating experience of wanting to engage in a satisfying activity but without the ability to do so, meaning a bored person is unable to engage his internal or external factors that are important to create or engage in satisfying activity”.
Why Do People Get Bored?
Most people view boredom as a trivial feeling that normally passes after some time. However, it has a dark side to it as well. People who are prone to boredom are at a higher risk of anxiety, addiction, depression, binge-eating, poor social skills, hostility, and other sorts of destructive behaviors.
Despite its ubiquity, scientists are yet to uncover the true nature of boredom. There are several scales created to measure boredom, with the Boredom Proneness Scale as the most common.
But what exactly are the reasons why people get bored?
Differences in our novelty and excitement requirements might play a part
In general, men tend to get bored easily compared to women. They’re also more likely to exhibit risk-taking behaviors and are likely to point out that their environments are boring. According to researcher Stephen Vodanovich, people who get bored easily tend to view their environments as very dull.
There are clues from patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that indicate possible underlying causes of boredom. James Danckert of the University of Waterloo stated that people who have TBI tend to indulge in riskier activities after suffering from an accident.
According to him, the high dosage of medication required for the patient’s recovery from injury might have increased their threshold for psychological pleasure. Therefore, instead of opting for a coffee, for example, they’d rather pick a triple espresso.
Aside from that, people who get bored easily are not capable of entertaining themselves. Therefore, they often resort to destructive activities and behaviors such as drug abuse and alcohol addiction.
McWelling Todman of the New School for Social Research stated that people turn to drugs during downtime when they should’ve entertained themselves. In a study that is yet to be published, it’s been found out that the subjects’ boredom levels were the only factor that can reliably predict whether they would continue taking drugs or not.
Excessive use of technology could also be a major contributor to boredom
According to John Eastwood of the York University in Toronto, there’s something about modern sensory overload that prevents us from figuring out what our passions and interests are. This could show the possibility that When Boredom Strikes it can be due to the lack of understanding of what we really want to do.
Bored people tend to get a low score on self-awareness, and they even find it hard to keep their moods and feelings in check. This leads to the conclusion that bored people aren’t capable of understanding what they really want. Eastwood also found out that individuals who got a high score on scales of alexithymia – the inability to understand or recognize one’s own emotions – are also generally bored.
Our ability to focus can also play an important role in boredom. Those who suffer from ADHD have a higher tendency of getting bored – the same applies to those who have a low score on sustained attention.
An experiment conducted in 1989 by James Laird and Robin Damrad-Frye about “When Boredom Strikes” revealed that low-level distraction caused by a quiet TV located in the next room caused the participants to regard a simple reading task as “boring”. This simply suggests that we have a tendency to consider something as boring when it needs a focused effort to keep our attention.
The lack of flow can cause us to perceive something as boring
In 1970, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi invented the term “flow psychology” which suggests that focus and enjoyment are possible through a balance between the skills we have and the difficulty of the tasks we’re going to face.
Flow basically happens when your skills match the difficulty of the challenge presented to you and when it also involves clear goals and instant feedback. When a task seems too easy, we perceive it as boring. On the flip side, when a task seems too difficult for us, we tend to suffer from anxiety.
There are still a ton of things yet to be uncovered regarding boredom. However, it’s a good thing that there are a number of science-backed benefits that boredom has to offer to our daily lives.
The key here is to not force it. If you truly dread a boring task or crave moments of stimulating activities, just let them be. Find out what you really need at the moment then reassess accordingly. You might find yourself embracing it on certain days. Try to experiment and find out what works for you.
Just take note of this: when boredom strikes, it isn’t necessarily the enemy. Who knows? It might just be the one you need to get that creativity and productivity boost.
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