How Boredom Can Lead to Breakthrough


What do you do when you feel bored?

There was a time in the past when the answers may have been diverse and varied. Read a book, call a friend, go for a walk, play a game, or if you’re a child, make up an entire adventure.

Now, we all inevitably have the same reaction: reach for our phones.

Boredom is an emotion that simultaneously sends our conscious self a message and pokes and prods us towards a corresponding action. According to the latest research, boredom tells us that our engagement is dropping, that our physiological arousal levels are plummeting, and that we need to find something better to do. Boredom pushes us towards exploration, to fill that space with something more engaging, and to boost our levels of stimulation.

This trigger for exploration is one reason why boredom is so dangerous for those who suffer from addiction. Boredom pushes them to explore, and their addiction is often the easiest answer to fill that gap. Which brings us back to our phones. While not commonly thought of as serious as a drug addiction, our phones have become the easy answer to fill that same gap. A tinge of boredom and we don’t have to go figure out something to do to entertain ourselves. We no longer have to be the child creating a new game. We don’t even have to go through the process of finding a TV show to watch to ease our boredom. We just grab our phone and start swiping. At any point in the day, our boredom solution is a mere arms reach away.

We no longer use boredom’s push towards exploration to our advantage. While boredom has its negative effects, it is also tied to creativity. Allowing our mind to wander, to search for new ideas or items to focus on, to daydream, are all exploratory behaviors. It’s the child who invents a new game to play as she finds why to entertain herself. It’s the man who after a mind-numbing amount of work goes for a walk and lets his mind wander, stumbling on a breakthrough idea. Boredom can be a catalyst for finding and exploring new ideas or tangents. But we only get to that space if we have the time and space to do so.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever reach for the quick solution to our boredom. But if we never wrestle with boredom, if we never sit with boredom for a minute before reaching for the antidote, then we are neglecting our body’s in-built message to explore and create.

— Steve

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