“OMG! I’m soooooo bored” are words uttered or thought of by a vast majority of people– a survey of 3,867 adults identified that to be true of 63 percent of the participants in a 10 days study (they reported being bored at least once in that time span) (Chin et al., 2017.)
For some, like me, it’s a lot more often than others. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the person aiming to add novelty in your lives has a proneness to boredom. I should add the caveat this is truer when I’m not living out my purpose, which research tells me is probably why I get bored in the first place.
The utter pain of boredom being the trigger and motivation to do something to change my circumstances and end my boredom.
(You can test your proneness to boredom here.)
I have strong opinions and thoughts about boredom because of my close relationship and familiarity with it, but doing research on boredom has enlightened me on the causes, affects, and benefits of boredom.
Make no mistake about it though, I detest boredom, therefore, I’m making it my mission to eradicate all of its negative impacts on our lives!!
But first—I needed to better understand my nemesis. So here’s some education from the experts and researchers about boredom.
What is Boredom
One agreed upon definition of boredom is: an emotional and occasionally psychological state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, is not interested in his or her surroundings, or feels that a day or period is dull or tedious.
Another explanation for boredom is the frustrating experience of wanting but being unable to engage in satisfying activity, meaning a bored person cannot engage the internal (thoughts or feelings) or external (environment) factors necessary to produce a satisfying activity.
The Push-Pull of Boredom
The push-pull and opposites of boredom are one aspect of my research that fascinated me the most.
For example, there’s the push-pull of boredom where you experience the intense desire to make it go away but it’s mixed with apathy that makes it hard to do anything. Meaning, being too bored to do anything to end your boredom.
According Dr. John Eastwood, a predominant researcher on the theory of boredom (joint author of The Unengaged Mind) and psychologist at York University, Toronto, his studies revealed at times boredom breeds lethargy — you might even have trouble keeping your eyes open. In other situations, being bored can lead to an agitated restlessness: think pacing, or constantly tapping your feet. Often, he says, boredom oscillates between the two states (which are opposites).
Same with the types of people most at risk for boredom. You’ve got the sensation/thrill seekers — such as the skydivers among us — who are particularly likely to find the world moves too slowly and therefore get bored (that’s me). Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, people who are overly sensitive to pain and punishment — such as people with high anxiety — who are more likely to withdraw from the world out of self-protection, and consequently, end up under stimulated and bored.
As you’ll notice, the trend of opposites continues throughout all things boredom related to include boredom being used for good and boredom being a caused of a great many negative actions and behaviors.
How do you define boredom? What causes you to get bored?
The Research on Boredom
The Five Kinds of Boredom
In a 2010 study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers found that when people lost themselves in pleasant, as opposed to unpleasant, daydreams, they found the task at hand more boring. The gap between the things people want to be doing and the things they’re actually doing may make boredom feel more extreme.
I know this is true for me. There’s being bored by what I’m doing, but not knowing what I rather be doing—then there’s being bored by what I’m doing, while knowing what I rather be doing—which can make me annoyed, frustrated, and even angry.
The above boredom I’ve experienced/described is the worse of the five kinds of boredom identified by Dr. Thomas Goetz, Professor of Empirical Educational Research at the University of Konstanz, Germany. It’s called reactant boredom.
People experiencing reactant boredom really want to leave their dull situations and flee from the people they blame for it, including their teachers, bosses, parents, or selves.
The other four kinds are: indifferent, calibrating, searching, and apathetic.
With indifferent boredom, we are withdrawn from the world but perfectly relaxed; during calibrating boredom we are prone to wandering thoughts, while searching boredom is when we actively look for something else to do, the final type, apathetic boredom results in showing little arousal and a lot of aversion.
Goetz study concludes that, while all shades of boredom can be uncomfortable, reactant and apathetic boredom are the most unpleasant (and self-destructive). Calibrating and searching boredom can actually be beneficial.
More about that in a few…first lets have look at the ugly and negative sides of boredom caused by reactant and apathetic boredom.
The Big Uglies and Negatives of Boredom
Research shows boredom to be responsible for increased risk of overeating, gambling, alcohol, and drug abuse, and risky sexual behaviors, among others.
Boredom has been associated with higher rates of obesity.
One study done in 2012 interviewed 102 British office workers and found that 25% of them feel chronically bored. Not coincidentally, they ate higher amounts of chocolate and drank higher amounts of alcohol than those who didn’t report chronic boredom.
Ever find yourself aimlessly rummaging through the kitchen snacking, then snacking some more, and some more, although, you’re not hungry—you know you’re just bored? This mindless eating is a terribly unhealthy habit.
Chronic boredom or continually feeling bored, has a direct relationship with compulsive behaviors.
Examples of compulsive behaviors are: shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling, sex, exercise, and body-focused behaviors, such as hair-pulling and skin-picking.
Chronic boredom is also linked to a fair number of mental health issues. A predisposition to boredom has been indicated as a strong predictor of paranoia and traits of anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive behaviors as well.
Strap in, there’s more…
Losing Focus, Making Mistakes and Procrastination
When you feel bored, you lose focus. Chronic attention problems such as attention deficit or hyperactivity disorders are connected to monotony.
“All instances of boredom involve a failure of attention,” according to Eastwood. “And attention is what you are using now to blot out the plethora of stimuli around you while you focus awareness on a given topic.” So, in short, if you aren’t paying attention because you are bored, it is almost certain that you will make mistakes.
Although most mistakes might not results in life or death—that’s not always the case especially for doctors, air traffic controllers, pilots, truck drivers, soldiers, and many other jobs. For them, making sure they keep paying attention is critical.
Not surprisingly, boredom can lead to procrastination. When people get bored in a meeting, conference or analyzing a report, their performance drops dramatically.
What’s boredom doing to you? How is boredom impacting you and your quality of life?
What’s the Point of Boredom?
That is something of a puzzle for evolutionary psychologists.
Emotions should evolve for our benefit – not to push us to self-destruction.
“The very fact that boredom is a daily experience suggests it should be doing something useful,” says Heather Lench at Texas A&M University who assisted with a paper called On The Function of Boredom. Feelings like fear help us avoid danger, after all, while sadness might help prevent future mistakes. So, if true, what does boredom achieve?
Reviewing the evidence so far, Lench suspects that it lies behind one of our most important traits – curiosity. “Boredom,” she says, “stops us ploughing the same old furrow, and pushes us to try to seek new goals or explore new territories or ideas.”
Teresa Belton, PhD, a research associate in the school of education and lifelong learning at the University of East Anglia, pointed out:
“If people don’t have the inner resources to deal with boredom constructively, they might do something destructive to fill the void,” Belton says. “Those who have the patience to stay with that feeling, and the imagination and confidence to try out new ideas, are likely to make something creative out of it.”
Listen to Your Boredom
Remember calibrating and searching boredom? During calibrating boredom we are prone to wandering thoughts, while searching boredom is when we actively look for something else to do?
These kinds of boredom are designed for us to explore, discover, and search our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and figure out what we need in order to bring an end to our boredom.
While Goetz didn’t specify if when one type of boredom is not properly addressed, it leads to another—it’s something, based on my personal experience, I find to be true.
If I ignore my boredom or try to numb it with social media, movies, or other kind of low level entertainment—that only works for a short period of time. Eventually, those very things become a cause of my boredom (which then leads to chocolate and other destructive leaning actions) and elevated level of frustrations from being bored or dissatisfied with my current situation/circumstances.
This is when some kind of change is required to make a real difference.
I imagine boredom as this stubborn visitor who says “I will not be ignored.” Or a bad smell, a disease, an injury, an unpaid debt, a lie—it only gets worse if you ignore it.
It’s trying to tell you something. So pay attention to it and do something about it.
Don’t Get Distracted. Get Creative.
In today’s electronic world, it’s rare to be stuck with absolutely nothing to do. Most of us are bombarded by near-constant stimuli such as tweets, texts and a seemingly limitless supply of cat videos right at our fingertips. But all those diversions don’t seem to have alleviated society’s collective boredom. The reverse may be true, says Eastwood.
“These might distract you in the short run, but I think it makes you more susceptible to boredom in the long run, and less able to find ways to engage yourself,” he says.
How do you go about getting creative? That’s another post…for later, but, I bet I still have a quick answer for you…
Maybe you should try something new!!
When everything bores you. Guess what? The answer is try something new!!
What’s missing in your life? What are you seeking? What do you desire? What can stimulate, engage, and entertain you?
To find the answer to your boredom you must dig to understand what it’s about.
I feel a post about trying new things and self-awareness begging to also be written…
Time for Change
If your job and/or school are absolutely boring you—it’s probably time for a change—be it a change of how you continue in the same circumstances or a complete change to entirely different circumstances.
In my case, I’m in the process of doing a complete shift. While I get boredom has been an integral driver to me making that decision—I still don’t want anything to do with it. But, if/when it shows up, I definitely better understand its purpose.
Hopefully this post has made you realize boredom is not something to take lightly or ignore. No one likes feeling bored but it’s everything else it can lead to—that’s scary. It makes you restless and inattentive, prone to mistakes, and likely to seek out stimuli that may be negative. The feeling of boredom may very well be what causes you to seek out addictive behaviors, infidelities, overeating, and gambling. All this because boredom has something to tell you about yourself and your life.
Take the time to find out what the boredom is trying to tell you and then explore new experiences or implement a plan to make changes.