Boredom Is Terrible, Right? Wrong.

Ever been so bored that you got a brilliant idea? There's a reason for that.


November 12, 2015

Boredom sucks, right?

Wrong. It’s one of the best things that can happen to you. Ever noticed that you get all of your brilliant ideas when you’re in the shower? Or on your walk home? Or when you’re washing the dishes?

When your mind is empty and unconcerned with problem-solving, creative thoughts can wander in.

That’s the conclusion one doctor found, after she asked 40 people to copy numbers out of a phone book (borrrinnngg). Then she asked them to create a new way to use styrofoam cups (still sounds boring, but context, people). The control group was only asked to come up with a creative use for the cups.

The doctor, Sandi Mann, from the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K., found that people who copied the numbers first were more creative in finding new uses for the cups.

Get out of the box

“If we don’t find stimulation externally, we look internally — going to different places in our minds,” Mann told the BBC. “It allows us to makes leaps of the imagination. We can get out of the box and think in different ways.”

Boredom is usually what happens right before people get frustrated and attempt something they’ve never tried before. Something they wouldn’t consider under normal circumstances.

This can often be positive, although not always, which is why boredom has also been linked to substance abuse (more on that later).

In fact, in another study, people who were left in a room for 15 minutes with a button that gave electric shocks actually used the shocker as a way to escape their own boredom.

Boredom can lead to self-destruction

Here’s the problem. Boredom is uncomfortable. One study showed that boredom was the single biggest predictor of alcohol, cigarette and marijuana abuse among a group of South African teenagers. Boredom has also been linked to eating when you aren’t hungry.

And researchers in the famous Whitehall study found that government employees who got bored easily were 30% more likely to die in a three year period.

So it’s no wonder that people use their devices to avoid boredom at all costs. Next time you get on a train or stand in line, look around. Everyone would rather look at their phone than wait with nothing to do.

The entrepreneur who wanted to “end boredom”

The fear of boredom drove entrepreneur James Gadsby to invent Shuffle My Life, a mobile app designed to beat boredom. Using his own ingenuity, he was able to transform boredom from a burden into an opportunity to do something new and exciting.

“Ending boredom has been a goal of mine ever since 2011, when I was home from university and incredibly bored,” he wrote on Reddit. “I took the family dog for a walk around the park, thinking about how I was in a rut – just doing the same things every day…”

Gadsby created an app that display a series of cards, each with a different activity written on them. Whichever one you pick, you have to do, and he said that the excitement (good or bad), of doing something new helps your brain create new memories.

Are you at risk of boredom?

Two kinds of people get bored more often than others, according to John Eastwood, Associate Professor of Psychology at York University in Canada.

The first type are impulsive, novelty-seeking people. For them, the everyday world is under-stimulating.

The second type are people who are scared of everything. They shut themselves off from new experiences and stay in their comfort zones. Those people crave safety, but they also get bored and restless.

But we all get bored sometimes, Eastwood said, and we need to take a hard look at our tendency to escape boredom with our smartphones.

Boredom can lead to insight

If you’re feeling super bored, for instance, it might be better to dig into why you feel that way, rather than distract yourself by playing Candy Crush Saga or Flappy Bird.

Do you need to do something to make your real life more exciting?

“One possibility is that this actually makes people more bored,” he said.

“We live in tech-driven society where we are overstimulated – we are constantly yanked around by interruptions,” Eastwood told the BBC. Because of that, we keep expecting quicker ways to be inspired.

“One possibility is that this actually makes people more bored,” he said.

So that’s the thing about boredom. It’s scary the way a blank page was scary when you were 18 and had to write a term paper. The possibilities of it can be daunting.

But you can use all that blank space to create something amazing. It can set the stage for new connections between ideas or concepts or give you the time to make a brand new memory.

Whatever it is, Hustlers, we recommend not just getting lazy and grabbing the nearest bottle of Bourbon to relieve your boredom. At least not until 5 o’clock.

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