Boredom. Makes me bored even thinking about it. But it’s actually quite hard to define, and even harder to combat.
It can be quite a universal experience and for some quite painful and debilitating.
But what is it? This week on the Radio Live Home and Garden Show host Tony Murrell and I talked about boredom. (Click here for a link to the audio of the interview)
Well some recent research has found that:
“…attention and awareness are keys to the aimless state. After reviewing existing psychological science and neuroscience studies, they defined boredom as “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity,” which arises from failures in one of the brain’s attention networks.
In other words, you become bored when:
• you have difficulty paying attention to the internal information, such as thoughts or feelings, or outside stimuli required to take part in satisfying activity;
• you are aware that you’re having difficulty paying attention; and
• you blame the environment for your sorry state (“This task is boring”; “There is nothing to do”)… (Click here for the whole article)
In fact more broadly boredom has long been linked with anxiety and addictions, as people who struggle with these problems often describe boredom as a problem that drives their anxiety or causes them to use alcohol or drugs.
In my experience boredom is often the result of finding it deeply uncomfortable to stop DOING and just BE. As this blog has talked about many times (see: “All it takes is 10 mindful minutes” and”Go with the flow” )our modern world is full of engaging and interesting distractions, but these are often fleeting. It also seems that engaging in daydreaming, or other distractions actually increases our sense of boredom because it decreases our ability to actively and fully engage in just one task.
Some research on modern technologies even suggests our ability to pay attention to tasks for sustained periods of time is being undermined by our growing engagement with social media, online communications and text messaging.
It’s possible that this is also why when surrounded by more and more interesting things to do we find it harder and harder to focus, and find ourselves feeling uncomfortable and bored. It might also be why mindfulness has found such a place in modern psychology: it is the antithesis of boredom.
The key is when we feel bored, we blame the environment “this is boring.” Mindfulness encourages us to find even the most simple tasks engaging by bringing all our awareness to it.
A good way to practice this is to pick a daily, mundane chore, vacuuming, washing dishes, sweeping the drive, and use this task as an opportunity to pay full attention to just what you’re doing. Focus on the movement of the body, the warmth of the water, the sweep of the broom. Treat the task like it is the most important thing you’ve ever done, and do it with full attention.
So the next time your bored, don’t blame the environment. Use it as an opportunity to engage and see what you find. You might be surprised.