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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

How to embrace boredom

Feeling bored? Maybe it's not such a bad thing. In a world that prizes multitasking and achievement and connectivity, it can be hard to allow ourselves to switch off. But sometimes it's just what we need. I spoke to Stylist Magazine all about how to embrace boredom. Click here for the full article, and read on to learn what I had to say.

What is boredom? Boredom isn’t about having ’nothing to do’.  After all, we can be really busy doing a task, but still feel bored.  I would suggest that boredom is about a lack of stimulation or purpose.  Doing repetitive, ‘mind numbing’ tasks that don’t challenge us.  Or feeling as if we have nothing interesting or stimulating to do with our time.  It can also be linked with the company that we keep.  We don’t just seek stimulation from the things that we do, it’s also from the people who we are with.  We might feel bored when we are alone, or we might also feel bored when we are with someone and not enjoying their company.  

If we think further about this, we can distinguish between when boredom feels oppressive and when it might feel liberating. If we are stuck with a set of repetitive tasks, or in the company of someone that we don’t like, then boredom might feel frustrating or stressful or oppressive.  But if we find ourselves in a situation where we have nothing to do and nowhere to be, then boredom can be the catalyst for day dreaming, relaxation or creativity.  

Why might we feel negative about being bored? Many of us link our self-esteem and sense of self-worth with our sense of productivity and achievement.  Being busy has become a ‘badge of honour’, something that shows other people that we are always on the go and highly in demand.  It’s almost as if we have become frightened to show the world that we don’t have much on our to-do list, or that we haven’t achieved much.  We might be judged as lazy or incompetent, or we might be passed over for promotions or opportunities. 

This need to be busy and productive often stems from our childhood and our relationship with our early caregivers.  When we were growing up, many of us learnt that if we were busy and productive we were more like to please those around us and elicit their attention and affection.  By contrast, if we complained of boredom, it’s likely that we were criticised.  Fast-forward to adulthood, and these behaviours become ingrained as a drive to be busy, productive, and to please those around us.  To put other people’s needs before our own, and to be filling every moment of our time with lists and tasks.  

Modern connectivity spurs this on, as our devices allow us to be contactable and productive all day long.  This can push us towards mounting levels of stress, which - if left unchecked - can send us spiralling into burnout.  

How can we embrace boredom? If we think about when boredom feels ‘liberating’, we can appreciate its power.  The power of boredom to allow us to daydream and to be creative.  To relax and breathe after a hard day’s work.  To connect with who we are, in a way that goes beyond our job title or our role in our families.  To remind ourselves that we are human, which gives us the perspective that we need in order to combat feelings of stress and anxiety.  

It feels as if it has become harder to find the space to be bored.  We’re not just watching TV, we are often watching more than one screen at a time, in a room with other people watching more than one screen at a time. Social media and mindless scrolling encourages a sense that there’s always something better round the corner.  So a funnier meme, a sillier video, a more attractive dating prospect is only one tap away.  This can make it harder to focus on one idea, as it encourages us to anticipate and latch onto distractions as they arise.  

It’s important that we don’t conflate boredom with daydreaming, and suggest that boredom is only effective if we ‘do’ boredom in a certain way.  Maybe it’s better to think about whether our actions are intentional or not.  So if we consider journaling or meditating to be a planned task then perhaps it doesn’t ‘count’ as boredom, even though it’s likely to reap benefits for our wellbeing.  But if we are bored and find ourselves grabbing a pen and paper and doodling or colouring or journaling, or find ourselves drifting off into a meditative state, then I’d suggest that this is an effective way to channel boredom. 

Sometimes our drive to be productive and busy stems from a deeper set of fears.  This can be fear or worry about the idea of being alone with our thoughts.  So it’s not necessarily that we are worried that we won’t complete our ’to-do’ list.  But it’s about what our ’to-do’ list is allowing us to avoid.  

The first step is to notice that we are making a choice.  A choice to be busy and productive because we are frightened about what will happen if we stop.  Then it’s about tuning into this feeling and being curious, what are we afraid of?  Maybe we are worried about what other people will think of us.  Or perhaps we have an internalised self-critical voice that becomes louder when we stop being productive.  It’s useful to remember that we are not our thoughts.  But in the longer term it’s useful to consider why these thoughts are there.  

Maybe on the surface, it feels as if we are living a fulfilled life.  But if we are still struggling with boredom, then it’s worth thinking more broadly about our sense of purpose.  Where we gain our satisfaction and sense of joy, and what might be missing from our lives.  

Keen to explore more? In counselling we can take a deeper look at how you feel about yourself. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a 30-minute introductory call.

how to embrace boredom

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