How to master the art of being bored

How to master the art of being bored

Feeling a bit bored in lockdown? Join the club! But that may not be such a bad thing, say the experts. In fact, boredom could even be good for you — if you learn how to do it well.

Lockdown got you climbing the walls? Are you over feeling bored? While it’s certainly an unpleasant feeling, experts say boredom isn’t always a bad thing. Some say that ‘blah’ feeling can even spur you on to greatness.

“There’s a real misconception that boredom is a sign of laziness and associated with apathy — actually, it’s the opposite,” says Professor James Danckert, who studies boredom. “It’s motivating — and, if we listen to it, we can learn a lot.”

Other experts agree that being bored can be a good thing. “Most of the time our minds are constantly occupied by external stimuli like smartphones,” says psychologist Dr Joann Lukins. “But boredom gives us a space to pause, reflect and then, often out of necessity, sees us create our next opportunity. I find it interesting that we use negative phrases like ‘bored to tears’ to discuss boredom when we can be ‘bored to brilliance’.’’

In fact, when researchers at the UK’s University of Central Lancashire asked people to do a boring task for 15 minutes and then asked them to come up with a list of things they could do with a plastic cup, they came up with more creative ideas than those in the control group who weren’t bored.

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Why do I feel so bored?

Boredom can affect everyone, but people with high self-control are less prone to it, as are creative types and people who are naturally curious. Men bore more easily than women, extroverts bore more easily than introverts and it particularly affects those who seek out pleasure and stimulation to feel good — and this is when it causes problems.

“It’s very easy to get bored when outside influences are removed and you feel stuck — as we are now — and at this point, it’s also easy to slip into bad habits, such as overeating and drinking too much to try and create those sensations of pleasure,“ says Psychotherapist Eugenie Pepper. “However, remember that boredom is not a trait — it’s a state, and it’s one you can move out of if you try.”

From ‘meh’ to ‘yeah’

So, how do you do that? “Boredom is associated with a loss of agency or control in life, [only you can] choose the actions that will get you out of it,” says Prof Danckert.

“What I can suggest is that if your boredom is associated with the confines of the current situation, one of the best things to do is get a routine. Astronauts in the space shuttle, for example, have their day planned in five-minute increments.”

You don’t have to be quite that rigid, but designating periods in the day to general categories like work, communication, exercise, creativity or whatever else you enjoy can help create a structure that makes it easier to pass the time.

“I also like to suggest people set a goal for the day,” adds Pepper. “It gives a sense of purpose and achievement that makes you feel good. This reward then starts to change neural pathways in your brain that keep you going and make you want to avoid boredom.”

And then sometimes you can have the best routine, brilliant goals or the longest to-do list in the world and yet still not have the momentum to do any of them because you just feel bored. In this situation, the key to breaking out may be identifying the type of boredom you have.

Five types of boredom and how to handle them

Researchers at the University of Konstanz in Germany say there are five different types of boredom with slightly different characteristics between them. Knowing which you’re experiencing may give you some ideas of the best ways to shift your brain from its stagnant state and help you decide what you should be doing instead.

See if you can work out what state of boredom you’re in…

1. Indifferent

This type of boredom doesn’t feel that bad — you feel that you should do something, but aren’t that bothered about finding out what.

How to get out of it

“Actually, you may not want to,” says Dr Lukins. “If you’re going to get creative while bored, this is the type of boredom it will spark from. Use it as a time-out from your normal state of constant busyness. Just lie around and see where your mind goes.”

2. Calibrating

This is what most people think of as boredom. You know you want to be doing something else, but you’re not quite sure what. You feel a bit stuck, but not upset about it.

How to get out of it

“Just change something about your situation,” says Dr Lukins. “Go to a different room, play some music that changes your mood or start a simple task around the house. It doesn’t need to be something you’ll commit to, but often it’ll shake you out of your boredom and let you find what you really do want to do.”

3. Searching

This is a restless type of boredom where you’re actively seeking out something new to do — and feel agitated if you can’t find it.

How to get out of it

“This type of boredom can often be associated with boring tasks. So ask yourself why the task is important. What is it moving you towards? It’ll either convince you to carry on or alert you that you’re wasting your time,” says Dr Lukins.

4. Apathetic

This is one of the more negative types of boredom. “It results in an overwhelming feeling of disconnection. It’s more emotional than the other types of boredom and you can feel a bit down alongside it,” says Dr Lukins.

How to get out of it

This is where connecting with other people and talking it through can help, says Dr Lukins. If you can’t get in touch with the person who you’d usually turn to for advice, imagine what they would say to you in this situation — or how you’d advise them if the tables were turned.

5. Reactant

This is the type of boredom most likely to lead to negative actions like overeating or drinking. “It feels noticeably unpleasant and makes you agitated and restless,” says Dr Lukins.

How to get out of it

“Physical activity,” says Dr Lukins. “It helps burn off that jittery feeling. Formal exercise is best, but if you can’t do that, at least do something that gets your body moving, like hanging out the washing or cleaning something.”

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