If you are, like me, over the age of 35, you probably remember the sensation of deep boredom -- those long, empty days of summer vacation or evenings of nothing but stoop sitting or puttering around the house.
These days, thanks to all our gadgets, it's really hard to get that bored.
If you even approach that level of idleness, a glance at your phone will probably tempt you to play just a little bit of Candy Crush, check Facebook, or surf around for yet another kitten picture or pointless listicle.
That impulse to always flee boredom was a big problem for writer Jordan Rosenfeld, and not only because she was nostalgic for the calmer, longer days of her youth. She also noticed that the less often she was bored, the fewer creative ideas she had, she related on Quartz recently.
Science says boredom is good for you
Rosenfeld wasn't just imagining things. A ton of science shows that boredom didn't evolve simply to torture and vex humans. Boredom, unpleasant though it may be, serves very real purposes, from spurring up creativity to improve unsatisfactory situations to giving our brains space to free associate and marinate new ideas.
If you need convincing, Rosenfeld's post runs down a ton of research that shows fallow periods of boredom are essential for creativity. It's well worth a read in full if you're interested. But if that sounds like a plausible conclusion to you, suffice it to say that science proves that never being bored means having way fewer fresh ideas.
How to retrain your brain for boredom
The value of boredom is easy to prove (if sometimes very difficult to remember in the moment). What's harder to understand is what to do about it. But rather than just gripe about the erosion of boredom in the modern world, Rosenfeld actually took action, coming up with a plan to retain her brain for boredom. Here are the basic steps.
- Get in the habit of spacing out again. You get addicted to your gadgets the same way you get addicted to anything else -- by providing your brain's reward centers with hits of pleasure. "The more you perform a brain-rewarding activity, the more your brain will crave it," Rosenfeld (and a bunch of addiction science) points out. The reverse is also true. Putting in a concentrated effort to resist your phone will, over time, make it easier to ignore it and space out every once in awhile. (If that sounds hard, experts have offered more detailed advice on kicking your phone addiction.)
- Reset your expectations for communication. But don't I have to respond to every email I get after about two seconds, some of you might respond. Absolutely not, Rosenfeld answers emphatically. While the urge to appear frantically busy is common in America, constant running around will actually lower your chances of long-term success. Choose not to play that game.
- Face your feelings. "In our flight from boredom, we're also often fleeing from uncomfortable feelings--which are raw, messy, and not always easy to contain. When I have a fight with a friend or get bad news, I'm drawn to distract myself with my phone as if it were a cigarette or a drink," Rosenfeld confesses. To be bored again, you're going to need to face those emotions rather than run from them.
Check out Rosenfeld's complete post for lots more details.