Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you were bored? And no, I don’t mean bored for like 30 seconds. When were you actually bored for at least 15 minutes?
For most of us, the answer has something to do with our smartphone. It’s likely that the last time you were bored was either when you didn’t have a smartphone yet or when you somehow had to be without one for a while.
Because of the endless stream of entertainment and information available at our fingertips, we’re hardly ever bored anymore. This may sound like a good thing, but it’s not. By distracting yourself so often, there is no space for boredom. And boredom has value. A lot of value.
(Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-smartphone. I think it’s a wonderful device that can enhance the quality of our lives. It’s not the device that’s the problem — it’s our relationship with it that’s often problematic.)
Filling Every Gap of Low-Stimulus With Information And Entertainment
Nowadays, most people can’t even wait in line for a few minutes without being on their smartphone. The same goes for bathroom visits, eating dinner, or waiting for the bus. Every moment of low-stimulus needs to be filled with more entertainment and information. Social media, email, news websites, and instant messaging are the perfect sources for this. (and yes, I’m guilty of this too — I’m not a saint.)
We’ve become so afraid of boredom — or better said, a lack of stimuli — that we try to avoid it at all costs. Yes, it’s a lot of fun to check the latest memes when you’ve got nothing to do. However, constant distractions like this are actually limiting your success, mental clarity, and happiness.
Don’t try to fill every single second with some form of stimulation. Instead, embrace the boredom. I know it’s not the sexiest advice out there, but hear me out…
Generate Your ‘Million Dollar’ Idea
It’s in moments of boredom where some of your best ideas are generated. When your mind is not occupied by over-stimulating entertainment, it has the space to generate and present valuable, life-changing ideas.
Yes, your ‘million dollar’ idea might be hidden in boredom. But most people are so out of touch with boredom through the continuous stream of stimuli that their best ideas slip through their fingers.
Without a doubt, this cost you in your career success, financial health, and personal life. It’s the quality of your ideas that determine a large part of the quality of your life.
To give my mind more space for idea-generation, I regularly schedule blocks of ‘nothing’ in which I sit and think. Yes, this can become boring. I’d rather play a game of FIFA on my Playstation. However, I almost always come up with ideas for new articles, products, or ways to improve myself and my business. This is much more valuable to me than any form of mind-numbing stimuli.
In the past, however, I would try to fill every single moment with either more entertainment (social media or video games) or more information (audiobooks, podcasts, news websites). There simply wasn’t any space for reflection and deep thinking — despite its importance. Here’s what one of my friends realized during a 24-hour ‘dopamine fast’ we did together:
“Look at your past. Most of your best ideas have come from moments of boredom. Eating a meal without looking at your phone. A bus ride in silence. A short period of reflection after reading a book. I need these moments. I need my ideas to be great if I want a great quality of life. To find this boredom more often, realize the ‘reward’ you get from filling up those moments with meaningless entertainment is just that, meaningless. It doesn’t bring me closer to a great life. It doesn’t teach me new things. And it doesn’t really make me happy either. It’s just your brain following the path of least resistance, to the quickest ‘reward’.”
Nowadays, I realize that doing nothing and being bored can be one of the most productive things to do — even more productive than consuming more information.
Protecting Your Happiness and Mental Clarity
Asides from generating higher-quality ideas, embracing boredom is also beneficial for your happiness and mental clarity. By cramming every single moment of ‘nothing’ with stimuli, you put your mental wellbeing at risk.
In fact, a study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden measured the effects of smartphone usage on people in their 20s over the course of a year. The study showed that high mobile phone use was directly correlated to increased reports of depression in both men and women — and that’s worrisome.
The constant stream of data from our devices is hard work for the brain. When we fill every minute of ‘nothing’ with more information and entertainment, there’s no time for our minds to rest, process information, and connect ideas.
No wonder that stress and burn-out are on the rise. Our brains hardly get a moment to rest anymore. Imagine how many injuries you’d get by working out for hours every single day, and never giving it a proper rest. You wouldn’t do this to your body, yet most of us do this to our brain.
Besides, by continuously moving away from the real world and diving into a digital world, we experience more trouble being present, appreciating everyday life, or connecting with real human beings. This, as you can imagine, does not benefit your happiness and mental wellbeing.
Improved Learning and Data Processing
Your brain needs moments of ‘nothing’ to process concepts, ideas, and new information effectively so that it gets stored in your long-term memory. This space is required for learning and data-processing. Without it, new information, insights, and concepts won’t be stored in long-term memory.
Most people, unfortunately, don’t give their brains enough space for learning. During or right after consuming information (for example, studying for a test), they switch to other brain-stimulating tasks — such as scrolling through social media, checking news websites, or quickly responding to emails or other messages. This way, important information won’t be transferred effectively from the brain’s working memory to long-term memory. In other words, we impair learning and memory.
This also explains why more and more people have trouble recalling recent conversations or remembering what they just read in a book. As they’ve already flooded their brain with new information by checking email, scrolling through Instagram, or watching Netflix, the old (and often more important) information didn’t get the necessary time and space to be processed.
So, after you’ve gained valuable new information or learned a new concept, give your brain space and time to process it effectively. This is where embracing boredom is beneficial.
Getting Things Done
One of the most surprising benefits of embracing boredom is that you’ll quickly get chores out of the way. In the past, I used to postpone chores as long as I could. Doing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, or throwing away the garbage would stare at me for days or weeks — which wasn’t enjoyable.
However, ever since embracing more boredom in my life, I started getting chores out of the way much more quickly, simply because it was the most fun thing I could do at that moment.
Now Do It
The next time you stand in line waiting for your coffee, don’t instantly grab your phone. Instead, just wait. Give your brain a breather. Or connect with another human being — a real one.
All in all, embrace more boredom in your life. And no, this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun anymore. It doesn’t mean you have to cancel your Netflix subscription or sell your video games. There’s definitely a time and place for these things. Just learn to be okay with moments of low stimulus.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab