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Boredom Can Ignite Self-Discovery

Being bored isn’t boring.

Key points

  • Boredom is a call to action for self-discovery.
  • Boredom can function as a symptom and also as a defense.
  • Boredom requires mindful intervention.
Source: Pixabay

There are many ways to define feeling bored: dull, tedious, idleness, the blahs, doldrums, monotony, and the existential ennui.

Clinically, boredom has been conceptualized as an emotional state resulting from inefficient or deficient emotional, cognitive, or attentional cortical arousal.

Boredom is experienced in children and adults, at all different ages and across the world in every culture. Feeling bored is best defined as “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.” Simply stated, it’s a lack of meaningful engagement.

When it comes to boredom, children and adults generally report it to be a deeply dissatisfying experience, with unhappiness, restlessness, irritability, and other negative feelings. While many of us fight to escape the grip of boredom, the solution is to mindfully define it.

Boredom may be a signal that we need more in our life, or it may be a kind of defensive experience. When boredom hits, instead of viewing it as an "Ugh" moment, consider it as an opportunity to discover something more about your life.

Understanding Boredom

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, feeling bored may be one of three different experiences.

  1. Understimulation: Boredom occurs because we lack meaningful emotional or physical stimulation. Feeling bored may signal that we need to broaden our interests, expand our social connections or engage in more self-discovery with regard to hobbies or interests.
  2. Compartmentalization: Boredom can serve as a defense mechanism against emotional or physical pain. Adverse experiences cause us to split off unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and this compartmentalization may result in feeling disconnected and bored.
  3. Avoidance: Another way boredom occurs as a defense mechanism is by distracting us from connecting more deeply with our wants and needs, especially if we think they're unattainable or feel undeserving of such things. Feeling bored distracts us from moving forward, accomplishing things, attaining goals or succeeding.

Tips to Cope with Boredom

The long held opinion that boredom is intolerable and to be avoided-at-all-costs needs refining. Studies on boredom suggests it's really more of a gift. Researchers, Dr. James Danckert and Dr. John Eastwood contend that boredom isn't bad for us, "It's just that we do a bad job of heeding its guidance."

The next time you find yourself feeling bored, consider the following:

  • Embrace boredom: Invite yourself to see that feeling bored is a signal, and an opportunity for self-discovery. Instead of seeing it as a negative experience, use it as a stepping stone for understanding.
  • Spur wonder: Ask yourself what kind of boredom you’re experiencing. Does it feel like you just can’t find a meaningful activity? Might it be a type of defensive posture that is blocking you from knowing or doing more? Encourage the spark of wonder and reflect on the textures of your own boredom.
  • Be patient: To move past defensive operations of boredom, you'll need to learn to integrate aspects of your life that you’ve avoided or split-off. You may be able to do this on your own, but if not, a trained therapist can help you make sense of this defensive pattern.
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