Boredom isn’t new to most of us. It’s a lackluster feeling we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives. We can be bored even if we’re busy or suffer from the general malaise of interest that is commonly associated with boredom. But all boredom isn’t the same, and in fact, can be triggered for a lot of different reasons.
Because boredom can manifest in different ways and for different reasons, it’s important to understand what’s happening in the brain. When we start feeling bored, it’s actually our frontal lobe, specifically, the left frontal lobe. When activity in this region of the brain increases, it’s our brains attempt to actively find something to engage its interest. We’re looking for distraction and stimulation.
Here’s the secret to boredom. It isn’t being bored that’s the problem but how we respond to it.
In our modern world, we can easily find distraction. There’s endless feeds to scroll through, countless shows to binge on Netflix. Whenever we feel that restless feeling we can immediately stifle them by grabbing the closest device. And that’s the problem.
When we constantly fight feeling bored, we risk associating that feeling with negativity. But more than that, we increase activity in our right frontal lobe, which becomes more active with negative emotions such as varying states of anxiety. The more we associate these negative feelings with an increasing state of boredom, the more engrained these neural pathways become.
Studies have shown that when we stay in this negative state, we risk harming our overall mental health. The stimulation we need to take us out of the negative state becomes higher, meaning we stay in these anxious states for longer periods of time. Not only that, but because we then link boredom with anxiety, we never let ourselves naturally work through our boredom, increasingly relying on external distractions.
The only way to work through boredom in a healthy manner is by finding activities that actively engage our brain. There’s a difference between seeking distraction and being absorbed in an activity. When we find ways to continually engage our mind, we reduce the activity on the right side of our frontal lobe, shifting it more towards the left. And when the right side takes over, we’re able to unlock new and creative ways to stimulate our brain.
Here are five ways to actively embrace boredom.
Read A Book
When we read, we are exercising our brain. That’s because reading is a whole brain activity. Reading activates our cerebrum, temporal lobe, frontal lobe, and multiple white matter pathways. In relation to boredom, it’s important we engage in long form reading. Scanning a caption or reading a string of tweets typically doesn’t provide the whole brain engagement required to immerse our brain deeply.
Short stories, articles, and novels are all ways we can fall into a narrative which will stimulate our brain. In fact, it’s this narrative that is what we need. When we read reports or short snippets of information, we are only activating those select areas of our brain related to the information we’re absorbing. However, with stories, even non-fiction narratives or articles that have narrative structure, this is when our entire brain is engaged, active, and focused on following the progression of the story.
Reading also increases our focus and concentration, both of which can help in fighting boredom. Even better, they can also prevent boredom from setting in.
Finish Our To-Do List
Often, we’re bored because we have things we need to do. Which may sound counter-intuitive. But sometimes it can be difficult to find motivation to engage in mundane tasks. Yet, when we avoid those tasks, it becomes even harder to find activities that stimulate our brain because the strain of having outstanding tasks distracts us by constantly hovering on the periphery of our consciousness.
With every item we’re able to complete and cross off of our list, we not only lower our stress, which can help boost our motivation and energy. But we also increase our ability to concentrate by eliminating the little tasks that could be building unnecessary stress in our minds.
And completing our to-do list doesn’t have to only include the mundane daily or weekly tasks that we have to complete for work or as chores. They can be the things we’ve put off for when we have more time. Completing a puzzle or dabbling in painting. Whatever creative hobby we never seem to have time for can be absorbing and fulfilling, taking us out of boredom and giving us a boost to get even more accomplished.
Take A Walk
Exercise in general is a good boredom buster. It gets our heart rate up, increases blood flow, boosts our endorphins, and lowers our stress. But exercise also gives our mind something to focus on, allowing our default network to process in the background. This is why we sometimes come up with new ideas or solve problems that we’ve been stuck on when we’re exercising.
Going for a walk takes all the benefits of exercise and adds a new dimension. Being in nature takes our brain out of top-down thinking, where we focus on big stimuli and move down to smaller details. This type of thinking can be mentally exhausting, where our brain is working to filter what it pays attention to by constantly dismissing irrelevant data.
However, when we’re in nature, our brain moves to bottom-up processing where we notice small details first. This change in thinking recharges our brain, improving how quickly we are able process information and stimuli when we go back to top-down thinking. Taking our brain out of our normal routine requires a different level of focus and concentration than when we’re stuck in the same routine. Which works to reduce stress and anxiety, helping us fight boredom.
Learn Something New
There’s nothing more stimulating than learning something new. It requires attention, concentration, and focus. But learning something new doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Especially in regards to fighting boredom.
We can watch a TED talk or a documentary. The experience can be even more immersive if we’re able to watch with someone, or talk with someone after the face. If being more hands on is preferable, we can try cooking a complicated meal or tackle a home improvement project.
When we engage in active learning, we stimulate dopamine release with every successful stop forward. Dopamine has been linked to reducing boredom as it’s the chemical in our brain that rewards our activity. By lowering our stress and anxiety, we can focus on these new activities increasing the rewards system in our brain and beating boredom.
Engage In Mindful Rest
Sometimes the best way to fight boredom is to give into it. Embracing doing nothing helps train our brain to accept the state of doing nothing. Instead of reaching for distraction, we can practice being in the here and now. One way to help guide this mindful focus is through meditation.
Meditation is useful because it helps us determine the root cause of boredom. We can become bored for multiple reasons. Burn out, being tired, or emotional stress can make concentration difficult, and if we aren’t able to focus on tasks for long periods of time, our brain will struggle to find the stimulation it needs. Meditation can helps us pinpoint why we’re feeling bored and the restorative benefits further help fight boredom through rest and rejuvenation.
There are a number of podcasts or guided meditation we can download or listen to, but even something as simple as taking a relaxing bath or shower can be a meditative process. Whether we meditate for five minutes or an hour, that time of mindful rest can help us work through our boredom and give us an extra energy boost as well.
We’re all going to feel bored from time to time. But the next time we feel our minds wandering, we can find alternate ways to engage our brains. Instead of seeking out temporary distractions, we can find a multitude of ways to embrace boredom while stimulating our brain.