08 April 2020

Boredom can be a boon

Many of us are having to get used to spending much more time at home and, with all our usual social activities off-limits, it’s likely we’ve had the odd bout of boredom. Embrace it, writes Teresa Belton, visiting fellow at the School of Education. 

Bored woman

We’ve all been bored before. And I’m sure, in these unaccustomed times, many of us are experiencing it more often than we usually do. But boredom is not to be confused with having nothing to do. Indeed, finding oneself with no demands on time and attention can sometimes be welcome. 

Boredom is an uncomfortable feeling of lacking mental stimulus, finding that nothing in the external environment or your own thoughts holds your attention. A feeling of being stuck, demotivated. 

So how can you turn it to your advantage? 

Free time can be regarded as a resource rather than a burden. It has the potential to allow us to develop a new interest or skill, or to go more deeply into something than would otherwise be possible. It’s an opportunity to get a big task done or to instigate a new project or long-term endeavour. 

Attempting to escape the discomfort of boredom often prompts us to try something new. And having to spend longer over a task or challenge than we might otherwise choose to has been shown to provoke more thoughtful and imaginative responses. 

Having unallocated time allows us to slow down and feel the benefit of doing things at a different pace. It can be an invitation to develop patience, and to enjoy stillness and quiet. If we can let go of the need to be focused, we can enjoy letting our minds wander. We can leave the frenetic, overstimulating world behind and relish the chance to daydream, to reflect on and possibly re-interpret past experiences, to revisit feelings, assimilate learning, make plans. Letting the mind idle from time to time helps us to function better when we take up the reins again, refreshed and reinvigorated. 

Studies have shown that, if we engage in low-key activity, like washing up or sewing on buttons, the wandering mind is more likely to come up with imaginative ideas. Throw in some of the basic materials and resources found around the home and you're on the way to entertaining the whole family – newspapers and magazines, glue, scissors, saucepans, plastic flowerpots, maps, a magnifying glass, scrap paper, wool, wood, string, rubber bands, cushions, and blankets transform into farms, dolls houses, marble runs, assault courses, dens, collages, treasure hunts and more. 

And, of course, words are free of charge. They can be used to make up stories, poems, plays, jokes, diaries, crosswords, songs, or names for new creatures, plants or constellations. 

Boredom can be a boon. Grab it with both hands and see where it takes you.  

Do you have a story to share? Please email communications@uea.ac.uk