Living as we do in a society where the bombardment of constant stimulation has become the norm, you would think that the experience of boredom would be a thing of the past, yet, it is alive and kicking, and its consequences might well be disastrous.
John Eastwood, psychologist at York University, Toronto, has done studies on the concept of boredom. He defines it as being “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.”
Everyone has experienced boredom to some degree in his or her life. When someone feels under stimulated for extended periods of time, this chronic boredom may be a factor that leads to unhealthy and addictive behaviours, such as excessive drinking, taking drugs, video gaming, sexual addictions or a need to live dangerously.
The feeling of boredom is not a pleasant one, and this discomfort is what drives people to find ways to avoid the feeling.
Boredom has also been associated with being less attentive and therefore with a greater risk of making mistakes, according to Eastwood. Imagine a boring, repetitive job such as driving heavy machinery. It would be so easy to get distracted and just a moment of feeling less attentive could lead to a dangerous accident.
Airplane pilots are a good example. Usually there are two, because once take off has occurred the flight is quite boring. So, one pilot flies the plane and operates the controls while the other pilot takes a back seat, does admin and talks to air traffic control; this pilot can take a nap. However according to a first-hand account, often the second pilot has woken from a nap to find the first pilot asleep! A scary thought!
The almost desperate need to escape boredom is very much related to our inability to be present with “what is,” in our culture. Mindfulness is a way to cultivate a greater sense of being in the moment.
When we are in the moment, the feeling of boredom naturally subsides.
Here is what you can do next time you feel boredom overwhelming you. Rather than going to the fridge to eat, turning on Netflix to veg out or zoning out with video games, try this simple practice of mindfulness for a few minutes, and then see how you feel:
- Become aware that you are experiencing boredom.
- Know that boredom is just a feeling, and that all feelings will eventually subside.
- Become curious about the sensation of boredom.
- Observe this sensation.
- Where does it sit within your body?
- What does the sensation feel like? How could you describe it?
- Don’t judge the feeling.Be patient with it
- Imagine breathing in and out of the sensation of boredom. What happens then?
- What happens when you become aware of your breathing and focus your attention on it?
How do you feel after this little “experiment”? The chances are you are feeling calmer, more alert, and more present in your body and to your surroundings.
It is possible to change unhealthy and addictive behaviours when you make this practice of mindfulness a regular part of your daily routine. Even just a few minutes a day can make a difference.
Mindfulness may well be the perfect antidote to boredom! Throughout your day, whenever you feel bored, just bring your attention back to your breath, your senses, and your surroundings. Notice colours, textures, sights and sounds.
Tune in to the sensation of boredom with a curious mind, be patient, don’t judge and notice how, after a while, that feeling dissipates. Quite possibly a peaceful way to avert a disaster.