The Psychological Benefits of Boredom

Benefits of Boredom

Today, it’s time to talk about what will probably happen when you start looking to your tech devices as much as you once were. And that is boredom. Now let’s look at the benefits of boredom.

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Maybe even something more than that, which is what one New York Times writer who wrote about breaking up with their phone called “existential malaise”. (It’s a really great article —search for Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain on the nytimes.com site if you want to read it). 

Faced with mental challenges like these, I always like to think about what yoga and meditation the practices that have helped me so much over the past 25 years (wow, I cannot believe it’s been that long since I walked into my first yoga class) have to say. And the Tibetan Buddhism that I studied as part of my yoga teacher training has a lot that’s helpful on the topic of boredom. 

Hot Boredom

Specifically, it tells us that there are two different kinds of boredom—hot boredom, and cool boredom. Most of us only experience hot boredom. That’s the twitchy, almost panicky feeling you get when you’re sitting still with nothing to occupy your attention, and your brain is like OH HECK NO. It’s kind of like when you feel an itch when you’re trying to meditate, and it seems like very very quickly the itch becomes unbearable and you have to scratch it or else you’re going to lose your mind. I mean, I’m not the only one who’s experienced this, right? 

The thing about hot boredom is that it’s intense, yes, but also relatively short-lived. It’s like a sparkler—a lot of sparks, not a long duration. But the intensity makes us feel like we just sat on a hot stove and we have to get out of there, Quick. 

Cool Boredom

What’s on the other side of hot boredom, if you can abide it, is cool boredom. And cool boredom is refreshing, like a cool mountain stream that washes over you and leaves you feeling cleansed. It’s kind of like when you go on vacation to somewhere very low-key, and the first day or two you’re all, first we’ll go here, and then we’ll go there, and then maybe on Thursday… and after somewhere between 24 and 72 hours, you relax into the fact that you have nowhere to go and nothing to do. And it feels DELICIOUS. To the point that when it’s time to go home and return to your life you’re sad about it, because you want to feel this chill forever. THAT is cool boredom.

The point of de-cluttering your digital life is that it helps you have more experiences of cool boredom. Because that urge to check your phone while you’re stopped at a traffic light? Or in an elevator? In line at the post office? Or anywhere you’re forced to be still for anything more than 2 seconds? That’s hot boredom. 

Reclaim Those ‘Little Pockets’

If you can learn to persevere through those moments you WILL get to the other side, I promise. And that means you’ll regain all those little pockets during your day when your attention was free to roam and you could notice things, like the clouds, or the sound of the birds, or what the people behind you in line are talking about. You get these little pockets of respite in your day, and your phone goes back to being what it ought to be, which is a handy tool that you can choose when you want to use, instead of what it often is, which is an addiction. 

I actually did an earlier episode about embracing boredom and the benefits of boredom.

And after it aired, I got an email from a listener with this awesome story

“I having been embracing boredom lately and had a funny experience at the post office which was taking FOREVER. I watched the video on packing a box and thought about the person who made those great animations, smiled at multiple people in the line, listened in to the conversations between 90% of the line, who somehow all knew each other. One lady recounted a story of how she’d just won $500 in the lotto (what a fantastic story to overhear). Anyway, it made what would have otherwise been an infuriating wait in line into an amusing time to give my brain a rest.”

This is the kind of cool boredom experience that’s waiting for you when you nudge yourself to sit with the hot boredom long enough to make it to the other side. 

Combat The Hot To Reach The Cool to get the Benefits of Boredom

When you’re in the throes of hot boredom, something you can do in that moment  is to get curious about what’s triggering your hot boredom in that moment. Is it being forced to wait? Is it to get you out of something that you perceive to be unpleasant? Are you upset about something? That curiosity will engage you long enough to help you weather the hot boredom storm. 

Enjoy your experimenting, and wishing you the experience of cool boredom and enjoy the benefits of boredom.

Stay On The Path To Becoming A Better Person

If you are liking the kinds of things I share here on this podcast and would like a way to keep moving further down the better person path in a way that’s NOT digital, check out my book of the same name. That’s right, How to Be a Better Person also exists in paper form, and it will never ding during dinner or emit a blue light that interrupts your sleep. Look for it wherever books are sold, or even at your local library. If you buy it, email me using the Contact Kate button at beabetterpersonpodast.com and send me your mailing address, and I’ll send you a signed bookplate.

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Want to be a better person, but don’t know where to start?

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