The Importance of Being Bored
By: Will Groenewegen, Registered Psychotherapist
It used to be that when we waited for the bus, we'd often just sit there, looking around, staring off into space a bit, maybe we'd nod at someone walking by. But times have changed. Now we get our phones out and focus on the screen, occupying ourselves until the bus arrives. It makes sense in a way: it's all seemingly right there for us, the world, in our pockets, too tempting to resist. But maybe there's a deeper reason as to why we do it: to distract ourselves - even and often with useless unhelpful garbage - anything, really, to keep us from sitting with ourselves.
Ok so keeping away from boredom (sometimes at any cost) is a way to defend oneself from oneself. And yet a short examination of this coping strategy shows that it does not sustain well: being bored is crucial. Listening to and exploring one's own interior world is paramount. Our brains need to daydream, if we are ever to create anything of real value. Our minds need the space to sort out this ridiculous thing called life. Is it really worth denying ourselves this necessary requirement?
It's a tricky question, since any sane person can tell you how frightening and uncertain a dive into the corners of the mind can be. We're scared of what we might find. Scared of the negative self-talk that bullies us into not believing in ourselves. In those 'not so good' times in our lives, nothing terrifies more than being alone with our thoughts, with those f'ed up ones that hide in the darker corners of consciousness. Can't let those out. No way. Gotta fill up the space with something else, with anything, with nothing in particular.
The art of being bored, then, requires us to be able to sit with ourselves, with all our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, no matter how squirming it might make us. And since we don't know what might float through any given bored person's mind, we also have to be ok with, or at least tolerate, a reasonable amount of uncertainty and not-knowing. More to the point, sitting quietly with oneself requires a certain amount of self-acceptance: we have to like ourselves, or at least tolerate ourselves, enough to let ourselves get bored in the first place.
For most of us, this is a hard ask. A lot of us have a lot of self-loathing or insecurity. But it gives us something to consider (if only we'd give ourselves the time to do so). The bored mind is the daydreaming mind, and in this way is the powerful mind. Unleashing this creative force changes our lives, and manifests as a more positive and meaningful experience of life.
For this alone we ought to battle the fear of being alone with the self, undistracted enough for the deep meaning-making parts of who we are to occupy our attention instead of our screens. The claim is simple even if the act of doing so is not: the benefits of being bored are worth the risk.
So how does one go about being alone with the self? Well, whatever the answer, it's not easy, this we know. It'll probably take a while, and battle scars are a given. Not to plug myself too much or anything, but a good psychotherapist could help on the journey too.
What any of us can do, at anytime, is to start small: practice being bored.