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The struggle to define boredom

Psychologists differ in their definition of boredom.

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, boredom was defined as the feeling generated by a repetitive task. Researchers found that boredom increased alertness to the things happening around you (distractions).
  • From 1986, the opposite was found. A study found that boredom caused less concentration.

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Boredom is not that simple to explain

We may tend to think of boredom as a response to monotonous activities. But boredom isn't this clearcut.

Research reveals that there's a significant variation in how much boredom each person can deal with.

Boredom is sometimes described as the plague of modern society.

  • Back in 2016, a French worker sued his former employer for "bore-out." He won.
  • Many people, especially those born between mid -1990s and late 2010s, scrolls aimlessly through apps and find nothing of interest.
  • People are even diagnosing their pets with boredom.

Psychologists now know there are at least five types of boredom.

  • Calibrating boredom: You have wandering thoughts and a feeling of not knowing what to do.
  • Reactive boredom: You feel aggressive towards your detainer - a teacher or the workplace - and dwell on the things you would rather be doing.
  • Searching boredom: You feel restless and search for a way out.
  • Indifferent boredom: You feel relaxed and separate from the world around you.
  • Apathetic boredom: You feel neither good nor bad, but helpless to avoid the feeling.

The boredom signal is telling you that you are failing to interact with the world. The negative emotion is trying to motivate you. We really want to be cognitively engaged.

Only some people allow themselves to become bored. They recognise that sense of restlessness and find a way to turn things around.

  • Bored people are more susceptible to impulsive behaviour, substance abuse, gambling addiction, compulsive mobile phone use, depression, etc.
  • Boredom also seems to be linked to many personality disorders, such as covert narcissism. These people think they are incredibly talented, but feel they are not given credit for it. Other personality traits linked to boredom include anger and neuroticism.
  • Altogether, being prone to boredom may be partly caused by having poor emotional control.

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Types Of Daydreaming
  • Poor attention control: when people with poor attention control drift into daydreaming. These people are anxious, easily distracted, and have difficulty concentrating, even on their daydreams.
  • Guilty-dysphoric: when our thoughts drift to unproductive and negative places. We berate ourselves for perceived mistakes or flaws and feel emotions like guilt, anxiety, and anger.
  • Positive-constructive: when our thoughts veer toward the imaginative; it reflects our drive to explore ideas and feelings, plan, and problem-solve. 

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IDEAS

Embrace Idleness

While boredom signifies a lack of stimulus, pauses in engagement can be of great value. Being able to appreciate this means you won’t get bored and will be able to find things of interest to think or find contentment in simply being.

Instead of trying to monetize or avoid idle time, use it to develop inner resources, such as curiosity, playfulness, imagination, perseverance and agency. From that all sorts of fulfilling activities can emerge.

Calibrating Boredom

A slightly unpleasant emotional state associated with receptiveness to “boredom-reducing options, ” but not necessarily an active search for them. Characterized by wandering thoughts, not knowing what to do, and a “general openness” to activities unrelated to the present situation.