How to Be Bored (and Why You Would Want To)

I started last week feeling truly grateful for all of the technology that connects us – now more than ever. We’re flooded with fitness professionals giving us content to keep us moving. We’re able to digitally “socialize” with groups across the world – all having a drink together without breaking social distance protocols (thank you Zoom, Google Hangouts and tequila). We’re working on laptops at kitchen counters, from couches, from beds, and – yes – even sometimes from desks.
 
At aSweatLife, we’ve upped the ante on digital content and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching my team launch new things very quickly. Allow me to beam with pride for a minute before I get where I’m going:

  • The Daily Distance: a daily version of our podcast #WeGotGoals, which features a digestible tip that’s one thing you CAN do in a time of “can’t.”
  • The digital “events” calendar: A consolidated digital calendar of workouts happening across the internet.
  • A digital pivot for our IRL communities: There’s been a never-ending stream of ways for our ambassadors and other communities to connect.
  • A recurring “digital studio” schedule: We’ll continue to feature friends leading live workouts five days a week on our Facebook page.


But after a week of constant pop-up notifications and a very judge-y screen time alert, I entered the weekend finding it difficult to focus on a single task and feeling creatively sapped. I was completely overstimulated. I knew in my bones that I needed to take a day away from my iPhone to feel productive and creative again.
 
Yesterday, I committed to putting space between my phone and my eyeballs. So, it sat on the bathroom counter while I set out to have an analogue day. It seems sort of crazy to take away a screen during the time when everything else we feel like we can do has been taken away, but it ended up being exactly what I needed emotionally and creatively.
 
In the coziest setting I could think of – a freshly made bed with too many pillows – I started the day with a book and a cup of coffee. About 30 minutes into reading, I started to find my mind wandering to ideas, recipes, random musings and things to try – normally I would put ideas that are baking into my Evernote app so that they don’t float away, but instead I found a notebook and a pen so that I could jot down each basic concept as it visited me.
 
I was living the effects of not being fully surrounded by screens, screens and more screens. And right there in the book I was reading – Fair Play a forgotten hardcover in a stack next to my bed – was a quote attributed to Dr. Pat Levitt (Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer and Director of The Saban Research Institute and general smarty-pants about brains) that punched me in the face with the why: “Multitasking is bad for everyone because our brains are not built to deal with more than one complex thing at a time.”
 

Your brain can entertain itself

Manoush Zomorodi gave a widely watched TED talk (listen on the podcast TED Radio Hour) with that basic message: we actually need to feel bored in order to jump-start our creativity. And as we create our new normal, we may just have to fight for the feeling TIME defines as “a search for neural stimulation that isn’t satisfied.”

Why fight for boredom in a world of endless streaming content? Because another word for boredom is space. When given the space, your brain can create something magical. As expert in boredom Sandi Mann, (senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K. Mann and the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good) succinctly puts it, “If we can’t find [neural stimulation], our mind will create it.”  

But how can you be bored “the right way?” Mann “suggests picking an activity that requires little or no concentration — like walking a familiar route, swimming laps or even just sitting with your eyes closed — and simply letting your mind wander, without music or stimulation to guide it.”

She continues on to implore you to unplug while seeking boredom: “Our cultural attachment to our phones … is paradoxically both destroying our ability to be bored and preventing us from ever being truly entertained.”

Your challenge this week: Take a walk outside without your phone or simply sit with your thoughts for 30 minutes. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it just might be the space your brain needs.

COVID-19 Happiness Live Think & Feel

About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of asweatlife.com a destination for living better lives, with fitness as the catalyst. But before starting health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the first decade of her career, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience and her passion for wellness and SweatWorking was the natural evolution of that experience. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, hosting aSweatLife’s monthly #Sweatworking events.