As a keynote speaker, just typing the word boredom makes my skin crawl. My goal is to energize any audience and invigorate them to view their health and human performance in exciting new ways. I’m never quite sure how people will react during one of my keynotes, but bored should never be one of them.
I still have a hard time embracing boredom during my downtime. As some of you may already know, I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and was a bit of a spaz (still am depending on who you ask!) It was excruciating for me to sit still for longer than a few minutes at any given time. My hyperactive energy levels were always boiling over to the point of literally bouncing off the walls. Back then, any moment with nothing to do or distract me from the thoughts racing through my brain were to be avoided at all costs.
But now more than ever, we are all conditioned to “cure boredom” as if it’s an affliction instead of a necessary human condition. The average smartphone user taps, clicks and swipes their device 2,617 times per day with heavy users engaging their screens an astonishing 5,427 times! Your brain barely has time to process the wave of media enveloping it every second. We may not be “bored” in the traditional sense, but we certainly don’t feel engaged either.
From a physiological standpoint, too much of this type of hyper-connectivity can be dangerously addictive and draining. Dopamine is our body’s reward molecule and is released by our brain each time we receive positive feedback. Runner’s high, a pat on the back after a great presentation or a simple hug all trigger different levels of dopamine rushes we all crave. Social media is a dopamine delivery system on steroids. Each like, comment or friend request is based on the expectation of acceptance from those around you. Unlike a hug or verbal expression though, these shallow signals are poor forms of social feedback. How many times have you liked something on Facebook because of the image alone? Did you read the actual post itself or the comments? How much time do we really spend deciding how to engage with the tens of thousands of posts we consume each month?
I just started reading a fascinating new book that recast boredom as an essential condition for the most prized human quality – reinvention and self-actualization. Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant has a powerful and provocative premise – monotony is the motor for game-changing ideas and life-affirming epiphanies that launch greatness.
“Once you start daydreaming and really allow your mind to wander, it allows you to start thinking beyond the conscious and into the subconscious. This allows new neural connections to be made and ignite new ideas.” – Dr. Sandy Mann
Do you ever catch yourself daydreaming? Thinking about an experience and idea or a thought that came out of the blue? Whether it’s staring out a window aimlessly at work or fixing your gaze on a favorite painting at home, our minds always have a tendency to wander when they are idle. It’s hard not to feel a little guilty once you snap back to reality –I cant afford to waste time daydreaming today! But recent research proves quite the opposite – daydreaming and idle thought may be the most valuable use of your time if you allow it to stay idle:
Critical Thinking– Unconscious thinking effortlessly builds connections between the Conscious (Self-Awareness) and Subconscious (Auto-Pilot) parts of the brain.
Enhanced Insight– Professors Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler have proven that taking a few moments to daydream and reflect on a new task leads to more insightful responses than immediately focusing on the solution. Have you ever been in the shower or in the middle of sleep and you came up with a great idea. This is the true power of the mind; it usually has the answer if you allow it to go there.
Problem Solving –…your mind-wandering capacity is like that computer program–it can get to solutions that your conscious mind just can’t see.– Amy Fries, Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers
Improved Concentration –Even a 30-second break from a difficult task can increase your focus.
Better Productivity –The Pomodoro Technique breaks up work into 25 minutes sessions with short five minute breaks between them. After four sessions, the breaks become 15 minutes and give your brain more time to reflect and form new neural connections.
It may seem impossible to carve out any white space in our always-on lifestyles. But even blocking out 15 or 20 minutes a day to reshuffle all of the disparate thoughts floating around in our grey matter is critical to getting a handle on what’s really important and worth our most precious resources – energy and focus. Our attention spans are fueled by FOMO (fear of missing out) instead of focusing on the elements of joy and wonder begging to be found just below the conscious surface. If you can’t handle being bored, you can control your mind chatter. Practice boredom and you can become happier, healthier and more productive.
Matt Johnson is the President of On Target Living and keynote speaker specializing in unlocking high performance, driving engagement, and empowering leaders by radically increasing their capacity for productivity. He has collaborated with myriad Fortune 500 companies to break down barriers and help create collaborative cultures that thrive in today’s knowledge economy.