In Defence Of Boredom.
I know you don't need me to tell you, but...the world has been turned upside down with this global pandemic.
Our world has been forever changed, and we aren't quite sure what we should be doing and especially how we should be feeling. The future is uncertain, and whether we care to admit it or not, there is a sense of collective fear that's rippled across the globe. Now, despite being in the midst of a terrifying time, I don't know about you, but I am currently being bombarded by a hundred posts a day on the various news feeds that are telling me how to improve my productivity. That I need to be capitalizing on all of this new "free time" I apparently have by learning how to make bread, and that I should be attempting to get dressed while holding a handstand. OH! And don't forget that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague--- why haven't I written MY opus yet?
Phewf. It's very tiring.
In North America, busy-ness has become the ultimate status symbol. In our minds, the busier you are, the more important, wealthy, and influential you must be. It's this mindset that has led to what many psychologists are calling "Millennial Burn Out." We are continually adhering to this hustle culture we've built ourselves, and the minute we take a pause, we are immediately calling ourselves lazy and devaluing our self-worth- even during a pandemic, it seems.
This is making the fact that I am feeling more flakey and unfocused than I ever have in my life, a very tough pill to swallow. My emotions are inconsistent (every day is a rollercoaster), and my creativity is shot. I haven't had a good idea in six weeks, and even if I did, I wouldn't have the energy to execute it anyway. I feel bad about it constantly.
Over the last few decades, we've become a culture obsessed with tracking our productivity. How many hours did you work? How many steps did you take? How many minutes did you meditate today? We love to not only one-up each other, but we've also really become obsessed with one-upping ourselves. Hustle harder. Be consistent. Be relentless. We've built our lives so that we don't ever have to stop. We carry our work in our pockets. We are always available. We are constantly being pinged. Constantly answering every message immediately.
Stillness, it seems, has actually become unbearable for us. The minute we're even the least bit bored, an instilled fear of failure kicks in, and we begin to make a mental list of all the things we could and should be doing. I've felt this in myself for the last… I don't even know how many years. This fear of stillness has really come to the surface since this time of self-isolation began just over a month ago. The sensation can be best described as guilt. I feel guilty when the best I can do is lay on my couch and mindlessly scroll through Instagram or watch another episode of Friends I've seen 16 times. I feel afraid that maybe this bout of laziness I'm experiencing is going to stick with me forever.
This past weekend while scrolling twitter for the 30th time, I came across this series of tweets from psychologist Alexis Rockley:
Why was this the first time it occurred to me that I might not be the problem and that we are in the midst of a very scary global event so it would make sense I felt “off”? That maybe my brain wasn't quite able to process all the information being tossed at it, and that's why I felt distracted all the time? And that maybe even when I didn't feel like I was thinking about the pandemic I actually was?!?
Cut to an hour, 3 articles and an NPR podcast episode later, I was still horizontal on my couch but now had a much better understanding as to why it felt like my body weighed 600 lbs and my brain was pudding and how I could actually take it upon myself to reclaim my brain.
The struggle with the "reclamation" is that it is counterintuitive to everything our generation believes in.
Many doctors claim the best way to boost thought and creativity is through boredom. And they mean real boredom. Not, scrolling Instagram for the 45th time or listening to music on a walk- we're talking about bored boredom. Staring aimlessly out the window and letting your mind wander… in silence. We're talking about daydreaming, folks!
If you ask anyone who is an expert on productivity, they will tell you that stillness is crucial for cognitive health. When you're stressed out, it's hard to show up in the world, and right now, with all of this uncertainty, with not knowing what tomorrow might hold, we are stressed.
In our culture, we have been trained to see idle time as a character flaw. The brain requires some level of boredom for neurons in the prefrontal cortex to fire and create new connections. The prefrontal cortex (for all you non-neuro-scientists reading this) plays a significant part in emotional regulation, such as the ability to soothe ourselves and calm down. When our minds are tired or taxed, we have a lot of difficulties regulating our emotions. We all know the feeling of being tired and easily be made to feel frustrated or angry.
Being bored teaches us how to be content without distractions. There's also a ton of research that shows that the more bored we get, the more creative we become with our surroundings or within ourselves. It allows us to find ways of having meaningful experiences, but for us to do this, we need to face the fact that we are, as a society, uncomfortable with idleness. We have to own up to the fact that we struggle to accept rest as something valuable and that busy-ness does not always equal productiveness.
There aren't many silver linings to this time we're in right now, but maybe we can use it to shift the way we value our self-worth. Perhaps we have actually been given a much-needed opportunity to learn to trust ourselves enough to give ourselves time to rest. Maybe we can actually learn to embrace the boredom as a good thing.
Have you found yourself feeling flakey and unfocused? How are you coping? We'd love to hear from you! Please reach out and share your thoughts with us at email@example.com or leave us a comment below!