In our modern world we often view boredom as something negative and something we need to escape. We’re constantly surrounded by an endless array of distractions, information, and entertainment. The electronic leash means that instant messages and emails from work are there 24 hours per day. It’s hard to imagine life without our trusty devices and apps designed to keep us connected, productive, and entertained. But when was the last time that you really were bored?
This month my wife Stephanie and I went on a tour of US national parks and I left my laptop at home and removed social media apps from my phone. I even removed Microsoft Teams and the email app from my iPhone to avoid the temptation to check in with work
In the past whenever I flew I would download a bunch of music and movies and ebooks and bring multiple devices out of fear of being bored during the trip. This trip I only brought my (now less smart) phone and my e-reader. This was my first time to fully disconnect in years. Initially, I found myself feeling “twitchy” —restless and anxious, like I was missing out on something important, or that I just needed to be doing something.
But after a few days, my perspective started to shift. I began to appreciate the quiet, taking in the spectacular beauty of nature in the west, and connecting with people around me. Our conversations were deeper than normal, transcending the usual small talk and without the constant distractions. I found myself able to read books without feeling the need to multitask or check my phone, and my ability to focus improved significantly. Also my sleep quality seemed to get better because I wasn’t tempted to check my phone when I should be sleeping.
Some people might call this a “dopamine detox.” Dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and motivation, is released when we experience something pleasurable or satisfying, like eating, playing games, or receiving likes on social media. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with dopamine, an overload can lead to addiction to instant gratification and short-term rewards, causing us to lose interest in long-term goals and meaningful pursuits.
Interestingly, the more we try to fight boredom by constantly seeking entertainment and distractions, the more likely we are to actually feel bored—uneasy, restless, and in need of diversion. On the other hand, if we give ourselves regular periods of time without constant stimulation, we become less prone to boredom.
To give yourself a chance to experience the benefits of boredom, try going on walks or working out without listening to music. Take a drive in your car without any background noise or entertainment. By embracing these moments of silence and stillness, you may just unlock your creative potential and find inspiration in unexpected places.