Most of us have experienced boredom at some point in our lives. Whenever I get bored, I usually pull out my cellphone. This seems like an easy fix, but what if I was missing a great opportunity? I have discovered a great podcast over at The Art of Manliness that explored the benefits of boredom and the downside of our dependency on smartphones to help us. I wanted to share my findings.
This is the basic premise:
If I always avoid boredom, I will lose my ability to be bored. It sounds obvious, but this means bad news for my brain. Much like sleep, boredom plays a crucial role in our lives.
Here’s how boredom improves our life:
When we get bored and let our thoughts wander, our brain goes into default mode where it processes information and links ideas. We perform something called “autobiographical planning” where we process our life and its highs and lows. We extract lessons from it and make sense of what has happened to us. And then from that, we use perspective bias that helps us plan for the future. We can envision our best possible self and determine the steps and goals to get there.
Some would argue that the ability to do all of the above is part of what makes us human. Who am I in this life? Why am I here? It’s questions like these that arise from boredom that separate us from lesser species.
Our dependency on smartphones solving our boredom is a wonderful metaphor for our inability to deal with hardship. We always want the easy way out, the quick fix. Anything to avoid pain or discomfort. It weakens us as men (and that is a whole different article). I admit that I’m guilty of this. I, too, have the urge to check my phone whenever there’s downtime, and even when there isn’t.
What’s the result of this? In addition to it degrading our mind’s ability to benefit from boredom, it also hinders our memory, as well as our social interactions. I’ve also written how it wastes our time and hurts our self-esteem.
If we take too many photos of an event to capture a memory, it’s possible that the memory will truly be stored in that photo on your phone and not in your brain. The brain could realize that you’re taking the photo and it doesn’t have to worry about storing the finer details of the event itself. That sounds heartbreaking to me, but also pretty crazy. The brain is a powerful thing, and it’s hard to believe that so much goes on without our say. Which is more powerful: the subconscious mind or conscious mind?
When we are with our friends or loved ones, when a cellphone is on the table, or even in sight, it hinders the quality of the conversation. Apparently there was a real study on this that proved it. The phone just had to be in sight and it damaged the experience. Texting and apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat have succeeded in making us itch to check our feeds and notifications. After listening to this podcast, I discovered that there is a company called Dopamine Labs that helps other companies make more addictive apps. Our attention is their lifeblood.
What’s the solution?
Some might say that we should banish technology from our lives. Ditch the cellphone, or at the very least, delete our social media apps that have us so enthralled. But I don’t think this is truly the answer. It can’t be On/Off. There must be an in-between where we can cultivate our ability to self-regulate. Good habits can be formed in the in-between. It’s a chance to recognize what is happening to us and improve ourselves.
The next time you’re in line at the supermarket, in a long lecture, or just bored at work, try to let yourself be bored. Let your mind wander. You might be surprised what you find.