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Is It Time To Embrace 'Boredom'?

05/07/2017 12:49 BST | Updated 05/07/2017 12:49 BST
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Most of us like to spend our time doing something. Whether at work or outside of our working time, knowing we've a purpose and are making progress is reassuring. Being stuck in a period where little - or nothing - is capturing our attention, on the other hand, can feel 'empty' and unsettling.

Indeed, in a study* led by Professor Timothy Wilson from the University of Virginia, American college students were asked to spend up to 15 minutes alone in a quiet room (without their phones or other distractions) and to use this time 'entertaining themselves with their thoughts'. Questioned afterwards how enjoyable they found the experience, most said that they did not enjoy it.

Boredom, or empty time - when we're not being stimulated or captive to life's demands and often find ourselves quietly frustrated - seems (understandably) to be something we'd rather escape than embrace. Testament to this, next time you're in the high street or on a train just check out the number of people glued to their mobile phones for distraction.

But perhaps we can put these periods to good - or better - use.

Make your downtime 'own-time'

There's much to be said for pausing for metaphorical air. When you think about it, we live in an age of 'always on' and, when we're not full steam ahead at work, we're often knee-deep in domestic chores, family diversions and excursions and, of course (wittingly or unwittingly), absorbing conversation, news and messages every second of our waking hour. So, since we give so much of our time and energy to being 'busy' why not use down time for rejuvenation? Healthy 'me time' habits - whether going for a walk or doing some light exercise, or just taking some time to 'be' rather than 'do' - can boost wellbeing and energy levels.

Mind the gap

You can use a period of quiet to explore being present and being more curious about your boredom thresholds. Perhaps try mindful breathing exercises, for example, to help bring your mind into the present moment. There's no hard and fast rule at play here. You can generally practise mindful breathing anytime and anywhere and, by focusing on being in the present moment, you can tune into the experience and reap its benefits.

Rather watch paint dry?

We often express a preference for 'watching paint dry' when faced with an inescapable task we deem unappealing or boring. While we may, undoubtedly, find some of our experiences - like tidying, filing or, indeed, painting - more tedious than others, take heart that unrelated inspiration and insights can often strike when you least expect and this is no less so than during or after these 'mundane' activities. So why fight it? Just let your mind wander!

With 56 per cent of respondents to a recent survey by AXA PPP healthcare** agreeing that relaxing 'me time' positively affects their resilience, embracing boredom and spending time might just be a worthwhile investment... and there's nothing to lose!

* Timothy D. Wilson (2014), Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind, Science:

http://wjh-www.harvard.edu/~dtg/WILSON%20ET%20AL%202014.pdf

** Research of 2,000 UK individuals conducted by Vitreous World in January 2017