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Are you feeling bored in lockdown?

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

What boredom can teach us and how it can be a useful tool to boost our creativity

This time last year I wrote a blog entitled “Does Your Life Feel Like Groundhog Day”. I wrote it back when Corona was just the name of a beer and phrases like “social distancing”, “Lockdown” and “Covidiot” had yet to be invented.

I was going to refresh the original blog to make it more “Covid-relevant” (yes I did just invent a new word) but I started to dig into why we’re all fed up of being bored. And it turns out, boredom is quite an interesting topic!

So join me on my light hearted look into boredom to find out why we get bored and why it drives us crazy. Learn five “boring” facts about boredom including when it was invented. And learn a few simple ways to not only live with boredom, but to thrive on it.

If you can bothered that is….

Today - 2nd February - is officially Groundhog Day. Widely celebrated in the USA, this tradition sees a small rodent called a Groundhog ‘predict’ whether Spring will come early or late. Most of us (of a certain age) will remember the 1993 film Groundhog Day, based around a grumpy, cynical weather man (played by Bill Murray) who is assigned to cover Groundhog Day in a small American town.

To cut a long story short he’s forced to re-live the same day again and again until he learns how to be a better person.

Groundhog Day has since become an expression we use when we’re feeling stuck or bored in life. When every day feels the same, like we’re just going through the motions. Eat, sleep, work repeat…

"Like, right now in lockdown" says everyone.

Here we have a perfect storm for a boredom creating environment. We feel more bored when we feel trapped, out of control and doing tasks that are repetitive.

"I’m so bored of being bored. Because being bored is really boring" Minions

What is boredom?

According to Wikipedia, there’s no universally accepted definition of boredom. Maybe someone couldn’t be bothered to define it. We all have our own ways of being and feeling bored so maybe we don’t need it. Anyway I love to understand how everything works so here’s my attempt at unravelling this unpopular emotion.

Back to Wikipedia, boredom is described as “an emotional and occasionally psychological state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, is not interested in their surroundings, or feels that a day or period is dull or tedious”.

My summary is that feeling like there’s nothing going on externally of interest to us that we can meaningfully engage with.

There’s a common misconception that boredom is a state of apathy, but it’s actually an anxious state.

Our flooded minds are constantly looking outside ourselves for any kind of mental stimulation, like the next dopamine hit that comes from our digital devices, carefully designed to keep our attention. We are addicted to doing.

Why do we hate being bored?

We find boredom so painful and uncomfortable we will do absolutely ANYTHING to avoid it. In fact during a scientific experiment where a group of participants were left alone in room for 15 minutes with nothing to do except push a button to give themselves an electric shock, a shocking (I know) 67% of men and 25% of women chose to push the button. They initially swore you wouldn’t be able to pay them to give themselves a shock.

So what’s behind the pain?

You are afraid of being alone with your thoughts

I know this first hand from doing therapeutic work. Most of my clients are terrified of stopping and thinking in case they feel the other emotions which they’ve been hiding from and pushing down for years.

This pandemic is causing anxiety for many obvious reasons, but I believe one of the less obvious reasons is a fear that you’re going to learn something about yourself you didn’t want to know. Like how unhappy you are with your career/partner/life in general. Or how you’ve spent so much time running around and distracting yourself with entertainment, shopping or work that you don’t actually know who you are anymore.

Cue those “who am I?” Why am I here? and “what shall I do with my life” type of thoughts.

And here’s some other interesting facts I learned about boredom.

“Boring” Fact One - Boredom was non-existent until the late 18th century

It came along about the same time as the Industrial Revolution when we got all “successful” and “productive”.

We are meaning making machines and love to feel that there is purpose and value in what we do. Historically our purpose was to survive – and this kept us really, really busy finding food, building shelter, reproducing and running away from predators.

No time for distractions. No need for a bit of downtime in front of the TV. It’s all we could do to stay alive!

And now our lives are so much “easier” we literally don’t know what to do with ourselves half the time. Everything is automated, available, and instant.

Advertisers tell us all the time what we’re lacking in, and provided we buy the thing they tell us we need we’ll be happier and more fulfilled.

Except we’re not.

We are totally over-stimulated and everything is now “on demand” so we rarely have to spend any time with nothing to watch, engage with or wait for.

Just look at what goes on in a Doctor’s waiting room. Within seconds of sitting down most people will pull their phones out and start mindlessly scrolling. I often make a conscious decision not to do that.