The upside of down time

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Feeling a little bored? That may not be a bad thing, writes life coach Jan Aitken. 

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken

I was intrigued after reading a blog about boredom. It prompted me to ask others what they thought about the topic. Responses were cast into, roughly, one of two camps. Either the "only boring or stupid people get bored" camp or the "I've never been bored in my life, I don't know the meaning of the word" camp.

I didn't find anyone who didn't have an opinion on boredom, and those opinions were fairly firmly held. The overall tenor of the conversations was that boredom is bad, very bad, and we shouldn't have a bar of it. Confessing to feeling bored is like confessing to having a major character flaw. Popular culture is awash with advice about busting boredom lest we succumb to the perils of being bored and indulge in nefarious pastimes.

When I sat and had a look at my thoughts around boredom, I found I fell into the "I've never been bored in my life" camp. I wasn't keen to just accept such black-and-white thinking, so I decided it was time to investigate the grey areas in between and challenge my own thoughts.

Boredom, the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest, isn't a particularly enjoyable feeling. It can be downright uncomfortable and disquieting. It may not be a new sensation, as drawings uncovered from Pompeii have been interpreted as indicating the inhabitants experienced boredom. Most research, however, suggests that boredom became a more common occurrence once the Industrial Revolution arrived. People were required to do repetitive jobs, in poor working conditions and had little control over their lives. More recently, rising boredom levels may be linked to a generation who has grown up with entertainment and distraction delivered 24/7.

Chronic boredom has been shown to be a predictor of loneliness, sadness, anxiety, anger and substance abuse/addiction. It's suggested that people who are unable to amuse themselves and need novelty and excitement supplied are more prone to being bored. That said, it needs to be acknowledged that we will all experience some element of boredom at some stage in our lives.

But does boredom have any positive benefits? Turns out that it may not be the evil waste of time many of us think it is.

When bored, time seems to move slowly. You're left alone with only your mind for company. For some that is an uncomfortable experience. Rather than spending time acknowledging thoughts and understanding themselves on a deeper level, many will reach for some sort of entertainment or activity in order to distract themselves.

Instead of trying to avoid boredom, embrace it! What can it tell you? What are you feeling? Is it frustration? Restlessness? Not feeling like you have control? What can a little reflection tell you?

It might help you identify things that are important to you and things you want to change or do.

Boredom has been linked to increased creativity. Yes, you read correctly - increased creativity. On the surface it seems counterintuitive. Neuroscientists think our neural networks can expand and diversify during bouts of boredom because humans are designed to create, imagine, invent, develop ideas, stories, music and so on. Non-activity time (boredom) can give us the space to allow our mind to expand and do all of those things.

Boredom can be useful for a child's developing mind.

Dr Sharie Coombes says it's crucial for children to be able to have a chance to think for themselves, to develop their own creative skills, to problem-solve and overcome obstacles and to have space to figure out who they are. Cramming every spare moment of a child's life with activities may not allow the time and space to let them develop these important life skills.

I've come to the conclusion that an element of boredom can be a good thing, as it can improve our life and life skills. Next time you're feeling bored, instead of reaching for your smartphone or half watching something on TV, maybe you should watch the paint dry or contemplate your navel. It may be a chance to learn something about yourself or it might be the key to unlocking your next big idea!

If you’d like some guidance for your ‘boredom’ thinking, you could go back and have a look at the following: Values (, Needs (, Standards ( or Boundaries (

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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