We’ve all been there. So bored that we wish we could be back in bed, on a jet plane, singing in the rain, anywhere but where we currently are. Excessive boredom of course, is not something any of us desire. But is there benefit to being bored once in a while, even routinely?
I would argue yes, boredom is not only beneficial, it is necessary for development. When I truly disconnect (for days, weeks or months) and embrace boredom, I start to think clearly, now that my head isn’t filled with Facebook images of what a traveling friend had for breakfast in Bolivia, or what your sister wore out on Friday night. When those thoughts leave, they make way for what I care more deeply to engage in. I'm not the only one with this belief - many related studies are out there, and researchers such as Dr. Teresa Belton (University of East Anglia), have found that even children should be allowed to be bored to enable their creativity, rather than shuffling them from activity to activity to keep them as busy as possible.
As a lecturer, I love the moments when I feel my students and I are all together, ‘into it’, and in the flow. I struggle though, when I sense my students becoming bored; I up my enthusiasm, throw out questions for discussion, anything short of a literal song and dance to get them back and excited. In an excellent piece on embracing boredom to be more creative, Dr. Ian Robertson summarizes a feeling many high school and university teachers share:
“I know how irritated I feel when I see students browsing their smartphones while I am imparting my pearls of wisdom to them, but I suppose the challenge is for me to up my lecturing game sufficiently so as to make me more entertaining than the entire internet…?”
A friend recently shifted my guilt on this, telling me it’s important for students to be bored once in a while too. “Let them be bored”, he said. Hmmm.. just allow them to be bored sometimes?! For me, this was a novel idea. He had a valid point though.. no matter what they chose to do in life, there would be times they would be bored. There was no way every student would be engaged in every topic. Eventually, they would have to learn to deal.
So why do we still see boredom as such a negative thing? Our addiction to stimulation is part of it. We are restless when we aren’t occupied or distracted, and new buzzfeed shares, twitter feeds, and youtube videos of dancing cats and pet monkeys are only a tap or click away (although I couldn't resist the image of Darwin the Ikea monkey!). At some point though, we need to face our bored, lone selves.
In the same post, Dr. Robertson explains the dangers of quelling boredom with 'intellectual junk food':
“Boredom is a signal that you are searching for new goals, and the risk is that we can too-easily satisfy this restless drive – short-circuit it, even – by a simple swipe across the screens of our ubiquitous technology.
Now.. if only I can convince my students that boredom may be a better option than online Tetris.
A passionate educator.. on a quest for a schooling model to love!