Jul 19, 2022 - Economy

Axios Finish Line: Why we should embrace boredom

Illustration of Rodin's "The Thinker" sculpture holding a cell phone.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty

In our increasingly loud, distracting world, we’re seldom bored. But just doing nothing has its perks.

Why it matters: Filling our brains with the constant flood of junk food from our phones — tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, tabloid gossip — leaves little room for creative and original ideas, studies show.

  • That’s why one of the most productive times for brainstorming is when we’re in the shower, experiencing a rare digital detox.

What's happening: With stimulation right at our fingertips, our tolerance for being bored has evaporated.

  • Two-thirds of American adults routinely look at their phones even when they're not pinging or buzzing.
  • And the problem is worse for the next generation: A whopping 87% of U.S. teenagers have iPhones.

Zoom out: Science makes a case for boredom.

  • In one study, published in the Academy of Management Discoveries, researchers lulled a group into boredom by instructing them to sort beans by color. Another group was given a far more interesting craft to do.
  • After that, each group was directed to come up with good excuses for tardiness. The bored group bested their counterparts on both number and creativity of ideas, as judged by an objective outside group.
  • Another study concluded that boredom motivates people to seek out novelty. Our minds wander when we're bored, and we think of new things to try.

Boredom is also good for our kids, the Child Mind Institute notes. Learning to deal with being bored helps children learn flexibility, planning skills and problem-solving.

What to do: Try it! Here are our tips on how to take a break from — or limit your reliance on — your devices.

  • Start small: When you're in line at the store, just stand there instead of reaching for the phone. Or go for a short walk without a podcast or music.
  • Take some time to embrace being bored and see where it leads you.
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