The Psychology Behind Boredom
Awareness Self Help

The Psychology Behind Boredom


Well, it’s easy to say “I’m bored” but defining the state is like walking on thin ice. Boredom means a feeling of being unengaged in reality i.e. when the current activity or environment lacks engagement or purpose to a person, leading to an attention shift in him/her. Feeling bored is an everyday phenomenon that can be divided into two types, state boredom and trait boredom. State it refers to the unengaging feeling for a particular situation, but trait boredom defines how likely one can feel a constant loss of attachment to things. While state boredom is a feeling that every individual encounters in their life, trait boredom is a much bigger issue that is often underestimated in its relevance. Trait boredom can be correlated with depressive thoughts, lack of self-control, anxiety, substance abuse etc.

Read More: Boredom: A gateway to creativity and self-discovery

Although, according to BBC News, boredom “…can be a dangerous and disruptive state of mind that damages your health”, Mann’s research suggests, that without boredom we couldn’t achieve our creative feats, which can say that it’s not all bad. It is just part of our life, and it’s not unnatural. It can be frustrating at times, and even bring a sense of emptiness to the person’s life, where everything seems meaningless. Furthermore, it might be a little challenging to focus on an ongoing task when you are bored as the state is related to a small attention span. A lack of interest in the things that you are doing or the situation that you are currently living in might cause fatigue.

Boredom can look like:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of interest
  • Lack stimulation
  • Lack of motivation
  • Small attention span
  • No feeling of excitement and joy
  • Difficulty Focusing on a particular thing

Causes of Boredom: Why do people get bored?

Boredom has 3 key components to it.

  • Arousal: Arousal plays a major role in helping us do things to our full potential. Lack of arousal means a lack of energy push–which helps an individual to devote to something engaging.
  • Control: Control here refers to the control you have on your surroundings- being surrounded by the people you love or a thing that interests you will make you stimulated to the environment. Lack of control happens in such situations where we are bound to be present, but nothing excites us there.
  • Concentration: Concentration, on the other hand, is related to sticking to a particular thing with full attention. When we lack concentration, chances are high that we will get easily bored. For example- Sometimes when we focus on multiple things at a time, and divide our concentration into them. We work less efficiently but stress more as we have several things to complete at the same time. This way it becomes difficult for us to concentrate on a particular thing leading to boredom.

Read More: The impact of ageing on concentration

Other causes include,
  1. Isolation or loneliness
  2. Lack of creativity in tasks
  3. Absence of meaning or purpose
  4. Reputation of things, and lack of variety
  5. Performing habitual tasks and lack of scope to learn something new
  6. Over-dependence on passive media platforms, such as mindlessly scrolling through social media, binge watching etc.

Read More: Emotional Isolation: The New Sense of Being

Boredom and Mental Disorder

No wonder that various mental health conditions can cause the signs and symptoms of boredom. Depression is often characterized as having a lack of interest in doing the things an individual enjoys doing. It can be a little challenging for people going through depression to find happiness and enjoyment. ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder might also cause a problem like boredom, as people with this particular neurological disorder struggle to sustain attention in everyday activities. People with ADHD are restless and it makes them easily distracted and bored. Another mental disorder that can cause boredom is Anxiety disorder.

Read More: The Psychology of Happiness

People with any type of anxiety disorder are always preoccupied with thoughts of fear and potential threat which leads to their lack of connection with their surroundings. As they are overwhelmed with so many thoughts now and then, anxiety disorder makes it difficult to let an individual focus on one thing at a time which makes them prone to boredom. Substance abuse is correlated with boredom as many people might find an escape from reality and seek any substance to find much-needed enjoyment in their lives. When this becomes a habit to escape reality and seek for substances to find pleasure the usual joys of life don’t seem to be compelling.

Prevention- How to not get bored?

  1. Go for a walk.
  2. Look for places that have natural light.
  3. Start learning a new language or a new skill
  4. Take breaks in between instead of sitting and doing things in one go.
  5. Avoid sitting in the same place for a longer time, try changing your environment.
  6. Make a list of pleasurable activities that you would like to do in between those bigger tasks.
  7. Break a task into chunks and try to achieve smaller targets which will act as a reinforcement.
  8. Make everyday tasks a little unique by adding a variety of methods to make regular tasks challenging and exciting.

Read More: 9 Tips to Ensure a Positive Work Environment

The Brighter Side of Boredom

While boredom is mainly an unpleasant feeling of being stuck in an unengaging surrounding or task, researchers have suggested a different outlook to it. Studies conducted by Dr Wijnand van Tilburg (University of Southampton) and Dr Eric Igou (University of Limerick), that boredom sparks a search for meaningful engagement (known to give people a sense of meaning in life). Dr. Van Tilburg says, “…boredom makes people keen to engage in activities that they find more meaningful than those at hand. Essentially, the unpleasant sensation of boredom ‘reminds’ people that there are more important matters to attend to than those at hand.”

Overall we can say that boredom can have both pleasant and unpleasant outcomes. It just depends on the situation and tasks that the person is engaged with. It can be beneficial if someone is in search of their true interest. They might find a task in which they don’t feel bored or unengaged than the rest of the tasks he/she take up. It makes us try something new which acts as a spur for creativity and innovation in an individual.

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