On average, adults in the United States experience 131 days of boredom per year. Of course, boredom is typically seen as a negative thing — we associate it with a lack of productivity or focus. However, some research also suggests boredom can be a good thing, since this state helps boost creativity. We spoke to several experts about some easy ways to prevent boredom and inject more excitement and meaning into your life.
Find Your “Goldilocks”
“There’s a stigma that boredom is somehow our fault,” says Erin Westgate, PhD and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida. “But it’s actually a healthy emotional state signaling that what we’re doing is either too hard or too easy.” Indeed, boredom tells us that we’re not hitting the “Goldilocks” sweet spot: challenging ourselves enough to be engaged but not so much that the task becomes too tough. “Just look at boredom as a sign to, say, take a break from a frustrating project, or if something’s too easy, to make it a bit more complex.”
Focus On Meaning
What do anesthesiologists and air traffic controllers have in common? “Studies show they tend to get bored because their work is routine,” says Westgate. But research also shows that boredom dissipates as soon as folks remind themselves how meaningful their task is. Do the same in your life: If you’re having trouble focusing on a game of Chutes and Ladders with your grandkids, for example, simply remind yourself that you’re forging long-term connections with them. “Drawing your attention to what matters will perk up your energy fast.”
Enjoy a Rich Life
The opposite of boredom is “psychological richness,” says Westgate. “It’s not the length of a life that matters, it’s the breadth of it, measured in the challenges we take on and the new things we learn.” In fact, our brains crave novelty, adds creativity expert Keith Sawyer, PhD, author of Group Genius and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Simply asking yourself, ‘What’s next?’ is the start of a richer life.”
Take Risks and Let Yourself Fail
When kids stumble, they get back on the horse, but we often feel like we’re too “old” to fail. Yet giving yourself permission to do just that is key to outsmarting boredom, says Westgate. “In one recent study that I love, members of an improv class who were asked to make themselves as uncomfortable as possible showed the greatest growth and improvement.” Failure is something to be proud of because it shows we’re pushing ourselves.
Escape Into “Flow”
Perhaps the most powerful antidote to boredom is “flow,” the state of being so immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time, says clinical psychologist and boredom expert John D. Eastwood, PhD. “Look back on times when you were bursting with curiosity — what was it that opened your eyes?” It could be anything from rediscovering your love of gourmet cooking to resuming your old pastime of journal writing. “Boredom is an invitation to get to know ourselves again.”
Play Your Kind of “Jazz”
The only thing better than finding something that excites you is sharing that inspiration with others, observes Sawyer. “Group creativity is like playing in a jazz ensemble, where everyone has the space to be spontaneous and imaginative.” Such activities might be anything — from planning a girls’ trip with friends to taking a painting class with pals. “Whatever sparks conversation and gets you listening to each other leads you out of boredom and toward greater fulfillment.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.