Imagine if we thought of personal decisions more like parenting decisions – but then applied those parenting decisions to ourselves. We would probably all be far more productive, as it is always easier to give good instructions rather than take them.
I have been considering this idea for quite some time, especially when it comes to the use of electronics. The term ‘screen time’ is an expression I hear a lot from people I know raising children. With that expression soon follows the phrase ‘limiting screen time.’
And yet, I rarely - if ever - hear my peers with or without children discussing monitoring their own screen time. While not surprising, I am beginning to think that many adults are creating a huge disservice for themselves by setting a double standard.
Why do we frequently check our devices? Why do we flick on the TV as soon as we get home? Often, it is to distract ourselves, to fill the void, and to alleviate boredom.
But is all that scrolling and binging actually alleviating that boredom?
According to many social scientists, distractions such as food, social media, television and even gambling are only short-term solutions that can increase boredom’s grip on us. Eventually, this may in fact lead people to seek greater stimulation in order to curb the gnawing feeling of boredom.
How many of us can admit to pulling out our phones while in the middle of watching a movie just to simultaneously start scrolling on your favourite social media app? Why on earth do we do that?
Because the feeling of boredom is an uncomfortable internal state. We want to be stimulated and yet we are exhausted from being overloaded with information.
But what if adults started treating themselves like parents who want nothing but the best for their children? I think we would administer some tough love and limit the amount of time we spend on our electronics. I think we would embrace periods of boredom to encourage creativity and mental wellness.
Research continues to show that if we embrace the feeling of boredom in a positive way and seek out designated periods to intentionally do nothing, the benefits will be numerous.
In a time where access to digital stimulus is endless, carving out time to simply daydream is, in itself, a luxury and an opportunity for respite and relaxation.
The ‘to do lists’ never get shorter and the workload never lightens – but how we choose to spend our free time has a huge impact on our quality of life and day-to-day productivity.
In the book The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good, the author Sandi Mann argues that “We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out, we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems.”
She suggests engaging in activities that require little or no concentration, such as walking a familiar route, swimming laps, or simply sitting with your eyes closed, and letting your mind wander.
I tried this recently by sitting at my desk for half an hour – no phone or computer. It wasn’t long before I started making lists of things I wanted to get done, I also started picking books off the nearby shelf and reading the backs looking for what I wanted to read next.
Trust me, being bored isn’t easy, but things that are good for us rarely are.
In many cases boredom has been found to improve mental health, increase creativity, motivate us to search for novel experiences, pursue new goals, and develop skills of self-control.
Don’t be afraid to administer tough love to yourself and seek out boredom. You may be surprised to find where your mind ends up.