How often are you bored? How often do you actually experience boredom without instantaneously having something to do that will keep your mind at least somewhat occupied, even if not occupied by anything important? You have probably had a boring work training that you had to sit through without nodding off, but outside of that, there probably are not too many pure moments of boredom in your life.
Instead of having to live with boredom, we live with distraction. In line at the grocery store, on an airplane, and in a doctor’s waiting room we have an easy distraction available. We might not be thoroughly entertained and might not enjoy our wasted time, but we are not exactly bored. Because of our phones, our minds are trained to expect that that any moment of potential boredom is a moment of distraction instead.
Cal Newport thinks this is a problem. In his book Deep Work he writes about the value of boredom, “to simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life, but from the perspective of concentration training, it’s incredibly valuable.”
The value of boredom doesn’t come from any particular insight you might have when it is only your thoughts that keep you occupied and entertained. The value of boredom is instead in what it doesn’t let slip into your brain: bad habits of distraction seeking expectations. Newport continues, “to succeed with deep work you must rewire your brain to be comfortable resisting distracting stimuli.” This is where boredom comes in.
Being bored allows us to get used to an absence of distracting stimuli. It helps our brain accept that at some times we are not going to have new news articles to scroll through, we are not going to have red notifications telling us that someone has acknowledged our existence, and we are not going to have something flashing on a screen to keep our brain engaged. If the brain becomes comfortable with boredom, it will be better at deep work, and we will be more productive.