Mindful handling of free-time
Being bored by myself the last couple of days, I thought about how to get myself motivated to do something again and looked for information on the internet what I could do about it. A test with several questions although it was definitely not scientifically set up resulted in suggesting me to relax and maybe listen to my favourite music or doing some exercise.
Boredom can be defined as an undesired and unpleasant affective state in which the person lacks any interest in activity and has difficulty in focusing on a task (Fisher, 1993). The individual finds it effortful to attend to a specific task (Csikszentmihalyi, 1978; DeChenne & Moody, 1987).
Boredom can lead to lapses in attention, being tired, less efficiency in a task and is associated with more accidents (Cox, 1980; Drory, 1982; O´Hanlon, 1981). Other possible negative consequences of boredom are negative emotions, stress, hostility, increased risk taking and drug and alcohol consumption (Hamilton, 1983; O´Hanlon, 1981; Orcutt, 1984; Wasson, 1981; Zuckerman, 1979).
Leong and Schneller (1993) tried to identify temperamental links with boredom proneness and found out that highly dogmatic, less sociable persons with low levels of persistence, tempo and high impulsivity are more prone to boredom.
Sommers and Vodanovich (2000) found that boredom proneness assessed with the Boredom Proneness Scale is closely related with psychological and physical health symptoms. A sample of 200 undergraduate students reported significantly higher ratings on the Hopkins Symptom Checklist in the dimensions obsessive-compulsive disorder, somatization, anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity and depression when highly bored. Other researchers reported boredom proneness to be related to lower educational achievement, truancy rate, and poor performances (e.g. Drory, 1982; Robinson, 1975; Maroldo, 1986). Boredom is especially related to under- and over-challenging academic tasks (Acee et al., 2010).
Pekrun et al. (2010) found boredom to be positively related to attention problems and negatively to effort, use of elaboration strategies, intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, and academic performance in different cultural contexts (Germany, U.S.). Larson and Richards (1991) found that boredom is experienced during 32% of the time spent in class, and findings from Goetz et al. (2006) suggest that it is experienced more frequently than anxiety. Nett and colleagues (2011) suggest that a cognitive approach that encourages students to focus on the utility value of what they are learning could help reduce boredom, enhance their motivation and achievement and contribute to a more enjoyable learning experience.
We have now seen that excess of boredom can have highly negative effects. However boredom can also be a source for new experiences and thoughts.
Interestingly, Baird and colleagues (2012) found out that engagement in undemanding tasks led to a significant improvement in problem solving of a previously presented task. The context that improved performance was not associated with thoughts about the problem presented beforehand, but rather with higher levels of mind wandering. Dijkserhuis and Meurs (2006) confirm that distraction can enhance creativity. Mind wandering is associated with undemanding tasks (e.g. Mason et al., 2007) and is closely associated with boredom.
Weariness and boredom can also be inspiring. Meditational practice may lead to an insight that might enrich life. It can lead to creativity and can put the focus on one´s interests. A Buddhist monk called Matthieu Ricard wrote in his book “Happiness”: Boredom is the illness of the ones for whom time has no value. In a TED talk he puts forward that our mind determines every instance of our lives. Nonetheless, we spend only little time on cultivating our mind although its way of functioning ultimately determines the quality of our experiences.
Mindfulness is one possibility to engage in when bored. We do not always need to distract ourselves with something. Of course, on a train ride you can do thousands of things: phone different people, connect with the internet, play games, read newspapers…. We are flooded with sensations and we live in an age of information abundance. In this age in which multi-tasking is part of our daily lives sometimes it is good to slow down the pace and to get attuned to our inner state.
I propose that teaching mindfulness in schools can reduce boredom and weariness of the students and it can highlight and also showcase how one can overcome boredom. Mindfulness instead can contribute to new thoughts, new insights enhancing attention (Shapiro et al., 1998), creativity (last blog) and motivation while reducing stress (Ludwig & Kabat-Zinn, 2008).
Boredom as an affective state can thereafter be “cured” or just be experienced in a different way: letting it go and observing the emotional state, because mindfulness as I outlined in an earlier blog is a way of cultivating deep respect for emotions.
But also music or sports as I mentioned at the beginning can decrease boredom and are in fact often combined in interventions. A program called Move-Into-Learning (MIL) represented an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Intervention for ADHD children (Klatt et al., 2012). It combined mindfulness with yoga movement, music, written and visual arts to reduce stress which is associated with boredom and to improve behaviour of the students. Results demonstrated a significant decrease of hyperactivity, highly significant differences in the ADHD index and significant increases in cognitive tasks and attention. A two month follow-up showed further significant improvements.
This intervention shows how important interplay of arts and mindfulness is in the educational setting. In my next blog I will have a closer look at music and mindfulness and will show that there are also approaches in clinical settings that combine these two aspects to provide for a better and more effective therapy.
Acee et al. (2010). Academic boredom in under- and over-challenging situations. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 35(1), 17-27.
Baird et al. (2012). Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative Incubation. Psychological Science, 23: 1117.
Fisher, C. D. (1993). Boredom at Work: A Neglected Concept. Human Relations,46: 395. http://hum.sagepub.com/content/46/3/395.full.pdf+html.
Klatt et al. (2012). Sustained effects of a mindfulness-based classroom intervention on behavior in urban, undeserved children. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3373333/.
Larson, R. W., Richards, M.H. (1991). Boredom in the middle school years: Blaming schools versus blaming students. American Journal of Education, 99(4), 418-443.
Leong, F. T., Schneller, G. R. (1993). Boredom proneness: Temperamental and cognitive components. Personality and Individual Differerences, 14(1), 233-239.
Ludwig, D. S., Kabat-Zinn, J. (2008). Mindfulness in Medicine. The Journal oft he American Medical Association, 300(11), 1350-1352.
Pekrun et al. (2010). Boredom in Achievement Settings: Exploring Control-Value Antecedents and Performance Outcomes of a Neglected Emotion. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(3), 531-549.
Nett et al. (2011). Coping with boredom in school: An experience sampling perspective. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36(1), 49-59.
Shapiro et al. (1998). Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Medical and Premedical Students. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 21(6), 581-599.
Sommers, J., Vodanovich, S. J. (2000). Boredom Proneness: Is Relationship to Psychological- and Physical-Health Symptoms. J Clin Psychol, 56, 149-155.
- How to Identify Boredom (patinspire.org)
- Imposed Boredom: Hidden Costs and Missed Opportunities (psychologytoday.com)
- 7 Ways to Combat Boredom in the Workplace (business2community.com)
- Boredom Can Lead to Trouble (revolutionarypaideia.com)
- Let your mind wander: It’s good for you (stuff.co.nz)
- Boredom and Stress (survivingpaloalto.wordpress.com)