You Need Boredom

You get none from this article though.

Alan Kesselmann
Know Thyself, Heal Thyself


Photo by Kadri Vosumae from Pexels

When I was growing up, I had very few boundaries. The world was not safer than it is today, but going out of your home after breakfast and returning for dinner was perfectly fine from a very early age. I believe I was around 6 or 7 when I played everywhere in a 2–3 km radius from my home. While I did many dangerous things, I was never bored and could always think of something to do.

It has been known for a while that the worst thing you can do for your children is to fill up their time. Children need boredom to learn how to play on their own and how to be creative. But that is not the only thing they learn by being bored. Being bored and handling it is one of the first lessons of independence children can have. We, as parents, do them a disservice when we fill up their day with things. We prevent them from learning.

Similarly, we had a lesson to learn lately. Our younger son has always been a light sleeper (compared to the older, who sleeps like a rock). He always had trouble falling asleep, too, so getting him to fall asleep always took quite some time sitting by his bedside. Due to the constant lack of quality sleep, we were doing everything to get him to fall asleep fast, do get some of “our own time”. Without knowing we were preventing him from learning an important skill — how to fall asleep on your own.

We often prevent the growth of our children because we are busy or want to do something else. We stifle the development of our children by setting them down before TV or giving them phones or tablets. Even telling them what to play is thinking for them while they should learn to think for themselves.

But one day, the question hit me — why do I think it only works this way for our kids and not for us? Have we no need to develop ourselves? Aren’t we preventing our growth also? Why it is suddenly so difficult for me to figure out what I want to do next — or whom I want to become next? It never was this difficult 30 years ago — why should it be right now?

I’m not sure who is to blame here. Our economy is so finetuned to grabbing our time. For a while now, all different industries have been exploring ways of manipulating our subconscious to gain our attention for longer and longer periods. The scripts of Google, Youtube, Netflix, Amazon, and so many more are optimised to give us what they think we need. Unfortunately, this results in doomscrolling, constantly viewing content at some website while we should be doing something else.

Similarly, other means of passing the time are optimised to make sure you waste as much time as possible because your time means money for someone. Game companies like Blizzard turned doing quests into science. There are research papers on how long should the challenge in a game take to make sure the rewards arrive often enough to keep your brain hooked on dopamine. Other gaming companies have followed and turned this knowledge into money at our expense. When I read about how computer games create violence in real life, I laugh out loud. Only a person who has never played a computer game and has never been hooked on dopamine can think that gamer will ever take up arms and kill somebody. They’ll turn to the next challenge instead.

What this kind of optimisation by different industries does to us is damaging to us as species. Back to the beginning of this article — if filling up our kids time and doing things for our kids is harmful to their growth and development, why would optimising and filling our time be good for us? Yet, most new startups try to optimise more things for us.

There is a growing amount of evidence that the latest inventions are bad for us. They are optimising things that are costing us ways we cannot grasp yet. Our attention spans have grown shorter. We do not rely on our memory as much as we used to — and rely on the internet instead. We are easier to manipulate. We don’t even know how much harm are we causing ourselves as people are just beginning to understand how damaging social media is. It seems that thanks to different algorithms offered by various services, we are dumbing ourselves down.

There is no way to change our highly competitive economy. We must accept that companies will develop more and more insidious forms of capturing our attention. Like the blinking led lights they have installed in markets over here in Estonia. They noticed that adding extra banners next to the products they try to promote won’t work, so they added blinking led lights. And sure — that works. It exploits our peripheral vision. You are programmed to notice that kind of things in the corner of your eye thanks to aeons of evolution.

So how you can escape the trappings of modern life and still benefit from the technology? You need to understand how different companies manipulate you. You need to be conscious about it. But first — you need to take some time for yourself and be bored.

Then perhaps, you’ll notice what the first things that come to your mind are, what everyday things trigger your attention. Your brain will be screaming for something it is used to — caffeine, dopamine and so on. Notice this and think if you want to be addicted or not.

At one point in my life, I noticed if I did not drink coffee in the morning, I developed intense headaches by afternoon. I then knowingly experimented with coffee to understand if coffee is the cause of my headaches, and once it was confirmed, I stopped drinking coffee. Not completely. I still have a cup or so per week (if there’s some cake). But I can safely say now that I control coffee, and coffee does not control me. I recently read “Caffeine” by Michael Pollan and found out that headaches are a common symptom of caffeine withdrawal. I wish I had read this book five years earlier.

Similarly, take some time and try to figure out what controls your life. Do you want those things to control your life? What would you be able to do if you were free of those trappings? Who could you be if you were free of the news, constant tv, gaming, social media? How extraordinary would your life be if you were able to be bored once more? What wonderful things could you do? Perhaps pick up writing as I try to?

Take time for yourself. Be bored.