The Benefits of Boredom in the Era of Over-Stimulation

It might come off as instant boredom at best, and paralyzing thoughts at worst, but forgoing technology has its benefits.

Nikolaos Panaousis
Sep 16, 2019 · 8 min read
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Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

I’m lazy, bored, and, more often than not, demotivated to act upon a perceived obligation to write or create something meaningful.

Instead, I wander.

If you are like me; that is, in a pursuit of a better, more productive and fulfilled life, you have unquestionably found yourself navigating through blogs, videos, and other formats of information which claim to have the solutions that you seek. There is a plethora of such information on the internet, and we, in our pursuit for change, devour it without limitations.

One day, you read an article about hacking and tracking your habits — “Wow,” you exclaim for you have just learnt something important which has the potential to elevate your lifestyle. You immediately proceed to implement what you just learnt, and at a first glance, it seems to work. But, hours or days later, you lose interest and you quickly re-indulge into the world of personal development, perhaps never having left it in the first place, overstimulating yourself with an abundance of information that makes you feel good about yourself, yet its purpose mostly serves that of entertainment, and you know that because nothing significant changes, and hours pass while you remain fixated on your screen.

Don’t get me wrong: within the vast market of personal development, consisting of hundreds of thousands of books, videos, blog posts, and magazines, there exists an immense amount of knowledge with both practical and philosophical applications, but, within this vast oasis of information, we tend to forget that less is more and more is, in fact, and very often, less — significantly less.

You are currently failing to improve upon an aspect of your life, because, among other reasons, you are continually encountering conflicting advice, each more appealing than the previous, chasing an ambiguous goal that seems never-ending. You are a tool in a war whose target is your increasingly smaller attention spam; you read for entertainment, feeding your dopamine levels, instead of embracing meaningful learning, and while knavishly convincing yourself that you are doing the right thing.

Rewiring from scratch: Bore yourself to death — and gain the world.

If you and I have learnt anything during our pursuit for self development it is that ambitious goals and habit change don’t happen overnight: they involve an intricate process requiring discipline, motivation, and a lot of patience.

If you were born before the 2000s, you are old enough to remember life without, or with minimal, screens — life without smartphones, 3G networks, and WiFi systems. When video games, smartphones, and social media became available, a new type of internet age emerged, and I’m sure you remember the myriad warnings about the adverse mental and physical effects of excessive screen time by researchers, doctors, and, subsequently, parents.

Dr. Kowalski, an expert in child psychiatry writes:

Research has linked excessive screen time to school problems, aggression and other behavioral issues. The “sensory overload” causes kids to have poor focus and depletes their mental energy, which often leads to anger and explosive behavior.

She further states that, although such effects are primarily observed in kids because of their high brain plasticity — i.e., the ability of the brain to change continuously and absorb information—adults who expose themselves to excessive screen time develop the same behavioral issues.

Perhaps, the most important side-effect of screens is their ability to strain and permanently change the anatomy of our eyes and brains, causing us to suffer from attention deficit, losing the ability to concentrate on tasks of importance, in a world that embraces distractions and over-stimulation.

And then I unplugged.

The hardest and most rewarding change you can initiate right now to start rewiring your brain doesn’t involve a new app, a YouTube video, or a new promising product. It involves immediately getting rid of most of your most destructive habits, which, if you are the average person, involve technology.

I was fed up with myself; I was angry; I was helpless; my eyes were in pain — until I decided to unplug, cut my internet connection, buy a Nokia 3310 3G dumb phone, and spend my vacation week without screens, television access, or social media. I’m not going to recount the dreadful experience, I’m sure you can sympathize; instead, I will tell you what I have gained, and what you can gain, too, by ditching technology for one week (except when work requires it) and forcing your brain to partake in offline activities.

The first and last step: go cold turkey.

It will come off as a shock — instant boredom at best; paralyzing thoughts at worst — but you should let everything go (inform your favorite people, perhaps) and brace yourself for a shaky ride. Now, the benefits:

Time becomes just an illusion — and books your best friends

I remember coming home from school, now work, and immediately opening my laptop, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, occasionally getting lost on YouTube, for hours. I worked from nine to five, so, social media and aimless scrolling was the ultimate time-waster. I never felt content with my days, I was effectively a walking zombie. Now, however, without these useless interruptions, time seems to work in my favor: I have more time to spend with my family, work on my creative projects, and read all the books that I had once bought but never got to. In the course of one week, I effectively read two books, finding time where there previously was none — during my daily commute, before bed, and during my lunch breaks — and now I always keep a book or a notebook by my side, for when boredom or free time present themselves.

Laziness and boredom become redefined

“Not all those who wander are lost.” — J. R. R. Tolkien

Our society and those around us want us to believe that being busy is the new social currency — that fast-pacing and multitasking somehow convey an image, a status, to those around us, effectively wiping out from the mainstream those who are outwardly idle but inwardly curious and fecund.

“Read more. Listen more. Eat more. Buy more. Upgrade more. Deplete more. Follow more. Be more.”

The above is a recipe for disaster. If you like this idea of more, and you are fine with consumerism dictating your life, I have no problem with that. If, however, you want to be someone that produces something of value, you need to embrace boredom and laziness like you have never done before. (Because of the contemporary sentiments attached to the two words, I have dubbed them as wandering sessions, for this is what they truly are.)

Consuming others’ intellectual products is a great practice, for its the only way we can broaden our horizons and acquire new knowledge that has the potential to change our lives. Losing access to these products, though, even briefly, causes something amazing to happen: your mind begins wandering. At first, you are bombarded with thoughts, at a pace you can’t keep up with, but as you remain in that state of wander, these thoughts start to clear up, becoming more intelligible and meaningful. It is during these moments that the greatest minds that ever set foot on this earth came up with their groundbreaking ideas — from Plato and Aristotle to Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, they all admitted in embracing disconnection/wandering sessions, forcing their minds to unleash their true potential without external stimuli.

Some of us might be reluctant to enter this state of mind, afraid of what we might find along the way, instead opting to use our screens for distraction due to the uncomfortable nature of our thoughts. I urge you to break your comfort boundaries, though, and explore the full potential of your mind. Wander freely and keep a notepad nearby, because you never know what you might come across!

I’m lazy; therefore, I wander; therefore, I create.

The internet becomes a tool

When you force out technology from your daily routine, life becomes resourceful (at least, this is what I noticed). In the absence of immediate rewards, fueled by the mishandling of dopamine, you use and appreciate the internet, and social media, not as a form of entertainment, but as tools that, if utilized resourcefully, can elevate your lifestyle, instead of being a hindrance to it.

Paper becomes your “screen,” and pen becomes your “keyboard”

Pen and paper (and other variations thereof, and, therefore, in loose terms) have been advancing the human civilization for millennia. Starting with clay tablets and cave drawings, early humans used took the ideas in their minds and transformed them into concrete proof of human ingenuity. During my week of darkness, I realized that a writing tool and some paper (yellow legal paper because of its versatility) were all I needed to keep track of my days, ideas, and to-do lists. This limited access to note-taking allowed me to revisit the long-forgotten and ancient art of handwriting. Initially, it felt infuriating because my handwriting is almost completely ineligible, and that’s on my good days, but I soon became content with it, and now I carry pen and paper everywhere. (Pulling out pen and paper, instead of the customary phone, to jot down a to-do or an idea while shopping in the grocery store will certainly draw some very interesting gazes from those around you.)

Sleep patterns become normal again

It is no secret that screens have been dictating our sleep cycles for years. Some of us even go to sleep with our phones, establishing an unprecedented relationship that is so intimate and unique, surpassing that of human interaction. For all their glory, screens emit blue light that strains our eyes and reduces the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep cycles. It is estimated that sleep-related problems affect 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages and socioeconomic classes. And, although, causation is difficult to be attributed to the power of screens, repeated studies show strong correlations between screen usage and disrupted sleep patterns.

Unlike my brother, who magically falls asleep within seconds of touching the bed, I had always suffered from occasional insomnia and sleep-related anxiety — until screens were no more part of my life, albeit for a short period of time. Surprisingly, the effects were immediately noticeable: In their absence, writing and reading became my primary preoccupations, aside from work, for I had no other options to spend my time, and when it finally came time to sleep, I was passed out almost immediately. One would think that it would take time to re-establish a sound sleep cycle, but this was not the case. Your mind and its racing thoughts seem to fade into the background, and you are overtaken by a natural state of relaxation. To experience the same feeling, simply forgo of your screens a few hours before it is time to sleep. (If you find it difficult to fall asleep, manipulate your melatonin levels by deeming the lights in your house one to two hours before time; it works wonders.)

This experience — the week of darkness — and the benefits that I acquired along the way, was not part of a curious experiment, but that of a burning desire to unchain myself from a self-destructive cycle of negative habits that were hindering my life in significant ways. When you let go, and when it’s finally time to re-introduce technology to your life, you realize that what you once considered important is now nothing more than an unnecessary distraction. Although, in the past, I had tried multiple ways of improving my productivity, mostly aided by promising online applications, going off cold turkey, despite the difficulty, provided the most immediate rewards.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Nikolaos Panaousis

Written by

Writing, talking about global affairs, creating connections, researching, and staying engaged locally and globally. 🌍

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

Nikolaos Panaousis

Written by

Writing, talking about global affairs, creating connections, researching, and staying engaged locally and globally. 🌍

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

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