The Boredom Challenge

I’ll never forget when I purchased my first smart-phone. After a few minutes of figuring out how to operate it and realizing what all it could do, I thought to myself, “I’ll never be bored again!” And these many years later, I rarely find myself without something to engage my brain any time I have a free moment. From videos to books to games or life enhancing applications I have found that if I have my phone or electronic tablet with me, I am truly never bored.

But is that a good thing? After all of these years, I am not quite so sure. I spent some time yesterday just sitting on my back porch thinking. Just looking out at my back yard and reflecting on life I was reminded about just how infrequently I sit back and let my brain think. I far too often keep my brain on full blast every moment of the day and I just don’t let it do its own thing. Lately I’ve been wondering just what I am giving up by missing out on boredom.

As a child my brother and I often spent our free time playing made up games or making up new adventures with our Action Figures. We would use building blocks to invent new worlds and conquer make-believe challenges that only we knew about. This active imagination we had was spurred on by the fact that we had nothing better to do. Our television on picked up a handful of channels and our parents would not let us spend our day lounging around the living room. Instead, they sent us out into the yard which forced us to make up something to do to entertain ourselves.

This concept of play and getting lost in time is something that can only be experienced by children sadly. Throughout the rest of our adult lives we spend our free time trying recreate this experience; thus, the word recreation. In adulthood, this ability to become so engrossed in an activity that we lose track of time is called ‘flow’. It is boredom that created the opportunity to experience flow and without it we are missing out on an integral component of human life (check out Nakamura, J.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (20 December 2001). “Flow Theory and Research”. In C. R. Snyder Erik Wright, and Shane J. Lopez. Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–206.ISBN 978-0-19-803094-2. For more information).

The reason I bring this is up that I worry my constant association of free time with my electronic devices has taken away my opportunities to recreate my mind through boredom. Boredom is the catalyst for deep thought, contemplation, and invention. Without it we spend our days doing the same mundane things never searching out new experiences or creating new things. Instead, we immerse ourselves in the creations of others. I worry that I am missing out on grand opportunities because I am never bored.

A news article I read (on my phone no less) brought about this concern (check it out at http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/31/is-some-tech-too-addictive/). The addictiveness of my electronic devices has led me to never experience boredom. It has also brought about an addiction to my devices where I am checking my social media accounts, email, news articles, or reading a book any time I have a free moment. I never let my mind wander and drift into that creative state that boredom brings about.

This thought pattern also reminded me of this passage from Colossians 4:

“[2] Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” 

While this is only a single verse Paul is exhorting the church in Colossae to devote their time to prayer. To have devotion is to spend constant time seeking after a goal; but do I have devotion to God in my prayer life? This fear of boredom has not only robbed me of my creativity but through it I have taken away my devotion to God in prayer. This, I fear, is a great tragedy in my life that has gone on too long.

Herein lay my challenge to myself: establish a time to put down the devices and let my brain think. I believe that I have become so devoted to my devices I miss time to be creative, spend time in prayer, and while I may often be present with my family my brain is absent due to playing a game, reading a book, etc. on my electronic devices. I am going to take time each week to put them away and just enjoy thinking and being.

Does this sound like you? If you are one of the millions of Americans who spend too much time working on their electronic devices (phones, tablets, computers, televisions, etc.) then perhaps you too need to set a time to take a break from them. For me, I will be trying my best to spend my Saturday away from them and just enjoying being bored. After all, a little boredom may lead me to some new spark of creativity. Who knows? I may even find something more entertaining to do than anything electronic could offer.

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