Boredom has a purpose - it signals that you are searching for new goals
Boredom is an emotion which signals that your current goals are not getting your motivational juices flowing. We become sated with anything that is repeated again and again and our brains are novelty-hungry. Eat your favorite food a few times in a row and you will become bored with it. The thrill of that new car soon fades and romantic relationships have to settle into a slow thrum of everyday contentment after the thrilling passions of the initial romance.
Boredom is a signal that you are searching for new goals and the risk is that we can too-easily satisfy this restless drive – short-circuit it, even – by a simple swipe across the screens of our ubiquitous technology.
By not enduring the restless search which our boredom signifies, we may end up missing big goals which will take much longer – maybe even a lifetime – to satisfy.
By stopping ourselves from ever being bored, we risk feeding our curiosity with constant tidbits of intellectual junk food and blunt its appetite for the sustained curiosity which is the lifeblood of great literature, science and innovation.
Researchers in England showed that workers given a very boring routine task to do were much more creative immediately afterwards than workers who were not bored. This makes sense because the boredom prevented their attention from latching onto a mind-occupying goal like watching a Youtube clip or reading tweets.
Boredom is the psychological equivalent of fallow fields in agriculture – where they are left without any crops for a while to allow them to regenerate.
Dorothy Parker went on to say that there is no cure for curiosity and this is true. Boredom may not be necessary where a person is driven by big goals and the big curiosity which they generate. Technology can be a great help in finding big goals, the risk is that for some, it may snuff out their appetite for the long hard slog that big questions and big curiosity demand.
Ian H Robertson is a Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin. He not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.