Why are you bored?

On Wednesday, researchers from York University published a paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science that uncovers the nature of boredom. And found that we get bored in the following circumstances:

  • We have difficulty paying attention to the internal information (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external information (e.g., environmental stimuli) required for participating in satisfying activity
  • We’re aware of the fact that we’re having difficulty paying attention
  • We believe that the environment is responsible for our aversive state (e.g., “this task is boring,” “there is nothing to do”).

In other words, being bored is really a problem with attention. We can’t focus for long enough to reach a “flow state,” when the challenge we’re faced with is a fit for our abilities and skills.

Examined from this end, boredom is at the opposite end of anxiety. When we’re anxious, we’re overwhelmed because the task demands too much from us.

Being bored is like being underwhelmed. But we can also become bored if we’re overwhelmed, simply by shutting out everything and saying that there’s nothing to do.

We can also blame our environment for not making the next step obvious. Or we can blame our dogs for not talking to us, even though that inability to talk back is one of the reasons we love them so much in the first place.

Let’s face it: there’s always something to do. And if you break it down just right and pay attention, you’ll find that it’s not boring.

Update – 2023

This is wrong. Sometimes shit is just boring.

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