Boredom, often considered the nemesis of productivity, actually holds a secret power—it boosts your dopamine levels, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter. With rampant device addiction, people are escaping boredom through constant stimulation and entering into a dangerous loop.
A bit about dopamine
Dopamine is a key player is reward pathways, and as time goes on, the same level of dopamine release may not elicit the same degree of pleasure, leading to a diminishing sensitivity to scrolling, engagement or notifications.
Playing the comparison game in continuous exposure to curated and often idealized content can trigger the release of stress hormones. This release often impacts your dopamine levels negatively.
When you’re younger and starting out in your career, the mere thought of slowing down can strike fear in your hopeful heart. This fear is having tea time with a cortisol spike surging through your veins. However, the research and science supports what our bodies and inner wisdom have known since the dawn of time, boredom is your BFF.
Dopamine, often dubbed the “reward neurotransmitter,” plays a crucial role in motivation, pleasure, and reinforcement learning. Research suggests that the brain releases dopamine not only in response to exciting or rewarding stimuli, but also during periods of anticipation.
Four ways that boredom comes into play
1. Novelty Seeking: When you’re bored, your brains seek novelty. This natural inclination to explore and discover activates your brain’s reward system, releasing dopamine.
2. Daydreaming and Imagination: Boredom provides a fertile ground for daydreaming and a rich imaginative landscape. Engaging in creative thought processes activates your brain’s default mode network, triggering the release of dopamine associated with self-reflection and creativity.
3. Goal Setting and Achievement: Boredom prompts you to set new goals or revisit old ones. As you contemplate what actions, choices and directions would alleviate your boredom, your brain anticipates the rewards associated with achieving these goals, leading to a dopamine release that motivates action. Pretty cool.
4. Mindful Reflection: Embracing boredom allows for mindful reflection. Instead of constantly seeking external stimulation, you turn your attention inward and converse with your most trusted advisor, your inner knowing. This meditative state promotes a sense of calm, and the brain responds with a release of dopamine that reinforces this positive behaviour.
Boredom shifts the focus from doing to being
It’s like you’re living in a garden so full of weeds you’ve forgotten you’re actually a beautiful flower meant to bloom. From as young as I can remember, value was placed entirely on doing and not on how I was being. Taught to tackle the to-do list, execute plans and surpass expectations, there was zero consideration for being present in the moment, having a focus on sustainability or building in time for reflection and mindfulness.
As Shahram Heshmat PhD, wrote for Psychology Today: “Boredom is an emotional signal that we are not doing what we want to be doing … boredom encourages us to shift to goals and projects that are more fulfilling than the one’s we’re currently pursuing.” The great Dr. is also quoted as saying to Refinery29, “Without boredom, humans would not have the taste for adventure and novelty-seeking that makes us who we are – intelligent, curious and constantly seeking our the next thing.”
There is a massive upside to downtime, here are eight of them:
1. Creativity Unleashed: Downtime allows the mind to wander, fostering creativity and innovative thinking. When you’re not bogged down by constant tasks, you can use these windows of time to tap into your creative reserves and come up with fresh ideas.
2. Stress Reduction: Taking breaks and allowing for moments of boredom can significantly reduce stress levels.
3. Enhanced Problem-Solving: Boredom provides an environment conducive to introspection where you can use these moments to reflect on challenges, facilitating better problem-solving.
4. Improved Focus: Regular breaks and downtime help prevent burnout and maintain aligned action with your vision. Research shows that people who schedule breaks are likely to be more productive and engaged when working on tasks.
5. Enhanced Learning: A catalyst for seeking out new information, when you give yourself some space to simply be, you’re more likely to engage in self-directed learning and skill development.
6. Increased Mindfulness: Downtime encourages mindfulness and being present in the moment. Professionals who value and incorporate moments of stillness into their routine often experience improved overall well-being. Read more about the power of mindfulness in THIS BLOG.
7. Personal Growth: Boredom can be a stepping stone for personal growth. It encourages you to explore new hobbies, interests, or even revisit long-forgotten passions, leading to a more fulfilling life both inside and outside your work.
8. Better Sleep: Give yourself time in the day for reflection and hold the space for percolating on solutions so you don’t wake up at 3 am to do it.
When was the last time you were truly bored?
While excessive boredom may not be the solution, moderate doses are a catalyst for positive change. By allowing yourself to experience moments of boredom, you can open the door to a dopamine-driven cycle of curiosity, creativity, and achievement. So, the next time you find yourself feeling bored, consider it an opportunity for your brain to indulge in a natural, uplifting dopamine boost.
Remember, downtime and boredom are not mere interruptions but rather essential components of a balanced and successful professional life. By embracing these moments, you can unlock hidden potential, foster creativity, and ultimately enhance their overall effectiveness in the workplace.
Allowing yourself time away from stimuli can and will enrich your life.
Keep going, keep growing,
Lisa van Reeuwyk