Five Types of Boredom and Six Ways to Deal with Them

by Diane Berenbaum
 
  • “Boredom is the self being stuffed with itself.”
  •      Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos
     
  • “Boredom is not an end-product; it is comparatively rather an early stage in life and art. You’ve got to go by or past or through boredom, as through a filter, before the clear product emerges.” 
  •      F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up
     
  • “Boredom is what you fight. Constant, ever-present boredom. So you learn to look forward to small things.”
  •      Valerie W. Wesley, Playing My Mother's Blues


Boredom may sound well…boring!  But it is a lot more interesting and stimulating than you might think. Researchers have found that, “Given the high frequency of boredom in various situations encountered in daily life, and the variety of detrimental experiences to which boredom is related, it is rather surprising that there has been little research conducted on this specific emotion.” And, there are some studies that may surprise you.  For example:


J.M. Steinauer’s research revealed that 45% of hiring experts said firms lost top workers because they were bored with their jobs. And, a Washington Post survey found that:

  • 55% of all U.S. employees were found to be ‘not engaged’ in their work and...

  • Boredom was the second most commonly suppressed emotion, followed closely by a deep-seated resentment of others.

Not only that, a surprising finding was revealed in a study published in the Journal of Motivation and Emotion :  “Boredom isn’t just boring. It can be dangerous, either for the person who is bored or for the people around him.”

For instance, people who are bored are more likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. Studies have also linked boredom with stress and other health problems! Clearly, it can be bad for your health as well as your mind.

Five Distinct Types Revealed

To get to the bottom of the situation, Thomas Goetz, professor of Empirical Educational Research at the University of Konstanz in Germany, and his colleagues, explored different types of boredom. Their study in the Journal of Motivation and Emotion revealed five distinct types of boredom:

  1. Indifferent boredom:  a relaxing and slightly positive type of boredom that “reflected a general indifference to, and withdrawal from, the external world”

  2. Calibrating boredom:  the slightly unpleasant state of having wandering thoughts and “a general openness to behaviors aimed at changing the situation”

  3. Searching boredom:  it makes you feel restless and leaves you “actively seeking out specific ways of minimizing feelings of boredom”

  4. Reactant boredom:  it is so bad that it prompts sufferers “to leave the boredom-inducing situation and avoid those responsible for this situation (e.g., managers)”

  5. Apathetic boredom:  the most recently discovered category, which was common among high school students

The researchers noted the following insight in their study, “Given the high frequency of boredom in various situations encountered in daily life and the variety of detrimental experiences to which boredom is related, it is rather surprising that to date there has been little research conducted on this specific emotion.”  

And, the Journal, Science, reported that “many people would rather give themselves electric shocks than do nothing at all”!

Therefore, it’s time to dive deeper into this potentially inhibiting emotional and/or psychological state and focus on how to deal with it.

Six Ways to Deal with Boredom

Acknowledging and addressing boredom can change your perspective and values. So, how do you handle boredom? Has your approach changed over time? Explore the six steps below and be open to the possibilities:

  1. Become aware of boredom (Don’t let your mind wander)

  2. Recognize it (Verbalize what you notice)

  3. Sit with it (Ponder the possibilities without taking action)

  4. Act with greater awareness (Move forward with mindfulness instead of negligence )

  5. Acknowledge it (Step back, declare it and gain a new and objective perspective)

  6. Be part of the solution (Sit in silence)

You’ll soon experience the benefits that come from this approach. You’ll begin to appreciate your independence, acknowledge the resourceful self within you, and feel a greater sense of peace.

As Larry Niven (author of Ringworld) said, “Boredom is my worst enemy. It's killed a lot of my friends, but it won't get me.” 

 

Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
 
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