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What boredom does to you (nautil.us)
128 points by wowsig 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments



„Imagine a world where we didn’t get bored“

I feel this is the world we live in since 2007. Everything you can imagine is available right in your hand, taking away every possible space for boredom in your head.

For every creative person this is suicide. I find this part of the article utterly important: „People who are bored think more creatively than those who aren’t.“.

I explicitly take time off every day where I can get bored.


> For every creative person this is suicide.

One of my greater recent personal concerns has been why my 'new ideas' bin remains empty for so much longer than it used to. Several culprits exist, but it's clear that constantly having a way to amuse or inform myself with a wide variety of fresh, new entertainment or factual minutiae to "fill in the cracks" of my day is a major perpetrator. I just remarked yesterday how I don't hardly mind standing in line any more.

Back when I worked on a production line (with the shortest breaks allowed by law), I would fill napkins with all kinds of scribbles for at least half of my break time. A similar thing happened with text files in a very different setting, when my duties consisted of waiting for a phone to occasionally ring.

The big question is how to properly cultivate the type of boredom that leads to this creative mental state. Neither of those situations I mentioned are ones I would choose to experience again.


Go to a coffee shop with no one and no phone except for a notebook with a pen.

Take a drive anywhere with no set destination.

Use public transit alone also would work .

Go to a library and read a book that you may or may not like.

Go to an art museum and look at one painting .


Go for a walk. Leave your phone behind.


I noticed a similar thing with myself. I think part of my decline of inspiration came from maturing and finding out a lot more about what is possible and not possible. The culmination for me was quoting my job and working on a start up full time. Which I abandoned after about 6 months. There were some really hard problems with the concept I only discovered when I hit them head on. That was my experience at least.


Distracted is probably a worse state than bored, over the long run.

Distracted means never dealing with any of the difficult aspects of being a person. With bored, at least, you might get around to looking at some of that.


Great point. A populace absorbed with Circus & Bread is also more easily sedated.


Until the Circus pauses or the Bread runs out. Then shit hits the fan...

I often wonder if The Government shut down Starbucks and Candy Crush, how many days it would be before a full revolution.


I'm not sure we have the same definition of boredom: I can't be bored when left to my own thoughts without external stimuli (which is precious time, you need to allow yourself to have time to "do nothing", otherwise you're only ever reacting to events), on the contrary.

The only time I can experience the brain-dead zombie state that is boredom is when I have to pay attention to a mind-numbingly inefficient task I am powerless to improve, like passively listening for hours to an auditorium university lecture that makes the mind rebel against the inefficiency (despite I love learning, but using other means).

Frustration seems more like one that stimulates creativity as it motivates to find workarounds or new directions.


Reminds me of John Cleese's way to put it: https://writenotion.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/open-mode-vs-cl...


I think this is really about what drives thought: some external stimuli, or something internal (seemingly random, but not necessarily). I realize that I, like most people, may be addicted to being "fed".

Even in the bathroom, many of us are accustomed to reading news, watching youtube, etc. It's only when really cut off from TV, internet, etc. that the mind decompresses and starts generating ideas again. (This is not strictly true, as some reactionary thoughts are ideas - solutions to problems presented by external information.)

Also, the thought of people not knowing what a phone book is made me realize I'm old. What a strange feeling.


Phone books are those things that show up every year to fill the extra dumpsters that are put out right at the same time. A beautiful example of exactly how capitalism works in our society. A corporation full of useless sacks of greedy, envious adipose tissue clutch tightly to unwisely made 'perpetual' contracts cities granted a century ago or more, riling with hisses, claws, teeth, and litigation any time their nest is disturbed and cities try to make their product an 'opt in' system or get rid of it entirely. Supply and demand be damned, they have their precious and they'll spit and scrap with anyone who dares to approach their warren.

Occasionally you'll see a media distribution company executive pass along the outskirts of their habitat, cribbing notes on tactics that will be needed in their own coming days.


Yeah, that's not capitalism. That's government being bad.


You are sort-of right. It's not 'capitalism on paper' but 'capitalism in reality'. It's what you get when you implement it with real human beings as opposed to conjectured hypothetical actors in a model. I did specifically say 'as practiced in our society.' It was meant as an example of how 'providing the best product for the best price' is used as an excuse only exactly so long as it lines the pockets of those parroting it. The moment that changes and their product is unnecessary, they squeal like babies stuck with a pin and suddenly they need protecting.


"When it came to brilliance, Steve Jobs was the master."

Come on guys, really? I feel like they gushingly name-dropped Steve Jobs in the title of this article's page for no other reason than to rank higher in search results, considering they barely mention him in the article.


The <title> is even "Why Steve Jobs believed in boredom" even though the article heading is "What boredom does to you".


Here I am, still a lowly brilliance apprentice.


lol, master of brilliance. Is that an MS or MA?


This is totally anecdotal, but I want to post it here. In 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, the math curriculum was extremely boring. Lots and lots of repetitive basic operations. Day after day.

But all around the edge of the room was optional extra-credit work. Different teachers had different things. One had worksheets. One had piles and piles of Games magazines. One had puzzles.

There was a huge contrast between my mindset when doing boring pencil problems and my mindset when doing fun logic puzzles. But those mindsets would often overlap. I'd be constantly looking for patterns in the math problems (to avoid boredom). And some of the games magazine brain puzzlers could only be solved with repetitive trial-and-error grunt work.

My gut sense is that when it comes to teaching and learning, boredom is not a thing to be avoided, but a thing to be harnessed.

I'll have to read this Bored and Brilliant book and see if it has any evidence to support or contradict that belief.


"Every emotion has a purpose—an evolutionary benefit"

Stopped here. (Got bored!). This just isn't true. Boredom might just be evolutionarily neutral. Or it might be negative but outweighed by other features of our species which compensate for its negative effects. Or it might just not have enough of an effect on mating rates to be selected for at all. You're doing biology wrong.


So for something to have an evolutionary effect (whether positive or negative), it must affect mating rates? I'm trying to clarify what the definition is here, because I seemed to have made a habit of rationalizing every aspect of human behavior with an evolutionary explanation (is this a known fallacy, btw?). E.g., feeling sad is evolutionarily useful because it teaches you to avoid things that cause you to be sad, and encourages you to seek out behavior to dispel the sadness, e.g. socializing, which seems evolutionary useful. You can do this with pretty much any emotion. Is that the wrong way to look at it?


The biggest danger in evolutionary thinking is "just-so" rationalization of the present state of things where we take the way things are and assume they are the way they are because they were evolutionarily efficient, and then construct a story that explains why some particular trait is particularly adaptive. Once you dive into the weirdness of biology and the madness of evo-devo, one of the first things that strikes you is how weird biology is and how many strange compromises bodies make as a consequence of selective pressures, and how many "spandrels" or side-effects there are. Boredom might be a spandrel, a decorative side-effect, of intelligence, which is probably the chief evolutionary advantage of human beings. Anyway, the wrong thing to do is to take some trait and reason back based on the assumption that it was evolutionarily adaptive. That's basically evidence-free speculation. Or fiction.


As for the notion that emotions have evolutionary significance, that's a realisation I'd stumbled across and wondered if anyone else had done so.

Charles Darwin. Wrote a damned book on the subject. And somehow I'd been entirely unaware of the fact until a few months ago.

https://archive.org/details/expressionofemo00darw


My kids NEVER say their bored. My instant reply the last 10 years has been, "God made boredom so that kids can learn to be creative." "So stay bored or get creative."

Also my kids never say "That's not fair" because my instant responce to that one is "Life isn't fair and might as well learn that now." If anyone asks what's fair "Sport should be fair and elections and well ..."


For boredom that's a good reply, but for fairness it's not so much. Humans are profoundly social creatures and our inherent need for fairness is extremely strong. People are willing to die and kill for fairness alone. A perception of fairness determines how much damage a negative situation causes. It significantly alters our ability to feel empathy in many situations. Often (and this is common with kids due to their inexperience) an unfair situation just seems unfair because of a lack of full understanding of the situation. Explaining it so that they can see it would actually be unfair for them to get their way can be helpful. Attempting to fight their inherent desire for fairness is... either not helpful or harmful. In the best case, they'll rebel against you. In the worst case, they give up and accept learned helplessness.


I find that the very concept of fairness in life to be a four-letter word that comes from a victim's attitude. When I hear people talk and they use the word fair it really is their way of swearing at life and how they are without the things they need to live successfully. I hardly ever hear it used for defense of others, but of a negative thought about what they were given.

So my philosophy of dealing with lack of understanding is to help them to concentrate on facts. To concentrate on doing whats right not whats fair nor easy. :)

> In the best case, they'll rebel against you. In the worst case, they give up and accept learned helplessness.

Nah my two oldest, foster kids I adopted, both graduated college this May. It wasn't fair when my son, their brother died of bone caner when he was 12. It wasn't fair when my 12 year old's bio dad took a baseball bat to their biological mother's head the same year my son was diagnosed.

They learned that they have to work twice as hard because life isn't fair. It isn't fair that my oldest son is pulled over 8-12 times a year for DWB. It isn't fair that kids outside our city get two or three times the educational funding for their public school. The inherent fairness is from humans' selfishness streak usually and doing what is right in the moment is hard. My other kids are also pretty darn tenacious. I kind of see the White Evangelicals (Which I guess I am one of them) feel they are the most discriminated population when it's the opposite.

At least my two cents :)


I know a mom who intentionally ensures periods of boredom (absence of structure, stimulation, access to entertwinment) for her kids.


The first experiment described hinges on the premise that reading from the phone book is more boring than copying numbers from the phone book in writing? What?? The control experiment for "not boring" is copying numbers by hand!?


When I was reading about mind-wandering in the article, I couldn't help but think of my meditation practice. I do it for about an hour each day, mostly because it does bring about new solutions and ideas for work and personal life. Certainly, there are some specific things like posture, chanting, breathing, etc. that differ but for the most part it seems to just be a disciplined way to give my mind the time to wander...

Question for the meditators out there, is your practice just time for mind-wandering?


When I meditate, I just focus on the act of breathing, and actually try to keep my mind from wandering. This flexes the be-in-the-now (awareness) muscle such that I have improved attention afterwards. I like this because then I become so much more attentive to the many little triggers of emotions I don’t want to experience. I also might be more creative, but not sure yet.


Nice! I should try to focus on my breath at least for some of my meditation. I forgot about that style. I've been meditating on my own for too long probably.

There's another thing that I do that I found supportive, but perhaps again this is deviating from meditation. I count my breaths to keep track of how many minutes for each meditation that I do and I associate each number that I count with a feeling, memory, or emotion that I want to affirm in my life. It's kind of the opposite of mind-wandering, more like planting or reminding yourself of good thoughts. For example, #9 I think about what it feels like to be grateful even for a seemingly difficult circumstance, it's never going to be quite like this again and what unique aspects of it are actually good.

thanks for sharing!


Great idea about the numbers and associating good memories with them, gotta try that :)


I've had similar thoughts, and concluded that all of three different modes of mental operation have virtues and are worth spending time on: directed movement (concentration, focus), undirected movement (mind-wandering, daydreaming), and non-movement (meditation).


be happy you are allowed to be bored sometimes. most of the world population has no time for this luxury. think about it!


Some small etymology: The word annoy comes from the French word ennui which means to bore.


Mann's Maxim: People who are bored think more creatively than those who aren't.

... added to http://github.com/globalcitizen/taoup ;)


For myself boredom is the best motivator. I tend to desperately devise a solution to never have to encounter that boring task again.


    Laziness is the father of Efficiency.


If anyone is interested in boredom, here is a book that I found useful.

Peter Toohey. Boredom: A Lively History


The researcher didn't test MacGyver (the original one)...




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