Embracing Boredom to Enhance Problem-Solving

By Lauren Presutti

Outside of my work in therapy sessions, my mind is usually racing – ideas spill out of my brain and pile up until I have a whole mountain of things to do. I’m a dreamer who likes to think creatively and imaginatively and sometimes I forget to pace myself. My mind says, go faster. Get ahead. Make another to-do list. With the exception of slowing down for sessions and using therapeutic silence with my clients, I’m generally always on the go in my personal life. But, the global pandemic has slowed all of us down and many of us have been forced to limit our productivity in some way, myself included.

We’ve had to limit our contact in the community. Running errands isn’t so simple anymore. Schools have totally redesigned learning to be accessible online. Business lunches are no longer planned. Visiting neighbors and hosting gatherings has been very limited. Entertainment venues are closed. Weekends look pretty much the same as weekdays. Feeling like everything is a blur is a widespread emotion. Most of us are stuck in our homes and although we’ve tried to keep up with it all, it’s no question that boredom has been felt by everyone – both kids and adults – at one point or another through this pandemic.

In contrast to my “busy bee” mentality, some experts say that boredom can be a good thing, even healthy for our brains. The idea is that boredom can actually trigger our minds to wander or daydream in new, creative ways that can enhance our problem-solving skills. This allows us to escape day-to-day stress and gives us a break from constant “doing.” Sometimes being bored can lead us to pursue new opportunities and allow us to achieve new paths that previously may have been overlooked.

I relate this to our decisions in the face of problems. Sometimes, my life as a busybody has me moving and grooving so much that I don’t slow down to fully zoom-out to assess a problem. I will jump right into a solution before considering about every possible alternative step forward and the pros and cons of each. Quick solutions sound appealing – after all, most of us dislike sitting with problems – but are quick fixes always the right way to go? My experience tells me that answer is no.

As much as I love to get problems off my plate, I have learned over the years that temporarily stepping back from a problem allows me to fully process the best way to proceed. Zooming out from a challenge may seem “boring” at first, but it allows my mind to wander in new ways. I start thinking about the quick solution, the slow solution, the upside-down solution, the solution that requires help from others, the solution that uses my own resources, the solution that everybody thinks about, the solution that nobody thinks about – and the list goes on. Aligned with the research on boredom, my mind is triggered in new ways when I remind myself to slow down and sit with the problem for a bit. And more often than not – I come up with a plan that is far better than the quick solution that initially entered my mind.

Now, if the batteries in your television remote become dead and you know you have new batteries in the kitchen drawer – by all means, replace the batteries. Unless you’re a scientist eager for new electrical inventions, these types of “problems” don’t require much thought. But, if you are unsure how to address relationship issues, feeling overwhelmed by family stress, struggling with academic concerns, managing health-related decisions, or are otherwise presented with complicated life problems that affect your mental health, jumping into a quick solution may not be the best idea. Allow yourself time to process the circumstances – how you feel, what information is known, and what possible avenues can be explored.

Even though I tend to be in the fast lane, the rejuvenating experience of slowing down and giving ourselves space to process our realities is one of the reasons that I am so drawn to the profession of mental health therapy. When I’m able to slow down, it is type of luxury that soothes my soul. I have to consciously remind myself to hit the brakes on productivity, but doing so has benefited me tremendously in terms of gaining clarity and perspective. As a therapist, I support my clients in their efforts to slow down during sessions and we find ways this practice can be implemented into their everyday lives.

I encourage readers to embrace boredom – find time in your days to let your mind wander. Consider new alternatives. Zoom out mentally. Explore new paths. Allow the experience of being bored to ignite new thoughts and feelings within yourself – you might be surprised at what you discover.

If you have questions or if I can be a resource for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Your mental health matters.

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