It all started when Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007. Fifty-eight percent of American adults have a smartphone today, I have an iPhone in both front pockets. It’s hard to remember life before the smartphone, which may, in part, be because we check the damn things 150 times a day. We’ve bombarded ourselves with updates, notifications, texts, twitter statuses and other bullshit to the point of mental exhaustion. The crazy part, you’re addicted, you’ve got a pocket full of legal heroin that you check obsessively. 67 percent of the time you unlock that phone it’s not because you got a text, call or notification. Nope, you needed a fix. You sleep with your junk, you keep your junk on you at all times, you can’t even walk without that junk in your hand. You must learn to embrace boredom!
I don’t blame you. I’m a slave to the same drug. Smartphones are great, they allow you to stay connected all the time. With it you can stay organized, schedule meetings, track a workout, and stream an endless amount of music. You can even keep up with the latest episode of a podcast about a kid that may or may not have killed his girlfriend. But they also make us feel dependent, exhausted, and addicted. I actually feel relieved when I put my work phone down at the end of the day and dock it in my gym and allow it to only play music.
Now smartphones don’t deserve all the blame. The internet, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and the endless list of other modern services, apps and devices have also purloined our boredom.
Paying attention to smartphones and all these other things through so many of our waking moments means our minds no longer idle, and not having an idle mind matters. Idle minds have this funny tendency to entertain themselves and they do so in reflective and creative ways.
A bored mind jumps around in time, replays the day, analyzes things you said, things you should have said, things you should have done, and things you should not have. Those thought processes are important and are of value. Has inspiration ever struck you while you were mindlessly scrolling through Reddit or checking Clash of Clans? Or do you find that inspiration more often strikes while showering, or staring at a blank sheet of paper, or while catching your breath between sets?
But when mental stimulation is one finger touch away? Boredom dies, creativity and analytical thinking go with it.
Need more proof you are actually incapable of boredom? It’s quite killing off a sport. It’s not hard to see how our inability to be bored is shuttling baseball into the history books while the NFL sees record profits.
As anyone who knows and loves baseball will tell you, baseball is boring. That is not a new thing. Even at its most lively, baseball moves at a walking pace. You can sit, drink, eat, hold a conversation, drink up the sun and not miss a pitch. Compare that to a game of 10 second plays surrounded by loud, rambunctious commercials in the company of booze, babes and cars.
When you pay attention to boredom it gets unbelievably interesting.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn
Baseball games aren’t just long, there’s no way of knowing how long one might be. A baseball game is like a good political conversation, a poker night with friends or a long group bike ride. It has no fixed end. It takes as long as it takes. Baseball is a game without a clock. Open time is tough to palate in this fast paced world.
It’s the waiting, the anticipation, the tantalizing foreplay that makes baseball great. Bottom of the ninth, you’re down two, two men on, two outs, every pitch is electric. You missed it though, Kai Greene posted some motivation on twitter and you were busy retweeting.
Ready to try being bored? Here are some places you should try surviving without your phone:
- Bed. It’s bad for your sleep anyway. And I’m sure it’s helping your relationship.
- Transportation. If you’re driving yourself just put the damn thing down already before you kill someone, bring a notebook and pen or a book on the train or bus.
- Bathroom. I promise you can still poop without your phone.
- When you’re eating, especially with other people.
- While watching TV.
- In the movie theater. This one is more of a personal vendetta.
- In a meeting.
- While walking.
- In line for coffee. Seriously, you’ll freak people out.
Here are some strategies to break yourself of the habit:
- Turn off non-vital notifications.
- Delete apps. Think of those apps you use too much, do you need them?
- Make sure you DO get the notifications you need. Separate important callers with a special tone.
- Stop checking your phone every-time you feel a phantom vibration. Delay checking your phone.
- Keep your phone off you. Keep it in a bag, keep it on your desk, better yet in a desk drawer.
Go be bored
Don’t put pressure on yourself to come up with something amazing. Don’t try intensive meditation techniques off the bat. Don’t start by tearing your hair out.
Just lay a piece of paper and pen, or a canvas, or a guitar, or whatever in front of you and let your mind go. Watch tv shows, but watch the show. Have a conversation over dinner and actually listen. Go to a meeting and participate meaningfully. Take a shit and enjoy it.