The Art of Boredom Part 3

In last few weeks we have been looking at the interesting issue of boredom and some of the challenges but also some of the opportunities that boredom presents.

Boredom has been described as the “last privilege of a free mind” and that it can stimulate creativity and innovation.

In order to try to understand the differences in the reasons for boredom Thomas Goetz, a professor for Empirical Educational Research at the University of Konstanz conducted a project involving studying a group of university and high school students, asking them to answer questions about their activities and experiences over the course of two weeks.

Through their research, they were able to identify five types of boredom, each one with unique characteristics:

  1. Indifferent: Perhaps the most neutral of the five, people with indifferent boredom are calm and withdrawn from the world. Goetz uses the words “relaxation” and “cheerful fatigue” to describe it.
  2. Calibrating: Calibrating boredom refers to wandering thoughts and not knowing what to do. You want to change your environment or behaviour but aren’t actively finding alternatives. This type of boredom is common when performing repetitive tasks.
  3. Searching: Searching boredom is defined by a sense of unpleasant restlessness and an active search for ways to minimize that boredom, usually turning to “activities and thoughts about hobbies, leisure, interests, and school.”
  4. Reactant: Characterized by feelings of aggression. Reactant boredom motivates people to leave the boring situation and avoid those responsible for it. People experiencing this type of boredom have “persistent thoughts about specific, more highly valued alternative situations.”
  5. Apathetic: This type of boredom operates at a different level than the previous four. It’s a deeper, more negative state of mind that can be linked to feelings of helplessness and depression, as well as destructive behaviours.

While it may be helpful to understand the boredom spectrum the next question is to address are the triggers for each type and what to do to support or even benefit from these different types.

Giving your brain the time and space to experience boredom can help you as often those great ideas often come to mind during idle times, like taking a shower or driving to work? However, boredom can be a red flag, alerting you when something is wrong. Researcher and philosophy professor Andreas Elipidorou says that “boredom is both a warning sign that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a ‘push’ that motivates us to switch goals and projects.” Without that feeling of boredom, you may continue to do things that just are not productive like revising for a test when you just are not in the right frame of mind or mood.

The first step in making boredom work for you is finding the right kind of boredom. For example, indifferent and calibrating boredom can offer your brain time to relax and recharge. On the other hand, apathetic boredom could serve as a warning sign that there are deeper issues at play. The goal is to leverage monotony to improve other areas of your life and not to infuse negativity.

In summary, boredom is a real feeling and as opposed to ignoring it try to understand how it affects you and others around you.

Boredom is a state not a trait and like anger it is something that you need to manage. After all if someone was angry you wouldn’t just say “be happy “so if someone is bored you can’t just say “be more interested”. In the same way that someone who has issues of anger you would look to support you also need to plan for and support boredom.

John Eastwood, of York University, in Toronto, Canada has developed the multidimensional state boredom scale – to measure how it feels in the here and now.

In order to understand this issue maybe you should consider your own boredom style? As mentioned above boredom takes five distinct forms depending on how negative and how energetic you feel. You may experience them all, but one kind will be your speciality. Which is it?

1) Do you tend to experience boredom as a benign or even positive state?

If yes you specialise in indifferent boredom. When bored you most often feel relaxed and calm, not particularly fed up, but not engaged with the world. This is the most positive type of boredom. It may even lead to creativity.

2) When bored, are you typically very fidgety and tense?

If yes you specialise in reactant boredom. The explosive combination of high arousal and negative emotion leaves you restless, angry and in need of an outlet. This is the most damaging form of boredom.

3) Do you experience boredom as an extremely negative feeling?

If yes you specialise in apathetic boredom. When bored you tend to feel disengaged and unable to do anything about it. This especially unpleasant type of boredom is most similar to depression and learned helplessness.

4) When bored, do you tend to look for ways to alleviate the feeling?

If yes you specialise in searching boredom. Being bored makes you feel negative and restless. You actively seek ways to alleviate your boredom and if you fail to find diversions it may become reactant.

5) When bored, are you unsure about what you’d rather be doing and how you’d go about it?

If yes, you specialise in calibrating boredom. Boredom feels unpleasant but you tend not to look for ways out of it, although you are open to boredom-reducing options if they should arise.

Although this will provide some indicators there is a boredom proneness scale which was devised in 1986 by Richard Farmer and Norman Sundberg, of the University of Oregon. It is now accepted as a standard way to measure your potential for boredom so maybe answer the following questions if that’s not too boring

Using a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 = highly disagree, 4 = neutral, 7 = highly agree

1) It is not easy for me to concentrate on my activities.

2) Frequently, when I’m working, I find myself worrying about other things.

3) Time always seems to be passing slowly.

4) I often find myself at a “loose end”, not knowing what to do.

5) I am often trapped in situations where I have to do meaningless things.

6) Having to look at someone’s home movies or travel slides bores me tremendously.

7) I do not have projects in mind all the time, things to do.

8) I find it hard to entertain myself.

9) Many things I have to do are repetitive and monotonous.

10) It takes more stimulation to get me going than most people.

11) I get a kick out of few things I do.

12) I am seldom excited about my work.

13) In many situations I can find nothing to do or see to keep me interested.

14) Much of the time I just sit around doing nothing.

15) I am not good at waiting patiently.

16) I often find myself with nothing to do – time on my hands.

17) In situations where I have to wait, such as a line or a queue, I get very restless.

18) I rarely wake up with a new idea.

19) It would be very hard for me to find a job that is exciting enough.

20) I would like more challenging things to do in my life.

21) I feel that I am working below my abilities most of the time.

22) Few people would say that I am a creative or imaginative person.

23) I have few interests and lots of spare time.

24) Among my friends, I am the one who gives up on things first.

25) Unless I am doing something exciting, even dangerous, I feel half-dead and dull.

26) It takes a lot of change and variety to keep me really happy.

27) It seems that the same things are on television or the movies all the time; it’s getting old.

28) When I was young, I was often in monotonous and tiresome situations.


Below 81 You don’t bore easily at all. You find amusement in the slightest thing and life is continually interesting. Lucky you!

81 to 117 You get bored sometimes, but these scores reflect average levels. Try to put those down times to good use!

Above 117 You get bored so easily you probably dropped off while reading this. On the bright side, provided you have the right kind of boredom, creativity might come more easily to you, helping you avoid an intolerably dull life.

​​So there you have it, boredom is a spectrum of real feelings that we should all be aware of. As a result the next time someone says they are bored don’t dismiss it but try to understand what is the message behind it.

Fin 30/05/20

Please review my website to review how to book my range of online virtual courses for staff INSET for next term. Courses include the following:  


  • No two children are the same: Understanding and supporting Neurodiversity
  • Getting even more curious: Supporting children with ASD and ADHD in the new normal


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