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It's time to swap scrolling for boredom and why this is good for your mental wellbeing.

I grew up a child of the '90s in South Africa. My childhood was filled with swimming in the pool, playing outside, tormenting my younger brother and spending a lot of time in my room daydreaming and being creative. I loved drawing, painting and collecting (images, quotes, stories). I dreamt of creating and curating some kind of delightful book of inspiration "one day".

In South Africa, we did finally catch up with the rest of the world getting mobile phones and the internet in the late '90s. But still, my childhood was not filled with being online - back then though, I think all this consisted of was playing games and online chat rooms! Of course, we're talking pre-social media days but to be fair with the speed (more like lack thereof) of dial-up...using the internet to curb any sort of boredom simply wasn't an option. If ever I did complain to my mother about being bored I'd get a sharp retort of: "go and read a book or play outside". And so it went...I'd always head back outside or to my room and miraculously manage to come up with a new game or do something else creative. I even recall teaching myself yoga back then, from pages I'd photocopied from a book I got at the library.

Losing the ability to be bored as I became a busy adult.

On reflection, as an adult who for years, unknowingly suffered from burnout, an addiction to being busy and having totally lost connection to myself I'd look back on those childhood days fondly. I'd long for the opportunity to be bored, to daydream and to live the life I'd dreamed of back then when I was a kid. 

In my "always-on" world, filled to the brim with emails, notifications, social media, WhatsApp groups and a never-ending, overwhelm-inducing, impossible-to-ever-achieve to-do list "scrolling" had become the filler for any kind of daydream or brain-break that my mind so desperately craved. Boredom simply was something that was no longer part of my world. 

Think about that for a minute. 

Are you guilty of this too?

When was the last time you daydreamed? 

In fact, when was the last time you were bored?

The state of tech distraction we face right now: 

I watched a Ted Talk recently by Manoush Zomorodi from 2017 on "How Boredom Can Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas". I was blown away, but equally, not that surprised by some of the stats that she rattled off. In 2007 we shifted our attention at work every 3 mins. In 2017, when this talk was filmed, that had decreased to every 45 secs! With the average person switching tasks on their computer 566 times a day and checking email 74 times a day. Cut to 2021 after months of working from home and you can only imagine how these stats have increased.

In 2021 we spend between 3h23 - 3h54 a day* on our phones alone (not including desktop stats). That equates to roughly 50 days a year!

We check our phones for a quick scroll an average of 58 times a day. And, checking creates a chain reaction - 50% of the time, the checking is within 3 minutes of the previous check.*

What is even scarier is that after we have been distracted: "it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the deep focus you had on a task before the distraction." - according to a study by the University of California Irvine.

It is no wonder that we experience high levels of stress and burnout. When burnout has been defined as "the fatigue, exhaustion or apathy caused by too many consecutive stressful days". And, it's been said that stressful days are caused by the fact that we can never complete the work or tasks assigned to us in the allotted time frame that's expected of us.

When we consider the amount of distraction created by technology and our devices it's no wonder we never allow ourselves to be bored or daydream for a second in the day. It's as if we have forgotten how to be bored. 

Instead, we are fooling ourselves into thinking that we are expert multitaskers. (Facepalm). But our brains are not wired to work that way - according to neuroscientist Dr Daniel Levitin: “Instead {of multitasking}, you’re rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go.”

The case for boredom and daydreaming: 

As Manoush Zomorodi says in her TED Talk: “It turns out that when you get bored, you ignite a network in your brain called the ‘default mode’. Although our body goes on autopilot while doing mundane tasks like folding laundry or walking into the office, our brains are hard at work."

Boredom researcher Sandi Mann breaks down how this works: “Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander,” she says, “you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place.”

For the longest time boredom has had negative connotations attached to it - at least when I was a child experiencing boredom felt like the worst thing ever. Yet with high insight, the reality is, it wasn't at all. 

It has been proven that when we allow ourselves to daydream and be bored that those "different connections" taking place subconsciously mean we attract the following benefits: 

  • increased creativity, attention and problem-solving abilities.
  • heightened curiosity and sense of novelty 
  • better overall mental wellbeing

Top tips to cut ties with technology?

Boredom crushers, gap fillers, attention grabbers, dopamine boosters however or whatever you refer to them as, our devices and their apps are designed to grab our attention, distract us and keep us addicted. Not to mention - if you feel like have forgotten what it is like to experience boredom or to daydream then breaking the cycle can feel impossible.  

These are my top tips on how to break up with the constant distraction and beat feeling burnt out and always on:

1.Turn off all notifications on your devices.

There is a reason notifications are the colour red, have a metric (number) attached to them and make a sound or vibrate.⁠

⁠They grab your attention - screaming at you: "check me".⁠ Aka they are constantly distracting you. ⁠ And, depending on how you're wired tap into your psyche begging to be cleared. ⁠

⁠This means they lead you to follow the trail of crumbs to whatever it is that they are notifying you of...a bad news story, your work email, unnecessary consumption (read online shopping), a meeting you weren't expecting, mindless scrolling, an angry client review, a storm on the horizon...⁠This is how you spiral down the never-ending rabbit holes of the internet. 

⁠When they are social media-oriented they're giving you a little dopamine hit... which can be addictive and plays on our desire for validation, belonging, sometimes even our sense of self-worth.⁠

Hence, in my opinion, I believe notifications are NOT good for you and I boycott them. ⁠

⁠2.Have a full phone-free day a week. 

Yes, that's right - phone free. As in leaving your phone at home when you go out of the house. Turn it off. Lock it away. Do whatever it takes.  

The biggest tip with this is to acknowledge that this will feel like you've left the house wearing your underwear on the outside of your pants at first. That's right - it feels weird, awkward and like you've forgotten something.  

I promise it gets easier with time though and having a replacement vice can help. Eg. for me that was reading so when I mindlessly went to pick up my phone for no reason I would reach for my book instead. Or you could try filling the mindless phone reach with the below tip:

3.Deliberately add 10 minutes into your day where you can be bored, creative or daydream.

Maybe this looks like leaving the house 10 minutes earlier so you can just simply sit and take in your surroundings before a meeting while NOT checking your phone. 

Or while waiting in line at the supermarket or for the bus or for your friend to arrive for your coffee date instead of filling that time with a quick scroll - simply be. Look around you, notice. 

Don't take your phone to the loo with you for once?! And, don't kid yourself that you haven't done this before. 

The more you can practice the lost art of being bored and daydreaming the easier it becomes to do. The less you'll feel like your phone is an extension of your arm.  

You will be able to sit down to a project or task and do an uninterrupted hour or more of deep, concentrated work. As you will have the ability to switch off your emails, teams app, messaging services and leave your phone in the other room.  

Once the cycle of distraction is broken you start to realise that you do not miss much (if anything) other than being distracted when you're constantly checking notifications and scrolling. 

Want more tips on how to break the addiction to technology and burnout? Check out my free 28 day Go to Slow challenge which has a whole lot more tips like the above shared. 

*stats taken from CodeComputerLoveeMarketer and https://elitecontentmarketer.com/screen-time-statistics/

 Founder of Slow Coaching Co. Nikki Tiedeman a mindfulness coach, teacher of meditation and yoga works with successful professionals and solopreneurs who are ready to quit burnout and busy. She enables them to slow down, regain balance, their connection to self and shift from 'just' surviving to thriving in life.

Download my Go to Slow Challenge for more tips:

https://slowcoachingco.com/go-to-slow/

https://slowcoachingco.com/

https://www.instagram.com/slowcoachingco/

www.linkedin.com/in/nikki-tiedeman

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