4 MIN READ | Positive Psychology

Origami Can Be a Boredom Buster

Dr Lizzie Burns

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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In our busy lives we may yearn for a break to do nothing. But few of us can cope with a bare room and nothing to do; quite frankly it’s boring. The best way to relax is doing something, even lying on a beach allows enjoyable sensations of sand and sunshine interacting with our body. When not engaged with things around us, our minds tend to wander bringing us onto worries. Boredom may be a valuable emotional drive luring us away from cognitive pits of rumination.

The displeasure of boredom encourages us to make changes and be more adventurous. It comes with the dark side of unhealthy risks from taking drugs to gambling or dangerous driving, but also brings a bright side through encouraging curiosity and creativity. The problem comes where we’re trapped; whether in school, prison, hospital or a job; boredom grows and undermines well-being.

Boredom undermines well-being.

None of us choose to be in hospital but we’re likely to end up there at some point. Boredom can thrive with little provided and plenty to worry about. What can you do in this situation? If possible, get up and move around. In theory the internet means we should never get bored but, like TV, it becomes passive watching the work of others and we easily flit around without settling on a topic; leaving us dissatisfied and restless. Boredom recognises our deeper vital need for variety together with surprise, challenge, focus and meaningful activity both physically and mentally.


To help people in hospital I encourage them to grab the moment, get inspired and try something new. The biggest hurdle is getting started. It’s easier to say ‘no’, and yet those who say ‘yes’ feel better through taking a chance. Most believe they’re not good at art, and lack confidence to even try. I’ve found a few simple techniques for breaking boredom by getting creative where possibilities are endless. Few can focus on reading but it’s worth a go. For those who can’t focus on books, try adult colouring-in, extreme dot-to-dot or playing games.

My approach is to be more active as this will be more satisfying and bring longer lasting interest. Doodling is something everyone can do. Just pick up pen and paper and see what happens. When doodling no plan is needed, simply experiment; it could be patterns or drawings. We tend to doodle when our mind wanders and this activity encourages focus. Over time I find doodles keep changing, which brings both interest and reflection. Another option is writing about anything at all, from how you’re feeling to stories or poems, lists, a letter to a loved one, or create a play to get your inner monologue onto paper.

Our biggest challenge is getting started with a blank piece of paper, which is a bit like the bare room. It makes us feel uncomfortable but can be challenged and will change how you feel through taking action; whether doodling, writing or folding into 3D structures. My pathway to origami came from a patient asking me to learn to make a lily to pass on to help others. As someone who prefers making things up it was a challenge following instructions, and with time to remember pathways of folding. Everyone can fold paper which often brings back happy memories of making airplanes and fortune tellers with friends.

Origami can be valuable gift to pass onto others to bring joy.

We can choose to escape boredom in either destructive, or creative ways. Origami offers a positive, creative and absorbing technique. By folding paper, you too can turn the everyday into something beautiful and remarkable. As a technique this is passed from one person to another as a gift and brings much needed challenge together with achievement and joy. The precision and concentration bring control when life can feel chaotic. You must be patient, persistent and kind to yourself but with practice you too can discover how inventive you can be with very little. When absorbed in creative activity a break is taken from mind-wandering which can fuel boredom. Origami also becomes a valuable gift to pass onto others to bring joy.

One philosophy behind origami is simply: honouring the paper. I wonder whether by taking time and care to honour paper, we also honour ourselves.


Dr Lizzie Burns is a science-based artist following a doctorate and post-doctoral research fellowship in cancer research at the University of Oxford. She also works as a creative specialist funded by the UCLH Charity, and founded the Anti-Boredom Campaign with articles in the British Medical Journal, and BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care. Her work recognising boredom has been written about in The TimesThe Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Lizzie is a member of the British Origami Society and together with two other women formed Origami Pulse. You can connect with her on Twitter @DrLizzieBurns 

 


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