Idleness Aversion

Imagine this…

You just pulled into the car repair shop. They told you on the phone it’ll take about an hour to finish the repair.

As you grab your stuff from the car, preparing to sit in the lobby for an hour, you check your phone battery.


“Oh noooooo!” you think to yourself. You feel frustrated as you walk into the lobby. You plunk into a chair and let out a loud sigh. “Great, now I have to sit here for an hour and do NOTHING,” your mental chatter chastises. 

You look around the lobby for entertainment and come up short. “Even better,” you say to yourself sarcastically.

Five minutes later, the receptionist comes up to you with a stack of magazines. They offer you the magazines and a small piece of paper with the wifi passcode. Graciously you take the magazines and let him know you don’t need the wifi passcode because your phone is dead.

The receptionist goes back to their desk and comes back with a phone charger. 

Suddenly you’re dancing in your chair.

“Thank you SO much!” you say as he returns to his desk.

A few minutes later, he comes back with a free coffee. At this point, you feel grateful about your hour-long wait. You can use this extra time to catch up on work projects you’ve been putting off.

Why do you feel so great if you still have to wait an hour for your car?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re taking a look at Idleness Aversion – why people are happier when they’re keeping busy.

Let’s get into it…

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The Psychology of Idleness Aversion 🧠

People have an aversion to doing nothing.

We’re happier when we’re busy (even if we also love to complain about how busy we are).

In 2010, psychologists found that people who feel idle aren’t as happy as people who have a lot on the go.

Their research showed that people like to be justifiably busy. We like being busy when there’s a purpose attached to the feeling.

When we don’t feel purposeful and busy working towards that purpose, negative thoughts creep in.

You’re familiar with this.

Remember COVID lockdowns? Suddenly we were all stuck inside with nothing to do but doomscroll and binge Netflix. It got old—fast. 

Humans love action… even to a fault. 

We can run ourselves into burnout because we just want to keep getting things done. 

That’s the power of Idleness Aversion.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind🧐

Your buyers are allergic to idleness. They don’t want any part of it and will equate your brand and products negatively if you force them into it.

Why do cable TV companies have such a bad rap? Because customer support notably keeps customers on the phone for hours at a time to solve an issue.

People have to sit idly waiting for their issue to get resolved. 

That’s a big no-no.

Giving people something to do while they wait is a great way to delight customers.

When done right, leaning into the idle moments of your product can create a positive association that turns buyers into proud brand ambassadors.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?

Create moments of delight in the moments of waiting

How can you make waiting less boring for your customers? Rather than seeing the wait as a problem, look at it as an opportunity to surprise and delight customers. 

Guests at Universal theme park in Florida can wait anywhere from 2 to 8 whole hours to get on the Harry Potter ride. But you don’t need to be bored while you wait because you get to explore a series of themed rooms with plenty to keep you entertained.

The queue for the Harry Potter ride was named the best queue at Universal theme park. Who knew waiting in line could be fun?

Give people free stuff to keep them entertained

Offer welcome distractions during short idle moments. These distractions don’t have to be costly or over the top. Think of the minor things your buyers would enjoy experiencing. 

Hotels purposely add mirrors to their elevators because it makes the ride feel shorter. People get distracted looking at themselves and their time in the elevator goes past faster. 

Instead of just having a loading bar that shows the progress of your download, Canva shows customers features they may not be aware of. They can keep tabs on their download progress and explore new features at the same time.

Show what’s happening behind the scenes

If you know your buyers will have to sit idly for a long period of time, keep them updated with your progress.

Tap into Labour Illusion to show your customers that you’re working hard behind the scenes.

You can show them the status of their order (ex. confirmed, shipped, en route to their home) or let them know how much further they have to go to reach their result.

UberEats keeps sharing the progress of each order so customers don’t feel angsty about when their order will arrive.

The Short of It 💥

Your buyers don’t want to sit around and do nothing (as much as they make talk about how badly they want to take a vacation, retire, or sell everything they own to travel the world).

In reality, they just want to feel more purposeful.

Use Idleness Aversion to create moments of delight and purposefulness that leave your buyers loving how your brand makes them feel.

Always keep an eye on potential problems (like Idleness Aversion) that you can turn into opportunities in your business. 

As HubSpot’s CMO and SVP of Marketing, Kipp Bodnar and Kieran Flanagan explain, it’s not the biggest businesses that thrive through problems. It’s the ones that are willing to respond to change and turn problems into opportunities.

Until next time, happy selling.



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Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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