How do you handle boredom?
Most of us try to escape boredom by distracting ourselves with food or booze or Netflix or even the news. Our brains would choose just about anything over boredom, even anxiety!
But what exactly is boredom, and what’s so scary about it?
It may surprise you to learn that boredom is a THOUGHT.
People say “I’m bored” with the same certainty that they say “I’m breathing” or “I’m 30 years old,” but boredom is not a circumstance.
For some people, thinking “I’m bored” creates the feeling of boredom.
For others, it may make them feel anxious or disappointed.
However boredom manifests for you, it’s critical to understand that boredom doesn’t happen TO you.
You create it for yourself, with your thoughts.
Think about it: there’s no universal consensus on what is “boring.”
I find football terribly boring, but the fact that football is a multi-billion dollar a year industry means clearly that’s not a universal opinion.
We all have different experiences based on our thoughts.
My thought when I watch football is “who cares?” while a fan’s thought is “this is so exciting!”
Notice how my thoughts create boredom, while another person’s thought creates engagement.
The point is, nothing is intrinsically boring. It’s only your thoughts that make something boring or not boring to you.
If you are bored, it’s because you’re choosing to think and believe that you are bored or have nothing to do. You are creating that experience for yourself.
Many of us feel powerless over our boredom, but you should know that it IS a choice.
As long as you have a human mind, you can find interesting stuff to think about or experience.
You can even bring your awareness to the very existence of experience by checking in with your body and practicing mindfulness of your physical surroundings.
In other words, you can think on purpose or practice not thinking on purpose but either way, you do not have to be bored.
All that being said, there is nothing WRONG with boredom or being bored…and it can even be helpful if you allow yourself to experience it.
Let me say that again: boredom is not a problem.
It’s just a thought that creates an experience for you. It isn’t fatal.
The only real “problem” with boredom is that we are so intolerant of it.
This is exacerbated by how easily we can distract ourselves with technology in modern life.
Before smartphones, TV, computers, and tablets, boredom was a natural part of life. Everyone experienced it sometimes and had to learn how to amuse themselves if they didn’t want to experience it.
But our attention spans are actually getting shorter because of how much technology we use, and our ability to tolerate boredom is getting lower.
Think of your primitive brain like a dopamine junkie. It will do anything for a hit, so it’s always going to choose things that deliver instant dopamine (like Candy Crush or Instagram) over the discomfort that comes with feeling bored.
And while boredom itself isn’t a problem, our efforts to escape boredom can be problematic, because they will usually drive us to seek quick hits of dopamine over some of the longer-term benefits of boredom.
That’s right, I said “benefits.”
You didn’t know?
Boredom is not only not harmful, but actually helpful to humans.
On the other side of boredom is creativity, true relaxation, learning, and growth.
In fact, everything that humans can create is on the other side of boredom.
In order to think deeply, reflect, let your mind wander, and access your creativity, you have to be willing to spend time where you’re not distracting yourself with external stimulation.
Where you’re not staring at your screen and distracting yourself with different stimuli.
Beyond boredom, you will come up with new insights, have new ideas, brainstorm projects, and gain insight into yourself.
Beyond boredom, you will get to know your own mind and body…but only if you are willing to let your mind wander.
In order to do so, you have choose to experience some discomfort.
Why is boredom uncomfortable?
Because we’re afraid of what we will think and feel if we allow ourselves to experience it.
We’re afraid we will think mean things about ourselves or experience difficult emotions that we’ve been resisting if we stop distracting ourselves from our own experience.
But here’s the thing: Your thoughts are harmless if you aren’t acting on them. They are just sentences in your mind.
You can learn to observe and detach from them. But if you don’t ever stop and allow yourself to be alone with them, you can’t learn or practice that skill.
I think of allowing boredom like allowing a negative emotion.
We go to extreme lengths to avoid it, but if we allow ourselves to relax and experience it, it usually passes in a few moments.
Are you ready to be bored?
It will feel uncomfortable at first. You won’t know what to do and you’ll have the urge to distract yourself. You will want to reach for your phone or the remote or your laptop.
Let the urge arise. Let it pass. Stay where you are. Stare out the window. Let your mind wander. Let your brain do some thinking. If it starts criticizing you, gently redirect it by asking yourself interesting questions.
Create some mental space for yourself to be bored and then pass through to the other side.
Boredom won’t kill you, and it may open the path to some amazing growth.