Updated: Jan 22, 2022
Like most of my blog posts, I could write a book on this topic, but I am going to practice restraint and focus on a few selective points. My objective is to help you create a mind shift in the way you look at and experience boredom moving forward. I will begin by defining boredom for the sake of this blog post and exactly what it is or is not. I will then discuss the choices that we have when presented with boredom and why we often times respond to it like we do. I will follow that up with my own personal journey with boredom. I want to share how I have experienced boredom in the past and the way I have changed my approach to the emotion in a way that works for me…and possibly could for you too.
So, what is boredom anyways? Merriam-Webster defines boredom as “the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest (1828). According to Healthline.com, “Boredom is marked by an empty feeling, as well as a sense of frustration with that emptiness. When you’re bored, you may have a limited attention span and lack of interest in what’s happening around you. You may feel apathetic, fatigued, nervous, or jittery” (Giorgi, 2017). Wikipedia offers that “boredom is an emotional and occasionally psychological state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, is not interested in their surroundings, or feels that a day or period is dull or tedious (n.d.)”. Eckhart Toole describes boredom as the rejection of the present moment because it is not good enough (date). There is not one universally accepted definition of boredom.
Now that we have explored some definitions of boredom, let’s be clear about what it is not. I used to think it just meant we do not have anything to do. As if boredom was a circumstance and not an emotion. The truth is the only way we can feel bored is because of the way we are thinking. Somebody might be excited that they have nothing to do. Others might always find something to do. It all depends on the way we are looking at it. What we know for sure is that it does not exist outside of the human mind, it is an emotion, and most of us humans do not like feeling it.
There are typically two options available to us when we determine that we are bored. One option is we can choose to feel the emotion and process it. By processing, I mean letting the feeling be there, do not make it a problem, drop all resistance, and just breathe into it. If we do that, the emotion will only last for so long and then we can carry on. Yeah, I know this is not how we normally respond to boredom. Wouldn’t it be great if we did? Unfortunately, we usually do the complete opposite. We reject the present moment, judge ourselves and everything around us as not being good enough, and make ourselves even more dissatisfied. We hate the way we are feeling so much so that we have to look for some kind of distractions Those distractions might include social media, Netflix, online shopping, overeating, over drinking, over working, anything really to keep us from experiencing the boredom of the moment. Brooke Castillo calls this buffering and pretty much anybody with a brain does it. The problem is that when we do, it can lead to being unhealthy and even to addictions. We are also missing out on what is causing us to feel bored in the first place (a thought) when we distract ourselves. The other point I want to make is that boredom is just a feeling and cannot even hurt us. If we can get comfortable with the discomfort of boredom, then it does not even have be a problem any longer.
Now I want to talk about some of the personal challenges I have faced with boredom over the years and why it is no longer such a big problem for me. I have peeled back many layers on this topic because I feel like boredom was my arch nemesis for well over a decade. Once I married my husband, I cut back on working as an occupational therapist to create a home for my new blended family. I was super excited to get a new home, learn how to cook, and create a beautiful and welcoming home…until I wasn’t anymore. I also became bored with the profession of OT after years of being happy and loving it. The only thing that changed was the way I was thinking. That in and of itself does not have to be a problem, right? Becoming bored and dissatisfied is just a sign that it may be time for a change. But wait! One thing we know for sure is our brains do not like change! We would rather feel anything and stay safe in the cave than actually make any changes. The result then for me? A decade of being stuck in complacency, apathy, and boredom.
Okay, before I go further, it was not as bad as it sounds. It was more like a subtle dissatisfaction with life but not bad enough to do anything about it. I knew I was capable of more but just was not inspired to do the work necessary to make anything happen. Does that make sense? LOL, I am sure it does to the majority of middle-aged adults with brains! I am not a unicorn here. I wanted more but was afraid of giving up my freedom and committing to something that would tie me down or cause me to miss out on travel or fun. So instead of investing in the future and the possibility of something new, I stayed stuck for years and as a result, I was bored frequently. A gal can only have so much fun shopping, going to movies, and traveling to new destinations if you know what I mean. I also always had this thing where I felt like a loser if I was not busy (it might actually go back to high school days and how I defined if I was popular or not). Anyways, it got worse around this time and I became judgmental of myself on many levels AND felt like a loser on top of it. Yay, so fun to be me!
Flash forward to about five years ago; my dad just died, and I had suffered enough. I wanted out of the cave and knew I was ready to change my life in major ways. I no longer cared about freedom or having fun, I wanted to do something meaningful. I signed up for an online occupational therapy doctorate program and that kept the boredom monkey off my back for three years. It came back with a vengeance, as soon as I graduated. Not kidding, it was so annoying. As a result, I decided to start an eldercare consulting business but had no idea of what I was doing or that it was supposed to be challenging. I was a little naive to say the least. I had trouble finding clients, did not know how to market, and guess what? Yep, I became a bored loser again!
It was during this time, I started reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and was beginning to look at boredom and everything in life quite differently. Then I enrolled in the Life Coach School and discovered that boredom is not a circumstance, but an emotion. What???? It still took me months of studying boredom and doing thought work to finally realize that it is ok to be bored sometimes. In fact, life is 50/50 and the only way to appreciate fun times, is if we have boring ones. I also learned that every time we think something is not enough and wish it was different, we are rejecting the present moment and declining to live a deliberate (some refer to it as conscious) life. How has this changed my approach to boredom you ask?
I have a totally different take on boredom now and never, ever think of myself as a loser any time of the day no matter what is going on. I also understand that if I am feeling bored in the moment, my soul is trying to tell me something is going on in my brain that is not working for me. That is when I stop, breathe into the boredom, and examine what thought is the culprit and what triggered it? It usually is either “this is not enough,” or “my present moment should somehow be different”. Knowing that both of those thoughts are brain BS and optional, I can then think “I wonder what the gift is here if I am willing to receive it”. I also look at what situation or circumstance is likely to trigger the feeling of boredom, so I am onto my brain and ready for the BS when it comes up! I detach from the judgments and I also remind myself that boredom is optional and just an uncomfortable feeling that does not have to be a big deal. Bottom line, I increase my self-awareness and get more effective at managing my mind.
In summary, human do not like being bored. From an early age, we go to great lengths to avoid boredom. We do this by buffering with anything that distracts us from the feeling that life is just not good enough or should somehow be different in the present moment. The truth is though, we are supposed to be bored sometimes and we know this is true, because we are. It is also helpful to understand that boredom is just an emotion and not a circumstance, and we can manage it without distractions. We can either choose to process the problem without making it a problem or we can deliberately choose another thought that creates a different feeling that is more useful to us. For me, the biggest gift of understanding boredom is that it triggers me to become more self-aware and more adept at managing my mind. So instead of thinking I am a loser because I am bored now, I thank the Universe for helping me to evolve even further. Join me in Episode #15 of The Brain BS Podcast to discuss this further.