Friday morning, I thought to myself, “I’m bored.” My next thought was, “Wow, I’m bored. That’s cool.” You know why I thought that? Because I’m always so busy I never get the chance to be bored! Oh, how I miss boredom!
I know you may think I’m a little crazy but stick with me here. We live in a time where we are always on the move. We rarely get a chance to be bored let alone sit with it. We may hate what we are doing, but we are doing something. Pretty much all the time. We may hate what we have to do later, but we change our clothes and go do it anyway. And, in the process, we may be bored, but we keep it moving. What if we were bored occasionally? Would that be such a bad thing?
Now that I think about it, maybe it’s not about being bored. Maybe it’s about doing too much again? Nah, this is about boredom, or the lack thereof. Dare I say the lost art of boredom? Again, stick with me.
For many, boredom, or being bored, is one of the worst things you can experience in life. Ask any middle schooler without an Internet connection and you will be regaled over and over again about the level of boredom they are enduring right now. God, make it stop! Restore the WiFi!
Why does boredom get such a bad rap?
If you go online and Google “bored,” this is what you get:
Feeling weary, because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.
Geez, that’s a harsh description. What’s so wrong with being bored? This definition implies that one could be in actual emotional or physical pain from not doing something fun. Has it really come to this?
Next, I looked at boredom and it got even worse:
The state of feeling bored or disinterested in one’s surroundings, having nothing to do, or feeling that life is dull.
Well, yeah, life is dull sometimes and that’s not a bad thing. Living in a constant state of stimulation is also not a good thing and very taxing on your mind and body. I tried to remember the last time I was bored before Friday's experience and had a very hard time doing so.
Since I was currently bored, I asked myself what I was going to do. The answer was nothing. Yup, nothing. Soon enough something would come up and I would once again be in motion. Was it going to be something exciting? Who knows, but my current void of nothing would be gone and I wanted to take full advantage of it.
First, I sat down. It was uncomfortable. It was all I could do to not get up and clean something, check email, or even take a walk. Yes, normally I would encourage my clients to take a walk in the throes of boredom or to meditate. That’s awesome advice but today I went the other way.
Sitting down and not doing anything was hard at first. Then, I listened to my body. I let my back, hips, and legs settle into the sofa. A thought popped into my mind, and I shooed it away. Soon, sitting was not enough, I readjusted to stretch my legs out over the ottoman and let my head rest back on the highest part of the back cushion. Then, that wasn’t enough, and I stretched out along the full couch, let my arms rest on my stomach, chest, wherever they were comfortable, and just stared at the ceiling. Yup, I just laid there in silence, no television, music, phone, or anything and just looked up. Sometimes I closed my eyes, yes folks, I went a little nuts! LOL
While I was laying there, I started to think about why I was bored, and I didn’t want to shoo that thought away. I was curious why I followed this road today. I wasn't even tired. It certainly was not because I was disinterested in my surroundings. I like my home and there’s plenty to do here (always). While my whole life is not dull, it has dull moments. Thankfully those are few and I was unoccupied and inactive by choice. It was the best decision I made that day.
Choosing to be bored, not plow through, and try desperately to fill the time is not something we are accustomed to doing. It’s not something we have been told is okay and may have been made to feel like we are slackers or lazy when we’ve voiced being bored. When we are bored, we are made to feel like it’s a bad thing but it’s a really important life skill. To be comfortable in one’s own skin and mind, sit with that silence and then begin to move again. It's a very powerful thing.
As I was writing this post, I looked up several quotes about boredom and was really dismayed at the level of negatively attached to it. Here are just a few:
“You’ll find boredom where there is the absence of a good idea.”
Earl Nightingale (1921 – 1989, American radio personality, writer, speaker, and author)
“I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom.”
Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881, Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian, and teacher)
Lighten up Francis! In my humble experience, thoughts along these lines can lead you to feeling inadequate and burned out. Did these guys never take a breather? Were they constantly “on.” If so, I hoped that worked for them because it doesn’t work for me.
If you are bored, perhaps your body or the universe is sending you a message. Perhaps it’s time to unplug for just a little while. There are benefits to being bored, you just need to take advantage of them when they come along.
1. Boredom Can Lead to Rest – Just like I did, take a breather. Being bored might be a sign that it’s time to slow down, look inward or just reset before you move onto the next thing. Give your mind, body, and soul a break to just “be” for a while. You only need to worry about boredom if you can't quite shake it. Long-term boredom could be a sign of something deeper. Here, I'm talking about those brief periods you may experience. If your stretches become long and drawn out, seek the help of a coach, counselor, or therapist to help you work through it.
2. Boredom is a Skill: As I mentioned earlier, being bored and being able to manage boredom is a life skill. We are not built to be moving at light speed all the time. Sometimes, there will be nothing to do. When that happens, you don’t have to find something to do or create something to do. Teach your kids to be bored as well. So many kids cannot be unoccupied. We live in a state of constant free-flowing information and entertainment so there’s always something singing, pinging, bouncing, flashing and children are now so used to it that they become distressed when they are not stimulated. When they complain to you that they are bored, you don’t even need the old standby of "go read a book," just say “okay.” Let them figure it out. Once they realize that being bored won’t actually kill them, it may just be something that benefits them if they use the opportunity wisely. Being able to sit through a church service, sibling school program or sporting event helps kids manage their brain and body. This will come in handy during those future classes with long-winded professors or the endless Zoom meetings of the future.
3. Boredom = Action: Yes, really. After all my talk of using the time to do nothing, I’m also going to say that boredom can lead to creative thought that drives actions and breakthroughs. How do you think you were able to get there? You were bored, you had time to rest, rest led to clearer thought, clear thought led to an idea and an idea led to a breakthrough! Boredom can often be that holding room before a great idea is realized. That idea is there but if you are always busy filling your time and keeping yourself amused, when does that idea have time to take shape? When you find you are a little bored, give yourself a break to bask in the void and you never know what may happen when you emerge.
Earl Nightingale was wrong, BOOM!
So, when was the last time you were bored and what did you do about it? Did you run out and try to do something exciting or did you sit with it a while and see where it would lead you?
The next time you find yourself bored with nothing to do, take the opportunity to get curious about why you are bored and how you can take advantage of it. You never know what may happen.
Take care and be well,