The Power of Boredom

How to use boredom as the ultimate lifehack.

The Power of Boredom | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

I listened to such an interesting podcast this week: Am I Boring You? from the Freakonomics Radio podcast. This is a really great show and I highly recommend it. They aways have interesting content, and they are great storytellers.

Boredom has been a huge interest of mine for a while. Earlier this year I asked: Would you rather be busy or bored? I think it’s a fair question. Would you rather have too much on your plate, or nothing at all? This podcast asks a series of very good questions: What is boredom? Why do we get bored? Does everyone get bored? And, what does it mean?

My takeaway from the show is as follows:

Boredom is an emotion that has developed over time, similar to other instinctual emotions (fear, love, hate, etc.). These emotions are mental triggers that lead us to act. For example, when we are afraid we summon the power to either fight or take flight. Boredom is an emotion that is caused when our brain recognizes that what we are doing has no purpose.

You have mental resources, they’re scarce and they’re really important and valuable, and boredom develops as this signal that mental resources are not being used wisely, they’re not being used on valuable pursuits. -Amanda Markey

You will feel bored when you are in a situation that does not stimulate you, either mentally, physically, spiritually – whatever you wish. When your brain recognizes that you are wasting your time, you will feel bored!

Evolution gave us emotions for survival. So, fear is useful. Anxiety is useful. And even boredom is useful, because you don’t want an organism who just does the same thing over and over again without learning anything. It would be good to equip that organism with an emotion, an urge to move on when they don’t think that they’re learning anything new. -Angela Duckworth

It makes perfect sense. You may be sitting there, wasting your time away, feeling restless and bored and you just don’t know why. It’s because you are not learning anything new! Because you are not challenging yourself! Because you have become stagnant! Your brain recognizes this and it’s trying to tell you something!

The key is to recognize the symptoms of boredom and use it to change your life. The next time you feel bored, you need to stop what you are doing and get out of that situation! Think about what you are doing at that very moment and why you are not learning anything new. And then make a change. Never put yourself in that situation again. Change your attitude. Course correct. Do something that enriches your life, that makes you happy, that makes you feel like you have a purpose.

Do something. Do anything.

Listen to Am I Boring You?  and let me know what you think!

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Would You Rather Be Busy or Bored?

Exploring the space between stress and stalemate.

Boring

People love to say they are busy. Often, it is a self-inflicted state. We do it to ourselves, to make us feel superior, more important, or more in-demand than others. In reality, most of us are not that important at all. So why do we do it? Do we really need to cancel on friends and family, or sacrifice eating or sleeping to finish ‘work’ or attend ‘events’? Or, are you simply packing your schedule to the breaking point so you can ricochet between these appointments only to breathlessly declare how busy you are. You’re not fooling me.

I have been busy before. The kind of busy where you say yes to everything even though you should not. It doesn’t always feel good, being at the mercy of the schedules of other people. What is productive or positive about losing sleep, or skipping healthy meals, or missing workouts, or rain checking quality time with friends, family, or yourself? Nothing is worth it.

Priorities

There are few things that stress me out more than looking at my agenda on Monday, and seeing something booked for every night of the week. That sends a signal to my brain that this is going to be a stressful week. That there will be no downtime, that I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling, and that I’ll have to be “on”, so to say. It means there won’t be time for family meals, or my favourite classes at Goodlife, or even just some time to finish my current book. And there will be feelings of begrudging anger because I did it to myself, by booking things in advance and taking up all my free time.

I have really made a conscious effort over the past few years to plan ahead so I can carve out my own free time. Days where I don’t schedule anything. Where I can either get all my chores finished, or do all the things I couldn’t do during the week, or just to do nothing at all. My motto is “Saying no to others is saying yes to yourself” and I try to push it on to all the people who I hear complaining that they are simply swamped this week, that this month has been crazy, and their weekend is going to be hectic. It’s as easy as planning ahead, allotting time for yourself to do the things you love and the things you want to do, or to simply do nothing at all. The choice is yours.

Now, sometimes it’s not always this easy. And sometimes things pop up unexpectedly and are unavoidable. But if you’re cultivating a habit where you make it a priority to schedule time for yourself, it will not be as draining when those truly busy weeks pop up, and you will appreciate your downtime even more.

Time

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have also languished in the drudge. I have quite literally been bored to tears in those mind-numbing, soul-crushing positions where there is nothing to do but count the seconds as they tick away slowly. Is there anything worse than waste? Waste of your time, your talents, or your skills?

Betty Draper

“Only boring people are bored.” One of my favourite Betty Draper quotes, but I disagree with her. I align closer to Laurie Helgo who said, “I am rarely bored alone; I am often bored in groups.” Just because I prefer a lifestyle that may appear boring from the outside, it does not mean I am a boring person on the inside. I see these as two separate issues. Just as a boring person can have a very full schedule, periods of rest can be either active or passive depending on the person. You can waste your time, or, you can cherish it by reading, writing, learning, or just existing. It is the sweet spot of being alone, but not feeling lonely.

Bored

My advice would be to start small. If you are in the habit of always saying yes to others at the expense of yourself, start by giving yourself permission to say no. That, in and of itself, is a huge step. As you begin to feel comfortable with that, start by picking a few nights each week where you schedule time for yourself. Pick one weeknight, and one full day on the weekend. Say Wednesday night, and Sunday during the day. If your friends want to go for dinner this week, any day but Wednesday is fine. If someone wants to grab a coffee this weekend, you can only do Saturday during the day. Stand up for yourself and put your foot down. Remember, each time you say no to someone, you are saying yes to yourself.

It will take time before this starts to feel natural for you, but once it does you won’t look back! Welcome to your newfound freedom!