Take Power Back from Boredom

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I just read I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black. This cute children’s book explores a child’s adventure with boredom and can easily put a smile on anyone’s face.

This book was an inspirational reminder of the strength and power that comes from feeling bored. It echoes the words of Dr. Alicia Walf, a behavioral neuroscientist. She reminds us that there is power in boredom — it fosters creativity and helps us explore ourselves and the world around us.

Being bored, is not good or bad — it is how we react to boredom that matters.

An Idle Mind Is (Not) the Devil’s Playground

We have all heard this saying before: “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” This implies that when we do not have something to do, we are going to turn to trouble.

With this thought in mind, countless families schedule as many activities as they can for their children. The overscheduled child then becomes the overscheduled adult, worried that they may lose control when they feel bored. They are feeding into the fear of these negative cultural messages.

Many people have become afraid of stillness. They see it stagnation and it triggers a negative emotional response. This leads to overscheduling, increased cortisol levels, and frequent feelings of stress. We can easily become boredom phobic.

While the idea of sitting quietly and turning inwards can feel scary. Leaning into boredom can help us explore new ideas and experiences.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people around the world experienced true boredom. We were all stuck inside with nowhere to go. This amazingly led to bursts of creativity and exploration. People who had never baked before were suddenly masters of sourdough. Families returned to “old school” entertainment and started playing games and building puzzles with each other.

What Do You Do When You Feel Bored?

While boredom can be detrimental to some people, like those in the early stages of addiction recovery, for many people, it can be a time of self-reflection.

When you are bored, ask yourself:

How do I feel about my boredom?

What do I find myself doing when I am bored?

Are my boredom actions hurting me or hurting my long-term goals?

Do I need to take a health-conscious action?

Do I need to do anything at all?

If you are having trouble identifying your emotions, you can use the feelings wheel. This exercise can help you distinguish between true boredom and other feelings, such as isolation or anxiety.

Boredom may also be a signal that you are lacking meaning, enjoyment, or excitement in your life. In this case, you need to consider what meaning or purpose means to you. Look at the extracurricular activities you participate in. Do they help you feel creative, socially connected, or more in-tune with yourself?

A great book on boredom that I have enjoyed reading is Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom by psychologists James Danckert and John Eastwood. They affirm that boredom isn’t good or bad and challenge us a “call to action” for self-reflection.

Another good resource on boredom that I particularly liked was a Hidden Brain podcast episode called “Even Astronauts Get the Blues: Or Why Boredom Drives Us Nuts.”

Boredom can build Frustration Tolerance

The skill of building frustration tolerance is invaluable when dealing with boredom. Sometimes people may say they are bored even when they still have several items left on their to-do list. They are avoiding these tasks because they cannot tolerate the frustration that comes with them. This inability to tolerate frustration and other negative emotions is evident in school when a student says their schoolwork is boring or when a worker finds themselves bored with their job.

To help overcome those feelings of frustration when dealing with boredom, I recommend mindfulness. When you feel boredom coming on, try practicing a mindfulness routine. This can help you learn to sit with your emotions and develop a tolerance for frustration. Mindfulness can also help us enjoy delayed gratification and understand that there is no shame in being bored.

Are You Bored in Your Relationship?

Feeling bored with others does not mean that you are boring or that the other person is boring either. You may find yourself thinking (or saying out loud), “That’s so boring. You are so dull. I am so bored.” There are certainly times in a relationship when you may feel bored.

Being bored in a relationship can sometimes be an expression of intimacy. We get so comfortable with another person, that nothing feels new or exciting. We do the same things over and over and there is no creativity. This Bustle article highlights some of the reasons why people get bored in relationships.

When you start feeling bored with a relationship, try some of these tips:

Share your feelings with your partner (try the feelings wheel) and start a habit of healthy communication.

Ask yourself what you feel is missing from the relationship.

Consider visiting a therapist to help you work through your emotions.

If you enjoy reading, there are some books you can try that examine boredom within a relationship. These include Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life or The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship.

Are You Bored with Your Job?

While some people have exciting, fulfilling jobs, many people suffer through the doldrums of what they consider a boring job. Think about what we have covered so far — frustration intolerance, no creativity, no excitement. How can these ideas translate into your professional life?

One of the keys to alleviating emotional disturbances, like boredom, at work, is to pay attention to it. When you feel bored on the job is this a signal that you need to challenge yourself? Do you think boredom is letting you know you need to change your path?

For many people, the pandemic caused them to reexamine the value of their job in relation to their life. This has led to what many economists call The Great Resignation. People want to feel valued and respected and feel like they are making a difference.

If you are feeling bored in your job, I enjoyed reading this article from Forbes, called “Bored in Your Career?” This article challenges readers to question themselves and find new ways to fulfill their potential, whether that means staying with their current role or finding something new. Being mindful and self-aware is crucial at this stage.

Another good resource is the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. This book suggests that following your passion is not a guarantee of finding happiness or the answer to handling boredom on the job.

Therapy is always a valuable resource to dealing with any challenges or emotions. It can help you improve your personal experiences and explore new areas in your life. It is also a great way to capitalize on your free time.

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Mental health professional. Helping you find your path, navigating experiences of stress, PTSD, life changes, work and relationships.

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Shaun Ali, M.S.W., R.S.W.

Shaun Ali, M.S.W., R.S.W.

Mental health professional. Helping you find your path, navigating experiences of stress, PTSD, life changes, work and relationships.

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