Boredom and How to Overcome It

…By dealing with your values

Nobody wants to feel bored.

In a world filled with stimulation, it’s probably easier than ever to turn round and feel what could be boredom. Compared to the never-ending feed of information and news and new gadgets and human interaction across 15 platforms… when things come to a standstill, ‘boredom’ seems to be what fills the void. But is that boredom generally, or just one kind of boredom?

I am stuck in a situation that I feel is irrelevant.

To me, this statement generates the dreaded feeling of boredom faster and more painfully than any other.

Why do we get bored?

Many cite our modern culture, or over-the-top need for stimulation, as reasons we get bored. While I’m sure these are in many ways valid, the worst boredom I have experienced has come about when I have felt a disconnect between what I want to be doing or what I feel I should be doing, and what I am doing. In particular, when the tasks feel like a waste of time — a disconnect between what would be a “good” use of my time, and what I am having to do. What are the reasons this comes about?

Lack of perceived value

If the things we overwhelmingly have to do don’t align with what we really value, there’s usually a problem. Either frustration, perhaps anger or even sadness, as well as boredom. If too many of our tasks in a day relate to things we just don’t find value in, it’s easy to become unsettled.

Repetition or Monotony

Performing the same tasks again and again — tasks that don’t engage us. But particularly if they are predictable and low value, and keep coming up again and again.

Lack of autonomy

If we have no autonomy over what we are doing — say, we have to complete certain tasks again and again for a boss or a family member — we can also start to become alienated from that task. Because it’s not our choice, and choice is increasingly something that we have become aware of and that we desire.

Lack of awareness

Without an understanding of our own feelings, we can end up saying, “I’m bored,” without even really realising if that’s the driving emotion. This is tricky, because building self-awareness takes time. It takes focused attention. And if we’re feeling bored, that tends to come with restlessness and an inability to focus in.

Desiring stimulation

I hate to use the word ‘personality’ here, but some of us are simply the kinds of people who want or need more stimulation than others. Those of us who do need to be continually challenged, inspired, renewed by activity, etc, tend to get bored more easily. There are conflicting views about whether intelligence makes you more prone to boredom, or less prone to boredom.

The gap between potential and reality

When we feel as though our potential is being under-utilised, or that we could be doing something better suited to us, a gap opens up. Between what we are doing and what we feel we are capable of. Feeling as though we are making use of our skills, our interests and our talents is really rather important for many of us to feel fulfilled.

What’s so bad about feeling bored?

Boredom, as stated above, isn’t necessarily the same as depression. But it does affect our mental health and our behaviour in various ways.

Boredom tells us something about our behaviour, our emotions, our values or our expectations.

If something is amiss, that’s our signal to embrace change.

Am I more likely to get bored?

According to this interesting piece from The Guardian, there are a few kinds of people who are thought to be ‘more susceptible’ to feeling bored. This includes ‘frustrated dreamers’, ‘thrill seekers’ and those who have experienced trauma. On the latter of these:

Dealing with boredom

So, you’re bored. What do you do about it?

Keep track, and set a reminder

When you’re bored, try to notice that is what you think you feel. Awareness is the start of being able to accurately track and respond to the kind of boredom you are experiencing. Write down the following, as close to the time that you notice the feeling as possible:

  1. What are you literally doing right now?
  2. What do you feel? List emotions, even if you’re not sure what else other than ‘bored’
  3. Give each of them a percentage out of 100% — how strongly do you feel that emotion?
  4. What are your thoughts?
  5. Give each of them a percentage out of 100% — how strongly do you believe them to be true, right now?

Determine the cause of the missing percentage

If you think a thought like “I am worthless” or even “My job is worthless”, determine what makes up the missing percentage. If you believe this thought is 90% at the time of writing it down, for instance, what makes up that 10%? Where does your doubt in it come from?

Determine your values

What do you actually want? This is such a huge question, but really vital.

Set yourself the challenges

The important thing about dealing with boredom is not simply trying to fill space with passive activities, if the boredom is chronic. Eastwood describes boredom as akin to ‘quicksand’ — the more you thrash around from thing to thing, the worse it is. We sink into boredom even further.

Use the opportunity

Boredom, at the end of the day, is a warning sign. Something is amiss, so here’s your chance to dig into it and make a change. In the words of Philosophy Professor, Andreas Elpidorou at the University of Louisville:

Emerging fiction author, London Writers Award 2020. Working on my debut novel, rep’d by Kate Evans @ PFD. Podcasting on Author Not Present.

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