optimism

"Bored" Is a Dirty Word

There is a certain five-letter word that I think might be the most offensive in the entire English language. It starts with a B and ends in ORED. I use it much more than I should and it's my own personal goal to never say it again.

Being bored is what happens when you live life unconsciously and passively. When you have no involvement on what is going on you will end up bored. However, the key to developing the autotelic personality that seems to derive pleasure out of every aspect of life is actively engaging with everything and anything. When you have cultivated the ability to engage with the very mundanity of life you will never have to use the horrible B-word again.

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book, Flow, he tells the story of prisoners of war that faced terrible conditions and mind numbing isolation yet still remained engaged with their environment and even further developed their autotelic personalities. "They followed the blueprint of flow activities...they paid close attention to the most minute details of their environment, discovering in it hidden opportunities for action that matched what little they were capable of doing, given the circumstances. Then they set goals appropriate to their precarious situation, and closely monitored progress through the feedback they received. Whenever they reached their goal, they upped the ante, setting increasingly complex challenges for themselves." Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes how one of his fellow prisoners mapped the world on the floor of his cell and then imagined himself traveling across Asia, Europe and America, covering a few kilometers each day. Other prisoners have sustained themselves by having poetry translation contests, doing gymnastics, playing chess mentally etc. According to Csikszentmihalyi,"When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces."

I'm guessing very few of you have spent time as a prisoner of war and the adversity you face pales in comparison to Alexander Solzhenitsyn or others who have spent time in prison. If they could find positive outlets for their psychic energy in such harsh conditions, what is stopping you? With all of the technology and connectedness that is available, what excuse is there to be bored? Being bored is a loss of consciousness; being bored is a loss of valuable time.

The next time you find yourself being bored, try one of the following activities or make up one of your own. The possibilities are truly endless.

  1. Pick a topic and dive into it: This article I wrote several months ago is a great place to start. There are an incredible number of websites that provide access to a huge amount of educational resources. Pick something you know very little about and dive into it. Start with a Wikipedia search to get a rough outline of the topic and links to resources at the end of the article. Before long you'll find yourself two hours deep into interesting research and being bored will be forgotten.
  2. Write (or record) a stream of consciousness piece: The key to making this work is not filtering your thoughts at all. Your fingers (or voice) should be the conduit for whatever rattles out of your consciousness. This can be a great way to analyze any hidden emotions or stress. I guarantee that if you do this correctly you will be surprised by at least one thing that comes out.
  3. Brainstorm something awesome: A year from today are you going to be grateful you started that awesome project? Where do you want to be or what do you want to be doing a year from now? Figure out the smallest of steps that will set you on that path and do it right now. You're future self will thank you.
  4. Practice mindfulness: If you're bored because you are doing some sort of mindless task, try truly focusing on it for awhile. Is there anything you can do to make it more tolerable or possibly take less time? Even if there isn't, use it as an opportunity to practice your mindfulness: your ability to be truly present.
  5. Savor the nothingness: Most of us live very hectic and busy lives. If you're bored because you suddenly have no commitments or a hole in your schedule learn to savor it. If it's generally pretty rare for you to have nothing to do then you should do everything you can to truly enjoy it. Not having any immediate responsibility while having the time to refocus is incredibly valuable.

What do you like to do when you're bored? Share some of your suggestions in the comments so I can add it to my list!