You wake up.
You reach over for your phone, and begin to bombard your brain with artificial stimulus.
Your hands are on autopilot, and so are the responses in your brain. Nothing you see is inherently interesting, but you still go through the motions.
You’re tempted to go back to sleep but a tiny sliver of… is that responsibility?… tells you to wake up instead.
You sleepily brush your teeth and throw some water on your face.
You don’t even bother getting changed. You just wander over to the kitchen and put on some coffee.
Outside the glum little window, it’s a bit overcast and there are some cars going by. It’s a fairly quiet day.
Without thinking, you reach for your phone again, but it seems boring at this point.
The day drones on in a dull, greyed out tone. There are some brief moments here and there, but nothing really happens.
The minutes creep by. The hours miraculously pass by.
A stray thought of “what can I do today” begins to surface… but is pulled back down into the deep, dark, recessed pool in your mind.
Your subconscious tells you: there’s nothing for you to do.
Welcome to life in boredom mode.
What Is Boredom?
Boredom is usually thought of as something we experience in the moment: “I’m bored”.
But it’s more than that.
Boredom is a psychological phenomenon that has been studied, and found to be the intersection of stimuli and attention gone wrong.
The odd thing is this: We live in an amazing world.
How can people possibly get bored?
We have these amazing little handheld devices that deliver everything created ever into the palms of our hands. They also let us talk to anyone we’ve ever met (or never met) in real time, all around the world.
Using those same devices, we can get almost anything delivered to our doorstop.
And let’s not forget the actual world out there – our amazing cities and even more amazing planet.
So why do we still get bored?
Why We Get Bored
The psychological literature tells us that boredom is the result of the wrong mix of attention and stimuli. Sort of like vodka mixed with Red Bull, but in reverse.
If something is too easy or too hard… we get bored.
And nowadays everything is too easy or too hard, because our brains are fried from the excessive stimuli that we bombard it with constantly.
Nothing excites us anymore.
What we see online doesn’t match reality, and this makes Jack and Jill both thoroughly dissatisfied.
Our everyday, real-world stimulation just doesn’t match the things we see through our phone screens. The dopamine threshold in our brains has been raised high.
Our potential is under-utilised.
We end up doing things we don’t want to do.1These things have a “lack of perceived value”.
We end up doing things we don’t particularly like to do.2These things demonstrate our “lack of autonomy”.
We spend time grinding away on things that we have to do but God, is it boring.
What You Can Do to Overcome Boredom
Thankfully, boredom is not perpetual. But darnit is it persistent.
There are some things you can do right now to help.
There are some things you can start doing for the future.
And there are other things you can work on to handle the endgame for boredom – and hopefully banish it forever.
Things you can do right now to tackle boredom
Put your attention on the right things – your purpose, your goals.
Start handling your need for stimuli.
A dirty life hack is to use touch-and-go distractions.
This is where you have a go-to list of controlled consumption activities. Your list of “fixes” so-to-speak.
It could be:
- Reading material.
- Short series (e.g., Netflix).
- Jump-in-jump-out video games.
- Short social media bursts.
- Short news bursts.
- A quick, preferably healthy, snack.
These are small amounts of controlled destructive snacking to meet your immediate stimulus needs.3In the long-term you want to retrain your brain to require less and less stimuli.
Ideally you only want to use these if you are focused the rest of the time.
And they must be touch-and-go, as indulgence in any of these things will just lead to more low-value boredom.
In case of emergency, just take a nap or go to sleep for the day – this will help reset things, at least for today.
Things you can do in the medium-term for handling boredom
This is where you can start making generative changes to handle boredom.
The first thing you want to do is to address your inner game.
Here are some belief structures worth looking at:
- Do you define yourself by what you produce or what you consume?
- Do you seek out stimulus because it is part of your purpose and mission, or otherwise?
- Are you internally or externally referenced?
Remember that it’s on you to make your life interesting – no one else is going to do that for you.
The second thing is to work on the lower level of your productivity stack, especially your energy.
Good food, good exercise and less stress go a long way to keeping you on routine and away from boredom.
The third thing you can do is to schedule in downtime on a regular basis and look forward to it.
It should be something that is not goal-oriented and has no productive value to it, such as:
- A sport or physical activity like rock climbing.
- An immersive video game.
- Just catching up with people you know for the pleasure of it.
This is the idea behind taking a half-day or full-day off a week to just disconnect and fulfil your stimuli needs.4It is also the idea behind taking a few days off every quarter to rest and reset.
The endgame solution for boredom
The endgame solution for handling boredom is to have a strong purpose.
If you are working towards this, you will never be bored. You will in fact, be so busy that you don’t have time to be bored.
As Grant Cardone says:
If you want to meet the devil, have white space on your calendar.
If your current purpose sucks, you need to find a new one. It could just be a shift in how you are looking at things. Or it could be a major shift in your career or business.
Your values should also line up with your purpose.
Some writers like to say that values are just “who you are” and that they don’t matter.
This is incorrect – they do matter.
They can help you, or they can hamper you.
So make sure they help you.
Handling Boredom in Lockdown
The current on-again-off-again lockdown situation is more complex that just boredom, as there are other forced constraints in play.
Everything we’ve discussed applies, with some additions.
- You must have your own routine in place to add structure to your life.
- If you can work from home, go deep into your work and the skills you use to do your work. Now is the right time.
- Use your imagination and some escapism to create your own internal worlds, to compensate for the lack of being able to go outside.
- Maintain your social connections as best as you can. Nothing will ever replace in-person contact, but you can try.
If you aren’t able to achieve your life’s purpose during lockdown, find the next best thing.
This could be downtime, hobbies you want to do, personal projects you’d like to start.
It’s great time to start exercising and eating healthily.
It’s also a great time to pick up skills to improve your talent stack.
Whatever you do, just don’t sit indoors and waste away the weeks and months.
What To Do Next
There is no reason to be bored in today’s world.
Not only do we live in an amazing world, but there are simple and proven steps we can take to pull ourselves out of monotony and boredom and back onto our purpose and living life.
- These things have a “lack of perceived value”.
- These things demonstrate our “lack of autonomy”.
- In the long-term you want to retrain your brain to require less and less stimuli.
- It is also the idea behind taking a few days off every quarter to rest and reset.
Photos by Justin Veenema and Jon Tyson.