Boredom and feeling too busy are the same problem. Some people claim I’m being too ambitious trying to strike down chronic boredom and busyness at the same time. I’d argue that the only way to take them out is simultaneously.
The problem stems from how you manage your attention. Both boredom and busyness stem from feeling there is a lack of quality in how you focus your attention. Boredom is feeling that there are too few high-quality ways to spend attention. Busyness is forced boredom. This means that you feel there are high quality ways to spend attention, but your attention is being stolen from you before you can use it.
Feelings of boredom and busyness are subjective. You can’t look out in the world and claim it is busy or boring. To say these feelings are subjective is obvious, but that misses a key point. The real problem is quality.
Being engaged, neither busy or bored, happens when your attention is focused on high-quality activities.
You can probably remember times when you were completely engaged. This could have been working on a project you were passionate about. Spending time with your family, sky diving or vacationing under the sun. Why were you engaged in these moments and not in others?
A likely reason was because those experiences had a higher quality. They allowed you to enter into an immersive flow state, in which your entire consciousness was devoted to the activity.1
So how do you improve quality in your experiences? I believe there are two major ways you can do it, externally and internally. If you are chronically busy (not just being busy, but actively disliking the busyness) or bored then you’ll need to tackle external and internal factors that contribute to these negative feelings.
1. Plan Ahead – Schedule your life to ensure there aren’t huge gaps or work overflows later. This can mean scheduling high quality experiences if you find yourself frequently bored. It can also mean dividing large projects if you find yourself chronically busy.
2. Win-Win – If you must perform an activity you think has low quality, you’re going to feel bored. Find ways to reorganize your life so that jobs, chores and duties can become interesting high-quality experiences.
3. Prioritize – If you don’t manage time you’ll never have enough of it. There are always more things to do than you have time for. Get your values straight so that the highest priorities are handled first and your life doesn’t get overtaken by the unimportant.
4. Put Quality of Experience First – It is easy to get caught up in external goals that don’t fulfill their promises. Focus on goals that will give you a greater quality, not just a bigger paycheck or more status to brag about.
5. Escape the Motions – Habits are a part of your life, but don’t let them become the only thing. Break out of your patterns if they aren’t giving you what you need.
Most of the ways to improve your quality of experience and conquer boredom are internal. Remember, it’s not just what you do, but also how you do it.
6. Build an Inner World – I’m not suggesting you create a complete rift between yourself and reality. But also realize that if you can’t find quality in your immediate surroundings, you can find it within yourself. Solving internal problems, reviewing knowledge, coming up with new ideas, creating stories or even planning for the future are all areas you can explore in the mind without any external stimulus.
7. Seek Quality in the Now – What are you doing right now? What can you find that has value for you? Seeking quality right now allows you to find it even if your environment is bare or overloaded.
8. Resistance is Futile – Busyness and boredom could also be described as symptoms of resisting what is. Fully accepting whatever situation you are in and making the most of it is one way to conquer the feelings. Resistance is something that can’t be done half-way. Either completely push away and seek quality elsewhere, or accept your surroundings and find it here.
9. Unchain Yourself – A lot of mental unease is caused because you feel forced to do something. You have to go to work. You have to study for your test. You have to do this or that. Realize that you don’t have to do anything, just accept different results. Freedom is in your mind.
10. Stop – Boredom and feeling overloaded are both patterns. They are mental spirals you run on yourself that loop back on each other. If you just interrupt yourself for a few minutes and think more deeply about the problem you can often come up with a good answer independent of these suggestions. Stop and conquer.
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