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How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness

How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness

Whether we are talking about athletes, artists, or academics, the story is the same. If you want to fulfill your potential then you must practice a specific skill for a long time with remarkable consistency. Mastery is never an accident.

Somehow, top performers in any craft figure out a way to fall in love with boredom, put in their reps, and do the work.

Of course, whenever “experts” share stories about successful people they often leave out a key ingredient of the story. How, exactly, do top performers fall in love with boredom that can come through repetition? Perhaps more important, how can you fall in love with boredom when you’re trying to build a habit that you know you should do, but you don’t really want to do?

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Let me share two strategies that work for me.

How to Fall in Love with Boredom

First, there is very little hope for falling in love with a habit that you truly hate. I don’t know anyone who legitimately dislikes an activity and somehow falls in love with doing it. It doesn’t add up. It’s very difficult to hate something and be in love with it at the same time (Your ex doesn’t count).

Let’s say you dislike working out, but you know it’s good for you. If you want to fall in love with the boredom of going to the gym, then you have two options:

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1. Increase your proficiency at the task.

Even tasks that you are good at will feel monotonous some days, so imagine the uphill battle you’re fighting if you are constantly trying to do something that you don’t feel skilled at. The solution? Learn the basic fundamentals of your task and celebrate the small wins and improvements you make. With our workout example, let’s say you want to learn how to do a proper deadlift or bench press. Practicing these new skills in the gym can be fun and making tiny improvements each week builds momentum. It’s much easier to fall in love with doing something over and over again if you can look forward to making progress.

2. Fall in love with a result of the task rather than the task itself.

Let’s be real: there are some things that we should do that are always going to be a hassle. Running sprints might be an example. Very few people look forward to setting their lungs on fire.

I find that I have more success in situations like these when I shift my focus away from the actual task and toward a result. Sometimes this is a direct result of the habit I’m trying to perform. Other times, it’s a result that I invent. For example, you can make a game out of not missing workouts even if you don’t enjoy the workout itself. Let’s say you have done two sprint workouts in a row. Your goal is to fall in love with becoming the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts. You’re not worried about how you perform. You’re not worried about if you’re getting faster. You’re not worried about getting six-pack abs or any other type of result. For the most part, you’re not even thinking about the workout. Instead, you’re simply focused on keeping your workout streak alive.

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This is basically the Seinfeld Strategy applied to exercise. Your only goal is to “not break the chain.” By shifting your focus away from the activity you dislike, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to fall in love with the boredom of sticking to the streak (something you do enjoy).

The Power of Patience

I was speaking with a friend at the gym recently. He had decided to change his weightlifting routine despite making good progress with his old program. I asked him why. He made a few excuses before eventually saying, “Basically, I got bored.”

It has taken me years to learn this lesson myself, but I’m starting to believe that a beautiful blend of patience and consistency is the ultimate competitive advantage. Success is often found by practicing the fundamentals that everyone knows they should be doing, but they find too boring or basic to practice routinely.

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It’s like making 120 sales calls per day. There’s nothing sexy about it, but it works. You don’t need to reinvent the fundamentals. You need to commit to them. Do more of what already works. (1)

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.
FOOTNOTES
  1. Thanks to readers Roshni, Sebastian, and Jonathan for suggesting this topic. As always, I love hearing about the topics you’d like me to write about and welcome any feedback you have on how to make my work more useful.

Featured photo credit: Julie Edgley via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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