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Boredom Can Be Good For You

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Boredom Can Be Good For You

Being bored will help you be better at what you do
Big yawn

    There are a great many books, web sites, and training courses today more or less dedicated to the idea that being bored is a major sin, for which the only cure is to find ways to be busy and productive every waking moment. People who follow this idea are constantly on-the-go — any feelings of boredom quickly smothered with yet more activity.

    At work, at home, at play, each moment must be filled with things to ward off the slighest possibility of being bored. As a society, we’re over-stimulated to the point of mania, like hyper-excited children in those few moments at a party before it all goes wrong and everyone starts crying. I suspect the rise in ADHD isn’t only due to eating strange chemicals in the diet; we’re training ourselves to require continual distraction, reducing our attention-span to less than a few seconds before we’re bored again.

    It used to be only teenagers who sighed, “I’m so bored!” Now almost everyone acts as if not having something truly exciting to do every moment is either the first sign of senility or — much worse — positive proof that they, and their careers, are gone, past it, over the hill, on the way towards oblivion.

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    Yet boredom is, in reality, crucial to any ability to be truly productive, let alone effective. If you’re flat-out busy and engaged all the time, you may feel important, but the reality is different. It’s those who are constantly distracted with activities who are most likely to be headed towards a nasty let-down.

    Busyness is a great excuse for becoming tired and repetitive

    The trouble is that people who are afraid of being bored soon become too busy to stay effective. In all their rush and haste to stay active, they have no time left to think about what they are doing, let alone add any new tricks to their repertoire. Besides, just sitting around in some classroom learning stuff is so . . . boring. I want to be out there, in the thick of the action, doing things.

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    Of course, being so active makes you tired, but resting is boring too. With the help of a lot of coffee, some superficial excitement, and a great deal of sheer determination (plus youth), you can get through on remarkably little sleep. And once you get into the habit of keeping your mind racing, ready to leap into the next crisis, you’ll find it hard to sleep anyway, until you are so exhausted your body rebels and knocks you out. Who cares what this is doing to you, physically and mentally? That’s years away, whatever it is. Plenty of time to worry about that when you’re old.

    It’s not true, sadly. A large proportion of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived: a situation that is known to have serious present and long-term ill effects on both body and mind.

    How boredom will help you towards success — if you let it

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    Being bored turns your mind inward and encourages reflection. When you’re rushing about, there’s no time to think. When you’re bored, there’s nothing else to do but think. The fashion today may be to admire action heroes and denigrate the power of the mind, but fashion never made anything right. With time to consider what you’re doing and why, you may just come up with some useful questions about the direction you’re headed in. We may be living in an age full of self-regard, but that doesn’t mean people spend much time in introspection. It’s more like they keep looking at themselves in a mental mirror, seeing how they look on the surface. They don’t go any deeper.

    Boredom is nearly always essential to creativity. It isn’t true that creativity is mostly sparked by having a specific problem to be solved. It’s far more likely to arise because the person is bored with the way something has been done a thousand times before and wants to try something new. That’s why new movements in technology, the arts, and even public life usually start when there are still plenty of people polishing and refining the current approach. They don’t begin because what is being done now is totally played out; they begin because a few people decide that’s boring and start playing around with how to change it.

    Boredom stimulates the search for better ways to things like nothing else does. How many improvements in processes and ways of producing things have come about because the people doing the job are so damn bored with going over same thing again and again? My guess is that it’s the single biggest spur to working smarter, far exceeding cost-cutting or abstract ideas of ‘constant improvement’. It’s become a truism that vast amounts of creativity and improvement are available from simply asking those who do some job how they might do it better. Those dull places where processes never change, and people spend their working days with minds numbed by boredom, relieved only by gossip, get that way because the people in charge are control freaks who can’t stand that anyone might have an independent idea.

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    Boredom is an essential step in falling asleep and getting enough rest. Watch almost any animal. If they’re stuck somewhere with nothing to do, they go to sleep. It’s the natural thing to do. We do it too. People usually can’t sleep because their minds are too active. They’re thinking about what they will do tomorrow, worrying about what they did today, or mad because they ought to be asleep and aren’t, and lying here wide awake is so boring. If they would only give in to being bored — relish how dull everything was and how there was nothing to do or think about — they’d be asleep in a matter of moments. But their minds are trained to seek constant stimulation. Even when they fall asleep, those minds fill the night with dreams of frantic activity. No wonder they wake up feeling tired.

    The next time you find yourself saying, or thinking, that you’re bored, be happy. You’ve just been handed a gift you can use in any of these ways. If you do, you’ll find that being bored is sometimes the very best state to be in.

    Photo credit: Jessica Lim

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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