One of the largest problems I see in many people – especially in my generation – is how easily bored they are, and it appears to only worsen with time as well. In this post I’d like to share a few practical ways that I’ve successfully used – and still use – to overcome boredom and even see it as a good thing.
Every day I see people going to great lengths to avoid it; constantly checking their smart phones for notifications on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.
There is an expression of slight confusion and anxiety on people’s faces, as if they don’t quite know what they are running from. They are running from boredom.
I honestly don’t think most people realize how much they dread boredom.
Are you one of those people who will procrastinate boring tasks?
Sometimes this is done with good intentions, a lot of procrastination is – but just to make it clear; what’s going to change after you’ve watched TV?
Will you be more or less likely to face reality and deal with the boredom then?
There is a saying that what you dread and fear you must face – the sooner the better. I really believe that.
But it can be challenging to face boredom. Let me illustrate how serious the problem of boredom actually is.
How it Works and Builds up Over Time
Boredom is the physiological and neurological state of low stimulation. In plain English this means that you’re not focused – your concentration is low.
This is the root problem that has to be fixed, and surprisingly few people understand this.
When people habitually engage in any form of instant gratification, such as:
- Social media
- Internet use not directed by a specific objective
- Video Games
- Junk food, candy and soft drinks
They are receiving quick bursts of stimulation (E.G dopamine) to their brains. This makes them feel good temporarily, but to keep it up they must engage in it more and more because it quickly drains away, leaving them feeling empty, unfocused, and demotivated.
The key point is that you really shouldn’t engage in any type of instant gratification aimlessly.
The reason why you really should not aimlessly engage in instant gratification is because it conditions your brain into reacting to the cue of boredom by relieving of it in the quickest ways possible.
Quick fixes are rarely helpful or healthy in the long-term, and this is no exception.
Another way of looking at it is to picture yourself running a marathon by trying to sprint as far as you can and soon collapsing from exhaustion, as opposed to keeping a steady pace throughout the entire run. Of course, the marathon represents your life.
What Are The Implications?
We are fast becoming the most easily bored generation of people who have ever lived.
Not only is there a preconceived notion that fulfillment and enjoyment are things to be gained temporarily by engaging in some short-term activity of instant gratification, but also, engaging in instant gratification makes this very notion true over time as a result of getting the brain addicted to this type of behavior.
In other words, we become addicted to the point where we need to keep ourselves constantly plugged into social media, snacking on things, watching TV, playing computer games, and so on.
Aimlessly engaging in instant gratification can be compared to borrowing against yourself in this moment to pay interest for it in the future. Instead of fixing the root problem you are furthering it. And the root cause, as previously stated, is lack of focus.
The ideal scenario would be to quit engaging in instant gratification cold turkey, but the smarter and more achievable goal is to gradually reduce it every day a little bit at a time.
If you teach your brain that it can get its stimulation and feel good from watching Youtube for hours on end then it won’t see the benefits of putting in the hard work you really should be doing on your leisure to reach some important goal.
When you are working towards a goal you are delaying gratification and that gives rise to increased dopamine levels in your brain, making you feel stimulated. But, it takes a longer while to accomplish this nice feeling, therefore your brain will automatically prefer the instant gratification method – especially if you are used to it.
Fear of Boredom: How To Fix It
When you feel bored you must not give into instant gratification as a means to keep yourself propped up and stimulated. You must actually face the boredom head on.
This sounds easy, but it’s not very easy when you are heavily addicted.
You need to start interpreting boredom for what it is – an indicator that your focus is low. It is an indicator from your brain and body that usually means one of two things:
- That what you are currently doing or thinking about is not interesting to you.
- That your brain has been overcharged and needs to take a bit of a break to replenish itself.
Scenario number two is likely to be correct in 80 % of the cases.
Now that you are interpreting boredom in a different way and seen it for what it is, you can proceed to face it and gradually fix it at its root.
The way to fix the root cause of boredom is to become more focused throughout your day. This is no quick fix and might take a while. This is done by:
- Gradually lessening the amount of instant gratification that you engage in.
- Engaging in activities that are conducive to activating your brain and help strengthen your focus.
To do this I recommend that you use these…
4 Practical Ways to Overcome Boredom the Correct Way
In time your will face boredom with ease, you will have overcome the conditioned reflex to escape it and it will be an easy thing to just sit down and take a timeout and come back fresh.
Actually, if you are consistent in following these steps you will drastically reduce the amount of boredom in your life as a result of becoming more focused.
In the beginning it can be challenging because you feel dissatisfied, agitated or tired. This is happening because your brain is protesting to the new behavior and wants you to continue doing what you have done before. The brain is trying to remain in homeostasis by acting up in many nasty ways.
But if you make up your mind to sit still for a while and do absolutely nothing you will soon feel the dissatisfaction drop away.
That is the first practical way to overcome boredom: to sit still and do nothing until you can face the boredom and feel it dissolving.
Here are the other three practical ways:
Activate your brain
… And you will thank yourself for the rest of the day.
It is impossible to become bored if you are focused. Therefore you need to activate your brain as soon as the day starts in order to set up that pattern .Your brain and body are naturally inclined to want to maintain its baseline state.
It is important to point out that reading or writing are good ways of activating the brain and getting focused, but watching TV is not. Watching TV requires very little active participation by your brain and body. Reading and writing on the other hand stimulate your concentration and imagination.
Take reflective breaks
Realize that boredom is a cue and be mindful in recognizing it as such by taking a break where you get yourself a timeout to replenish. I recommend meditation, going for a quick walk and grabbing some fresh air, taking a power-nap, or just thinking introspectively for myself. The last one is great when you are on public transportation.
Again, I want to point out that sitting in front of a screen does not count as a real break. You will not recover your focus – if you have run out of it – by watching TV.
Eat healthier foods
It could also be that your diet is way off and you are not getting enough protein to produce the necessary amount of neurotransmitters needed to keep you focused. However, this is unlikely for most people.
In my experience terrible diets are more common in North America than Europe.
If you eat plenty of eggs, broccoli, and spinach this problem will be solved.
Conclusion: Simplicity is Sophisticated
If you engage in a lot of instant gratification and multitask you will increase your brain’s threshold for stimulation, making it harder for you to remain focused for longer periods of time. This will lead to many bad things such as becoming less productive and more easily bored.
The better condition your brain is, the less outside stimulation and flashy things to prop you up with are needed. I’m not saying this from some standpoint of looking down on material objects or cash, I’m merely pointing out the obvious: he who can live happily with less is more sophisticated than he who cannot.
He who can stay consistently focused is not bored.
The ‘best’ form of stimulation that is most worthy of pursuing is the internally generated one from activating your brain – not the external and ephemeral one you get from chasing after instant gratification.
The reason I say this is because by learning to activate the brain you are little by little conditioning your brain to become stimulated in general.
Simply put, your brain and body start producing more pleasurable neurotransmitters and you become a more engaged and happy person without needing ten thousand different things all the time. You don’t have to check your iPhone’s notification every five minute to feel like you are alive.
Summary & Call to Action:
- Realize that boredom is an indicator of lack of focus and that you need to activate your brain more.
- Face the boredom. Sit still, don’t squirm around looking for stimulation – you are only furthering the problem by doing so.
- Take reflective breaks. TV does not count.
- Eat better if you know that your diet is suboptimal. Eat eggs, spinach and broccoli.
QUESTION: How do you deal with the fear of boredom; do you have any ideas or methods to share?
About the Author: Ludvig Sunström runs the practical self-development blog Startgainingmomentum where he studies different areas of knowledge and puts that information into actionable advice. He has also written the book Breaking out of Homeostasis. Apart from self-development and writing, he is passionate about learning, reading, philosophizing, eating healthy and hitting the gym. Connect with him on Twitter and Google+.