Lately I’ve been cultivating boredom.
If someone had told me when I was eight years old that one day I’d make myself bored on purpose, I’d have laughed at them. I could never understand why my mother always said that being bored is good for you.
When I came of age, though, I saw how easily I could fill my life with activities and never take time to see if I was happy with my direction or needed a change, whether I was even living my life for myself. The more activities, the more full my schedule, the less bored I was—which often meant less space for reflection.
Busy-ness is seductive. Being on the go, always talking with people, keeping up with social media, always doing one more project, developing one more idea, completing one more task…these seductions are all wonderful distractions from our lives.
I used to think my life was these activities. Certainly I’ve grown through all the things that keep me busy; I’ve loved travelling, working on exciting projects, and engaging with creative endeavours. But the trouble is that whenever I’m very busy, my activities start driving my life rather than augmenting it. And once I lose control of the steering wheel, it’s easy for other people to start driving my agenda with their own demands and activities—I no longer have a way north.
The solution hasn’t been, for me, to quit everything. I love the things that fill my calendar too much to leave them behind entirely. But I have started actually courting boredom. I work to regularly keep my schedule open for a few evenings in a row—no meetings, no dinner dates, no art openings, no nothing. I don’t turn on the radio or the television; I leave my laptop closed. I don’t even pick up a book. And then I wait. I listen. I watch: What happens? What comes to mind when I allow my thoughts the space to wander?
The most amazing things pop up; I recently found myself having a conversation with me as I will be ten years from now. I asked my 2027 self whether she’s happy, and what I need to do to ensure her life is how she wants it. (Career coaches need to have these conversations with ourselves so we can help our clients do the same!)
Other thoughts visit me too—things like, “Hey, wasn’t I supposed to start writing a book? What was the chapter I left and never came back to?” And also, “I have these ideas I keep working over and it might be good for me to write them out.” I wonder about people I used to know, reflect on articles I have read, remember I must reach out to a friend who looked unwell last time I saw her.
When my daily life is rushed, I just never get around to thinking these thoughts. It’s only in moments of boredom, of inactivity, of silence, that these things drift into my consciousness again.
Whether we act right away on our quiet reflections or choose not to, we can start taking control over our schedules and our lives. We can say no to activities, choosing only the ones that bring us joy. Once we’re comfortable with the idea of being bored occasionally, we can be more at peace, and don’t have to keep busy in order to avoid our own company.
Do you also cultivate occasional boredom, and benefit from the insights and reflection it brings? Has that quietness brought up any big thoughts for you lately? Or do you chafe just at the thought of being bored? I would love to hear about your own relationship with boredom—whether you make time for it, what it offers you, and how it affects your life.
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