On Being With "Boredom"
anonymous Asks ...
If I AM JUST FEELING BORED ALL OF THE TIME WHAT DOES THIS MEAN. I NEVER USED TO HAVE A PROBLEM ENTERTAINING MYSELF BUT NOW ANYTHING I THINK OF DOING SEEMS SO DULL AND I DON'T EVER REALLY HAVE FUN ANYMORE AT THINGS THAT I USED TO DO ALL THE TIME WITH MY FRIENDS? DOES THIS MEAN I AM DEPRESSED? IT REALLY BLOWS TO HAVE A WHOLE DAY OFF AHEAD OF ME LIKE TODAY AND NOT HAVE A SINGLE THING THAT I WANT TO DO WITH IT SO I GUESS I WILL JUST WATCH TV.
Dr. Richard Schultz Says ...
Hello, and thank you for taking time out from your boredom (or your TV watching) to write to me.
I intentionally put the word "Boredom" in quotes here because it is my view that this state of mind and behavior is typically a disguise for other internal experiences. Some might say that boredom is simply what we feel when we have "nothing to do," or as you described, nothing you want to do or feel like doing. I believe that to simply put the rubber stamp of "boredom" on this state and head for the TV may not be doing yourself or your feelings much justice. In a way, it is like part of you is saying "I'm not happy," and the other part is saying "shut up, go watch TV and leave me alone." This can lead to something of an internal battle, which can worsen our mood further, so it is best to stop and just sit with the "boredom" until you have a better handle on it.
The definition of boredom typically includes terms such as "tedious," "dull" or "uninterested." These all suggest that indeed, boredom is a rather negative state (versus a neutral one) that involves frustration, lack of engagement, or a sort of "blunting" of experience. To get a better handle on what is actually happening within you when you feel "bored," you may find it useful to ask yourself some of the following questions:
1. What am I feeling at this moment? Am I feeling mad, sad or scared? Has something happened recently in my life that I may be experiencing one or more of these feelings in reaction to? Am I paying enough attention to what happened and considering how I will cope with it? Has what happened put a damper on my mood? Understanding the feelings underlying boredom may help us uncover what is really going on inside and get us "unstuck."
2. What am I saying to myself at this moment, in regard to myself, my life or my future? Am I blaming myself for being bored or having nothing exciting to do, or am I predicting that this boredom will last forever? Am I thinking about the friends I am not having fun with anymore, or wishing I had more or different friends? Understanding the thoughts underlying boredom may help us uncover the "drivers" of our boredom, and get us "unstuck."
3. Are there activities, projects or ideas I would actually like to engage in that I may be avoiding because thinking about them triggers anxiety, negative predictions, sadness or hopelessness? Identifying behavioral desires that we are not pursuing, and understanding why we are not pursuing them, may help us find pathways to action, thus reducing the boredom and getting us "unstuck."
4. Am I simply so used to getting my stimulation from the TV, computer, other people, food, music, social media, etc., that I have become something of a stranger to myself? Do I not know what to do with myself because I have kind of been ignoring or forgetting myself? If so, can I spend some quiet time just sitting with myself, allowing myself to become curious about what is happening inside, and paying curious and patient attention to what I am experiencing? In this way, the times when there is an absence of "action" or "exciting activity" in your life can be transformed from "boring" into "peaceful, inquisitive, reflective, engaged and accepting." Very often, the practice of Mindfulness, or some other meditative technique can increase your engagement with yourself in a friendly and interesting way, and help you get "unstuck."
5. It has been said that "those who fail to plan, plan to fail." I know it sounds a bit harsh, but it's true that your odds of getting what you want in life are increased if you actually go after what you want. It reminds me of the story of a man who speaks to God every day, praying to win the lottery. He does this day after day, year after year, and doesn't win the lottery. Finally one day, after pleading particularly hard with God, he hears a booming voice come at him from the sky saying, "BUY A TICKET!" This also reminds me of a quote from Confucious, the Chinese poet, who wrote, "while praying for wind, begin to row." So, if this approach appeals to you, sit yourself down with a piece of paper and start letting your mind flow with all of the things you have ever wanted to do, see, feel or experience. And write it down! Don't edit yourself as you are writing, just let it come out of you and onto the page. By identifying and recording your underlying wishes, desires and ambitions, you may begin to devise steps necessary to achieving these, and then you may actually start pursuing them. For sure, this is a great way of getting "unstuck."
4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you will want to ask yourself, "am I actually depressed?" Have I truly lost interest in my life, in social activities, and in myself? Have I been sleeping too much or not enough? Have I been eating more or less than usual, or have I lost or gained weight without trying? Have I been feeling particularly restless or fatigued and lethargic? Have I recently had more difficulty concentrating or making decisions than usual? Have I been preoccupied with particularly negative and harshly critical thoughts about myself lately? Have I been thinking a lot about ending my life lately, or thinking that I might simply be better off if my life were over? If you have been experiencing several of these symptoms more often than not for the past 2 weeks (and you have not recently lost a loved one, experienced another significant trauma or disappointment or stressor, and you have not been abusing alcohol or other substances), you may very well be suffering from depression or another mental health condition requiring treatment. If you believe that you are, I strongly recommend that you speak with someone you trust about this. This can be a parent, another adult family member, a good friend, your primary care doctor, or a school counselor or teacher. One of these individuals can help guide you toward getting the help you may need. Certainly, if your symptoms are so severe that you are preoccupied with the idea of harming yourself, or have made plans to do so, I urge you to take action immediately! If none of the above parties is available to speak with you, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
So, I thank you again for writing to me. I hope that some of what I have written has been useful to you, or at the very least, alleviated your boredom for a few minutes :). Please feel free to write back to me with any additional questions, and to keep me posted on how you decided to deal with your "boredom." Your reply may help others who are struggling with the same problem, so please do share your experience. Another cure for your boredom may be to check out my blog (www.mindset.mobi) or my practice website (www.drschultz.org). I must warn you, however, that reading these may actually worsen your boredom! :-). But if that occurs, I suppose you can improve your situation simply by navigating away from these pages.
I wish you peace, even when "nothing's going on."
Richard E. Schultz