If you’ve puttered around the internet anytime during the past decade or so, you’ve seen the rise of people willing to give you advice on how to live holistically or live in a more peaceful frame of mind when the world is anything but at peace. Well, one of the more popular adages that gets bandied about in those circles is the concept of allowing yourself to be bored.
The phrasing changes based on the individual sharing it, but it essentially encourages anyone interested in improving their attention span, offsetting their anxiety, or simply embracing #slowliving to allow themselves to experience boredom from time to time.
Thankfully, due to my eventful year that forced me to take a beat and recuperate from a major surgery, I found myself exploring more ideas connected to the #slowliving movement. And here’s what I’ve learned:
I don’t get bored.
That’s right. After some serious introspection, I realized that I haven’t been bored since I was 18 years old.
Why 18? Well, that’s when I went off to college and quickly learned how to fill my “free time” with the things that I loved without needing my parents' car or money in order to do so. Between classes, extracurriculars, social activities, and just vegging out, my adolescent complaints of “I’m bored” simply went away.
Ever since then, I’ve never felt as if my time was just waiting to be filled with something interesting or productive or fascinating, because now, it was up to me to make that happen. And make it happen I did.
But I suspect that the proponents of the “let yourself be bored” adage had a different perspective in mind. I believe they intended to communicate the idea that we – those sad little humans – may often feel so compelled to fill up every waking hour of every day with tasks, to dos, hobbies and infinite scrolling that in the process, we have lost touch with the concept of simply letting ourselves be.
And to that I say, … well … you may have a point.
Although I have no problem with taking a break to scroll through social media to play catch-up on funny IG Reels and TikToks or slogging through a long multi-step reorganization project of a closet or new home office layout, I do struggle with the fear of not using my time wisely. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I have an honest fear of not realizing my potential, to the point where the thought of knowing what I’m capable of not being fully actualized leaves me feeling a wee bit down.
So although I’ve not been bored in almost 30 years, I have struggled with the idea of just letting myself be without any sense of guilt or judgment.
This past June, I was told I couldn’t work for 4 weeks after my surgery. And I was genuinely worried that I would be bored. Sure, I’m an avid reader, but I don’t want to read all. day. every. day. for 30 days straight. Even now, that idea sounds like a miserable time.
But what I learned during that period was that even though my recovery was limited in terms of physical activity, I had countless projects, tutorials and time-wasting fun activities to keep me from any sense of boredom. However, now I wonder if it would've been so bad if I had been bored?
Putting aside the guilt over not deep cleaning my kitchen, implementing my new filing system in the office, and the finishing jigsaw puzzle that still haunts me to this day, what would be so bad about feeling bored?
Allowing myself to get lost in thought certainly hasn't been a problem for me. I often embrace it actually. Shadow work is my default setting, and as you know, I’m a firm believer in the idea that there is no such thing as “overthinking.”
So why did I stress over the possibility of being bored when it was unlikely that I ever would be?
Like some, I think the answer lies in the concept I mentioned before. There are people – like myself – who don’t fear being bored. Instead we fear not realizing our potential. We tell ourselves that the time we have is finite, so let’s make the best of it with the resources we have. But if we waste that time and forego those resources, we will no longer have an excuse to justify not reaching our full potential.
And there it is.
For ambitious folks like myself, boredom conflicts with our need to have an excuse for not achieving our goals and not fulfilling our potential. And if you’re someone who perhaps relies on goals and self-actualization to cross the “finish line” of a successful life, an unhealthy fear of boredom can persist even if you don’t recognize it.
(Did you just hear that? Right now, a bunch of INTJs and Enneagram 3s are cursing my name.)
Whether the online pseudo-psychologists intended for us to uncover this golden nugget of self-awareness, they are still undoubtedly right. As a society and as individuals, we need to allow ourselves to be bored.
And not just when it’s cold outside and we don’t want to battle rain or snow. Not just when our bank accounts are low or we’re saving for a big purchase. Not just when there’s nothing on the horizon that piques our interest or our closets are perfectly organized just how we like them.
I think for some of us, boredom will help us let go of that obsessive need to craft ourselves into the epitome of personal perfection. Boredom will allow us to cope with the idea that simply being is ultimately enough. Boredom will remind us that our value does not come from our actions, our thoughts, or our perception of time well spent.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be bored again, but I think I no longer fear the possibility either. Whether I’m relegated to another 30 days without strenuous activity or simply sitting in an airport waiting for a delayed flight to taxi up to the gate, I know how I spend that time is nothing to be feared or judged. And more importantly, it has nothing to do with my value or my potential.
Boredom is OK. And giving myself the space to be bored – even if my mind won’t ever truly let me be – is OK too.