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Beating Boredom

Hear the voices in my head, I swear to God it sounds like they're snoring, But if you're bored then you're boring, The agony and the irony, they're killing me, whoa!   - from “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger

Somebody’s boring me.  I think it’s me.  - Dylan Thomas

Do you sometimes get bored?  Bored at work, at home, with your hobbies and life, restless with the thought of spending just one more minute with this crap but unable to come up with a better idea or diversion to relieve that unsettled, fatiguing emptiness of boredom?  Of course you do.  I sometimes do.  Every one of us has wrestled with boredom and will again, it’s simply a fact of our humanity, and the ability to manage life’s occasional tedium constructively is a hallmark of good mental & emotional health.  Nonetheless, sometimes it gets the best of us.  Sometimes we really cannot come up with that better idea, or the demands of our day-to-day existence leave us little time or energy to seek – or even think of – the stimulation we crave. 

We’ve written a lot over the years about such topics as depression, burnout, and low morale in law enforcement and cops, whether job-related or not.  Boredom is not always a component of these but very often can be.  To assume an automatic equivalence would be a mistake, but when boredom deepens into ennui – an utter world weariness marked by complete lack of interest in, and dissatisfaction with, the world around – there may be no real difference.  Such deep weariness is often a component of each.  If this is what you are experiencing maybe a screening for depression is in order.  Remember, true mood disorders are largely medical conditions and can be treated professionally.  Find out.  But ultimately, regardless of whether it’s a clinical issue or simple lack of drive, it’s kind of on you to overcome it – to take the actual steps needed to not be bored – and preferably before it does become a bigger issue. 

The fact is, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, when we’re unable to shake boredom the problem is, more often than not, within us.  To overcome it is within us, as well.      ?- Blaise Pascal

We’re told stress is bad for us, that we should simplify, avoid anxiety and do all we can to remove ourselves from the pressures and worry of life.  And while it’s true unchecked anxiety can certainly hurt us, that excess or unmanaged stress does take a heavy toll on the body, living stress-free is hardly a panacea.  In fact, the absence of challenges can be just as bad for us, leading to physical and emotional malaise that can be as bad for us as that brought on by too much worry. 

Research into neuroplasticity has revealed that much of what we used to think about the human brain – that as far as positive development is concerned, it reaches a state of stasis in early adulthood and then begins a long, gradual decline into old age – is not necessarily true.  It is true that the brains of infants undergo and explosion of neuropathway development early on in life and this development continues at a rapid pace up through adolescence and into young adulthood.  What has been learned, however, is that old dogs CAN learn new tricks.  As we age and gain more experience and learning, our brains continue building and growing, sometimes becoming ever stronger and more agile as we age.  But we need to be proactive; as we settle into life and comfortability and routine we often seek safety over positive growth opportunities that may come with a bit of discomfort.   Security and stability are fine but not if you’re bored as a result.

The life of the creative man is lead, directed, and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.  - Saul Steinberg

The good news about boredom is it can, if you identify and determine to rise above it, serve as the impetus for growth.  Whether at home or work, or in your relationships or hobbies, boredom is a sign.  Humans are hardwired to learn and seek out new experiences, and boredom is a sign the inner drive is not being satisfied.  We also seek comfort and security, drives that can compete with the innate desire for the new, and generate fear of the novel and unknown. 

Finding the balance that preserves the known and comfortable while seeking the new experiences to keep us engaged with constantly learning is vitally important for our mental and physical health.   There is a growing body of evidence that keeping our brains and bodies engaged with new skills and challenges not only supports our emotional well-being but can extend the length and quality of life. 

You all know the bored (and boring) among you.  Maybe they are coworkers, close friends, or family who go through the motions with little left that excites them.  Maybe it describes you?  If they (or you) can identify the boredom then you can also identify how to alleviate it.  Get back in the habit of setting goals; when we were young we had dreams to chase but as we get older the idea of dreaming seems somehow childish or silly.  Why?  We got out of bed each day to shape our future but, now that the future is upon us, is it time to stop thinking of the next accomplishment, or how we can improve either our lot in life or the little corner of the world we have stewardship over?  I hope not.

Set goals, continue dreaming, start working toward them and see if boredom doesn’t dissipate.   - Lou Holtz

Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.  Aristotle