When you get bored, what do you do? If you’re like the average person, you attempt to assuage your boredom with a more interesting or absorbing activity, such as…
- Watching the television
- Surfing the web
- Reading a book or magazine
- Calling a friend
- Busy work
- Engaging in an addictive behavior
- Or whatever your favorite flavor of excitement or distraction
On the surface, most of these activities are not inherently bad. However, if you have a mindfulness practice, you’ll want to examine the urge for the distracting behavior when it arises. If you discover you’re hoping to avoid boredom, try to stop in your tracks. The more you give in to the “boredom = distract yourself” pattern, the more you reinforce it. In other words, you’re actually strengthening the potential for increased boredom in the future.
So how should you handle boredom? As soon as you feel a strong and compelling urge for escapist behavior, check in with yourself to see if you’re experiencing boredom. If so, take these steps:
- Bring mindful awareness to the boredom.
- Allow boredom just to be for now.
Now, explore the boredom!
- How strong is the boredom from a scale from 1 to 10 (1 = very little, 10 = extreme)?
- What does boredom feel like in your body (physical sensations)?
- What thoughts are going through your mind?
- What does boredom feel like emotionally?
- Do other emotions lie under the surface of the boredom (e.g., restlessness)? If so, how strong are these other emotions?
- Do the sensations and emotions morph over time?
- Does your present experience have a color or other visual aspect? A texture?
- Notice any desire to get rid of your current experience. Try not to give in to it.
- Sit with your core emotions/experiences until they pass.
Insights into Boredom
From your explorations, you will likely discover that it’s easier to sit with boredom than with resistance to boredom.
You may also find that what you thought was boredom was not actually boredom. It may have been restlessness. Or a craving for excitement. Or a symptom of some deeper emotion, like sadness, loneliness, or depression. Or perhaps some other deep-seated feeling that is personal to you.
The more you allow yourself to sit with the feelings of boredom and its roots without acting on them, the less often they will visit you in the future. And when they do visit, they will be weaker and dissipate more quickly.
Mindfulness is a practice of being present with whatever is arising at this moment. With mindful awareness, boredom can no longer get its hooks into you and compel you to seek out numbing, distracting, or pleasure-seeking behaviors.
Mindfulness = Freedom!