Psychology tends to focus on the highs and lows of life - chasing your dreams, or your demons. But what about the boring bits? Filing papers, folding clothes, sitting on the bus, eating cereal. How can psychological strategies help us to make the mundane more interesting?
Make it meditation
At its essence, meditation means paying attention to what is happening right now. It busts boredom by turning down our focus on our thoughts and turning up our focus on our sensory experience of the world. Minds like to worry and to judge - the statement ‘I’m bored’ is a negative judgement about what is happening right now - so refocusing away from the mind will remove the sensation of boredom. For example, if you’re washing up, move your attention to feeling the heat of the water on your hands, listening to the different sounds made as you scrub and pile, looking for the shadows cast as you move items from one side of the sink to the other, etc. Meditation might sound boring in its description but it’s actually calming to be free of thoughts, as well as enlightening to realise that much of what our minds chatter on about is not helpful and can safely be jettisoned in the pursuit of appreciating the present moment. Meditation can be done anywhere at any time, so during a boring task is as good a place as any to practice.
Learn from it
If you can’t get your mind to shut down with meditation, how about making it work so hard it doesn’t have time to be bored? Boring times such as housework or time on the bus can be improved by listening to podcasts, the news, books or music, learning and practicing a new language (Oh Schau, eine Katze*) or thinking about creative projects or planning for the future (I planned out the basic ideas and outline for this post while washing the dishes). And don’t forget the time honoured tradition of using a boring seminar or lecture to work on your sketching abilities.
Make it Count
What do you really value in life? If you know what’s important to you, you can recontextualise and redesign boring activities to make them more meaningful. Do you value nature? Perhaps you need to do your running outdoors instead of on a treadmill. Value friendship and connecting with others? Maybe you should call your mum or talk to your flatmate while you wash up. Love your family and want to support them? Use cooking dinner for them as an opportunity to demonstrate what they mean to you. Working out what you value in life and then bringing it into the life you have now, rather than waiting for your ‘real life’ to start, is one of my favourite things to do with clients. So if you’re reading this and thinking ‘I have no idea what I value’ or ‘I can’t have what I want in the life I have now’ then give me a call. It’s too much information to put into a post, but there are ways and means to transform your life, and nothing external needs to change.
Be Grateful for it
Feeling bored can be unpleasant, but being bored also means something wonderful: you have a pretty awesome life. Being bored means you’re not afraid for your safety. You’re not being abused. You’re not in any great physical, mental or emotional pain. Your basic needs have been taken care of – you’re not dying of hunger or thirst. Your worries about the future do not consume you. Neither do regrets about the past. You’ve got enough education and intelligence to have free brain space while you complete everyday tasks. Try thinking about how great it is to actually have a house that needs cleaning or to actually have a job to commute to and see if you can shift your emotional state from bored to grateful.
Embrace Your Boredom
Try using last week’s technique – Expansion – with your feelings of boredom. Make room for them. Observe them like a curious scientist. How does ‘bored’ feel in your body? What thoughts are going through your mind? Notice how the feeling of boredom fluctuates during the task and what kinds of thoughts increase and decrease your boredom.
Be sure to try out all the techniques above. Like all feeling states, boredom is a state which comes and goes. Different techniques will work better for some tasks, or at some times. The more techniques you have, the less chance you have of becoming bored with your boredom busting technique.
(* 'Oh Schau, eine Katze' is German for ‘oh look, a cat’)
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.