I don’t believe boredom is caused by a lack of things to do. I don’t think that it is even caused by a lack of things you want to do. Rather I’ve found boredom is usually mislabeled to disguise a different problem. This is why most attempts to stop boredom don’t work, because they don’t address the real problem.
Here are some tricks I’ve found to help expose the real culprit behind a feeling of boredom and get back to your normal self:
- Figure out what you really want to do. Boredom often masks a problem where you want to do a particular activity but something is preventing you. This could happen when you want to watch your favorite television show, but the cable is out. When this happens, the first step to killing boredom is to simply recognize the activity that you truly want to be doing.
- Nuke procrastination. Procrastination can cause boredom if there aren’t any distractions available to take your mind off your task. If this is the case, try one of these tips to eliminate the wait and get busy again.
- Get your compass straight. Boredom can just as easily be caused by a lack of direction. Spend a few minutes identifying your goals, desires or passions. Sometimes simply bringing up these can get you motivated again.
- Socialize. Get out and meet some friends, or make some new friends. Boredom can often disguise a lack of social energy. Even if you can’t see how to meet new people in your area and your friends are busy, go to an online forum that shares one of your interests or pick up a phone.
- Put off your boredom. Take a look at your to-do list. Commit to doing just one tiny task on that list before you find something fun to do. Often putting off your boredom for a few minutes by being productive can kick the feeling.
- Learn something new. Perhaps what you need is some mental stimulation. Here are some fast things you can do to start learning something new:
- Read a book
- Research a topic your interested in online
- Write a short story
- Pull up photoshop (or download GIMP if you don’t have it) and practice your artistic skills.
- Cut off distractions. Boredom can happen when you are doing a low value task, like random internet surfing or watching television shows that don’t interest you. Distractions can be a black hole, sucking you into a prolonged state of disinterest. Turn off the television or computer and start moving around until you find something better to occupy you.
- Fill schedule holes. Too much time is often worse than no time at all. It can be difficult to adjust to the boredom when you suddenly have a schedule vacuum. I often find myself getting irritated during holiday periods where my normally busy schedule empties. Spend a few minutes to fill schedule holes to prevent boredom in the first place.
- Become your own cheerleader. I’ve been bored due to a temporary lack of confidence. Who wants to work hard towards a goal when you’ve been dealt an upsetting blow to your belief that you will succeed? Take some time to review your wins and high points so that you can restore some confidence and keep moving.
- Meditate. This has become my default activity in cases of extreme boredom. Check out the popular article I wrote for ZenHabits about how to do it (and why).
- Journal. Open up a word document and just start writing. This works similarly to meditation, although it is a bit more active and less imaginative.
- Add a new challenge. If you find yourself consistently bored, this usually means you have a section of time where you don’t have an activity that meets your needs. Add a new goal, challenge or hobby to fill up the time.
These are just a few of the methods I use regularly when I have to combat boredom. But these are just suggestions. The best way to combat boredom is to understand why your bored. I’ve found that boredom usually has one of these five root causes. Know the cause and your closer to a cure:
- Procrastination – You aren’t bored, just procrastinating. Figure out what tasks you are putting off and nuke the procrastination.
- Lack of Useful Energy – Boredom isn’t the same as exhaustion, but it occurs when you have an abundance of one form of energy but are exhausted in the energy you would find useful. I’ve had this happen when I can’t get myself to keep working, but I don’t feel physically tired. Find an activity that will use the energy you have an abundance of. This could mean doing something physical after spending all day writing or doing something creative after an entire day of churning out boring code.
- Schedule Gaps – Your schedule has suddenly changed and you don’t have the flurry of busyness to protect you anymore. Sometimes the answer is to quickly add more tasks. Other times you need to settle into the discomforting quiet and use this time for some reflection.
- Environmental Obstacles – Waiting in line, taking a long plane ride, forced away from an internet connection for a week. This kind of boredom usually just requires you to be creative until the situation changes.
- Lack of Motivation – You don’t have the motivation to do what you should do to eliminate boredom. In short periods, this problem can usually be overcome by using a simple motivation trick. In longer periods, this needs to be addressed with some serious reflection, goal setting and reestablishing your priorities.
You can use the first tips I suggested for overcoming boredom, or you can devise your own once you know the root of the problem. What are your tips for overcoming boredom?
Image courtesy of flickr