The Evils of Partial Boredom

Two days ago, I argued that boredom is the enemy of success and productivity. Instead of trying to discipline yourself to push through boredom, you should be eliminating it all together. Boredom often masks a deeper fear of failure and risk that forces you to lead a safe, but uninteresting life.

One reader, however, pointed out the value of temporary boredom. Forcing yourself to be temporarily bored, can push you to take more creative and interesting actions. I completely agree. My article was a war against chronic boredom, the dull pain of a dull life. But acute boredom, can actually be useful if it pushes you to engage in truly worthwhile pursuits.

Half-Boring Pursuits

Watching television that you aren’t interested in is a half-boring pursuit. It isn’t interesting, but it also isn’t completely boring. It is, for example, more enjoyable than staring at a wall for hours. However, by removing some of the boredom, it also prevents you from engaging in pursuits that you actually care about.

In this case, actually staring at the wall and not watching television might be more valuable. By facing complete and total boredom, you have more incentive to stop and do more interesting things.

Working at a so-so job doesn’t give you pressure to find better work. Working at a job you truly hate, or being completely unemployed creates a vacuum in your life strong enough to demand action. Finding truly interesting pursuits often means, in the short-term, trading half-boredom for complete boredom.

Eliminating Distractions

Every few months I go on some type of distraction purge. Just a month ago, I committed to limiting my internet and email usage to only 45 minutes a day. In the past, I’ve done similar purges on television watching or computer games. I stick with the change for a month, after which I usually switch back to a more moderate level of usage.

The first noticeable thing when you take on one of these trials is the complete and utter boredom. If you’re used to watching 2-3 hours of television a day and it’s suddenly eliminated you aren’t sure what to do with your free time. This boredom isn’t chronic, evil boredom, but the acute boredom that forces you to rethink how you spend your time.

Taking on trials like these open up your schedule, and often result in seeking more interesting ways to fill the gap. Using time I freed up with these methods encouraged me to join Toastmasters, take dancing classes and read more books. Once the trial finishes, the new, more interesting, activities stick and the old ones get dropped.

Go from Partial to Complete Boredom

Partial boredom is similar to the mathematical concept of a local maximum. A local maximum is like a small hill next to a mountain. In order to climb higher, you first need to climb down. And often the way to go from partial boredom to complete engagement is by taking a short trip through complete boredom.