How To Win The War Against Boredom

bored man holding menu at dinner table
Reading Time: 7 minutes

DISCONNECTING

My friend Joni’s a top executive at a real estate company.

She’s been working herself to the ground. Or her company’s been working her to the ground?

IDK — it’s some real chicken vs. egg shit.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, after some much-needed R&R, Joni decided to pack her weekender bag, hop into her Mini Cooper and head out to the desert. She found a cute little yurt on Airbnb that welcomed her into the dry bosom of Joshua Tree. 

The plan was to spend five days alone, stripped of technology, and to “surrender” herself to the desert.

She would take outdoor showers and gaze at a night sky full of stars. She vowed to unplug and to declutter her mind; to scream a big FUCK YOU to work and take time to reassess her goals in life. She was committed as fuck — even downloaded an app on her iPhone that blocked her from gaining access to Candy Crush and other mind-numbing games.

While on her solo retreat, instead of reading work emails, she would read a fiction novel about horny vampires and the ridiculous humans who worshipped them. No more emails before bedtime, she told herself, which was her version of a “nightcap” — a habit she had developed while working overtime for the real estate company. She would dip almond biscotti into a glass of Baileys and pass out with crumbs all over the bed. 

starry night in joshua tree

RECONNECTING 

But as much as Joni wanted to succeed, she cut her weekend sojourn in half and returned to the bustling city of Los Angeles.

She couldn’t take it anymore, she argued, and restored her iPhone settings to pre-getaway mode, thereby unlocking all apps she had attempted to stay away from. 

The desert silence was “too loud” for her. Her thoughts morphed into a jazz-like cacophony that reverberated in her mind. They deterred her from disconnecting and surrendering to the desert.

Perhaps her job was the chicken in this scheme, after all, laying eggs for Joni to juggle and keep from falling to the ground.

THE COLD-TURKEY APPROACH TO MINDFULNESS

A few years ago, I witnessed a junkie suffering from withdrawal symptoms. She was keening for drugs on the corner of Ninth Ave and 44th Street in Manhattan as if she had just buried a close friend.

Her face was as wrinkled as aged leather; her fingernails outlined in black grime. I thought she would continue aimlessly down the sidewalk, begging other passersby for a “fix.” But moments later, a young man in scrubs emerged from a clinic and directed her back inside.

When we detoxify the body and mind “cold turkey,” the physiological impacts of this drastic shift may elicit our visceral and violent reactions.1

This is the toll we pay on the road to rapid detox.

For all intents and purposes, my friend Joni isn’t a text-book junkie, but her response to rapid detox wasn’t unlike the lady from the clinic. After all, drug addicts and voracious tech consumers have one thing in common:

They’re called “users.”  

When I asked Joni what happened in the desert, she shrugged and said that boredom simply got the best of her. There’s only so much time one could spend gazing at the stars or contemplating the tumbleweeds passing by in the wind.

She was dying to get back to work, she said. “Who cares about pink sunsets, anyway?” 

I do, I thought.

We should all care about pink sunsets.

desert pink sunset

THE SYSTEMATIC APPROACH TO MINDFULNESS

The Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” conveys how technology impacts our social and mental well-being. In this day and age, our need for constant stimuli is extraordinary. And it can be easily satisfied with a plethora of convenient gizmos and gadgets.

This overwhelming reliance/dependence on technology renders us incapable of sitting still with our thoughts, even for a minute.

Somehow, my friend Joni had convinced herself that answering work emails and texting with her business colleagues would prevent the apocalypse. Her work was too vital, in her opinion, and could not be ignored. 

With this mindset, it’s no wonder we often work ourselves to the bone or up to the point at which burnout occurs.

laptops and phones on a desk

HOW TO COPE WITH BOREDOM

This sucks! — because learning how to cope with boredom shouldn’t even be a thing. 

And yet, unless we are taught as children to be ingenious or creative when the iPads are put away, we won’t understand this concept in its most basic form. 

For starters, we can try removing ourselves or others from environments that enable these unhealthy addictions. So if you’re a parent who has to constantly pry their kid’s fingers from the hottest tablet on the market, consider shipping them off to a tech-free summer camp

But keep in mind that relapsing has great potential, too. So if you’re a tech-junkie who flees to some remote, wifi-less location, note that this won’t guarantee your long-lasting or permanent sense of tranquility.

I’ve found, moreover, that when we attempt these great escapes with untrained minds, it’s like charging into a battlefield with a hundred arrows flying our way.

Why skip basic combat training in this war against boredom?

And although some may argue that cold turkey approaches to self-improvement are just the ticket, this study on substance abuse suggests otherwise. Turns out that the effects of rapid detox versus systematic detox are “much less effective and more expensive than [long-form] treatment.”

But, hey, if going cold turkey is your weapon of choice, then by all means: go to town!

But beware: you may only achieve a small victory in a small battle of a much larger war.

YOU SHOULD BE BORED

Boredom is the test we should all strive to pass with flying colors.

In his article, “The Attention Diet,” author Mark Manson argues that there’s incredible value to boredom.  

“They say necessity is the mother of invention,” he writes. “Well, boredom is the father.” Manson goes on to say that “every great burst of creativity or action is inseminated with the wiles of boredom. Boredom will fuck your brain until it comes up with something awesome to do.”

Along these lines, author Manoush Zomorodi argues in her book, “Bored and Brilliant,” that mobile phones, e-readers, tablets and other devices deprive us of boredom. And that’s a bad thing, dear reader.

Because boredom does wonders for our creativity and even helps to reduce stress.

So it’s not that boredom got the best of my friend, Joni. It got the worst of her. And then it dared her to deal with it.

It’s also not that we should make the most out of boredom. We should make the least of it (ie. don’t set yourself up for failure.) If gazing at the stars is supposed to flood you with a sense of euphoria, then why isn’t it working?

Perhaps you should ask yourself: is it fair to expect said euphoria when you haven’t completed a shred of prior mindful work?

One could argue that Joni failed on her mission to disconnect the moment she packed her phone and brought it with her to the desert. After all, enabling techie behavior defeats the purpose, right? Why leave room for temptation?

But I’ll argue that these devices — these belligerents in the war against boredom — aren’t the root of the problem (though they test the limits of our patience.)

We are the root of the problem. Our minds.

And so, to win this war we must pick our battles. We must win these battles.

We can pick and choose where these will take place. We can decide what kind of carnage we wish to inflict upon the enemy.

But let’s be strategic, shall we? (See “Winning The War” below.) Let’s not run towards a thousand flying arrows.

More importantly, we must fight incrementally, over time, until we can finally be at peace with our thoughts.

The true test isn’t leaving our phones behind or shunning distractions altogether. It’s knowing that these things will always be in our lives, ready to satisfy our constant desire for instant gratification.

We must scream a big FUCK YOU to them.

close up of middle finger

WINNING THE WAR

If one good thing came from COVID-19, it’s that it granted us more time.

Time to be with our loved ones.

Time to be with ourselves.

And hopefully, at some point in all of this time, we had exhausted technology so that it became boring to us.

Hopefully, we spent some of this time looking inwardly, in silence, and giving our minds a break from all the candy it consumed over the years.

If you wish to triumph in this war against boredom, you can start by following these steps recommended by the National Health Association. Tweak their list as you see fit, but don’t stray too far!

Step number nine, for example, recommends that you consume less alcohol. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been able to flip some awkward-as-fuck situations with the help of one or two Moscow Mules. So take these recommendations with a grain of salt. Understand your limits and then strike preemptively.

Another great resource is brought to you by the Bored and Brilliant Challenge.

Check it out.

Give it a whirl.

Aim towards victory.

Upon challenging yourself, you will find that boredom no longer torments you…

It reveals who you are.

  1. Hartney, E. (2019, Oct 2.) The Risks of Quitting Cold Turkey. Verywellmind.com https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-the-risks-of-quitting-cold-turkey-21813
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