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Eight Ways to Optimize Boredom

Eight Ways to Optimize Boredom

Last week we covered why boredom can be a good thing. Read it here.

As a reminder, boredom is an ancient cue that tells us to do something else.

In our past, that something else was often productive. We’d hunt, gather, mend our shelters, make tools, etc.

Today we have an easy, effortless escape from it. We impulsively reach for our phone, watch TV, mess around on the computer, etc. The average American now spends 12 daily hours engaged with digital media.

Our collective lack of boredom is now linked to burnout, stress, anxiety, and, as we learned last week, a creativity crisis.

Cell phones are the most obvious boredom-stealer. They’re with us 24/7. People instinctively pull out their phone whenever they feel the slightest twinge of boredom. We’ve all noticed this in public.

The other day when I arrived to give my 8:30 am lecture at the university where I’m a professor, I did a quick headcount. I counted 83 students on their phone and 6 doing something else.

We all overdo our phone screen time. Hence, there are thousands of articles and tips on how to use your phone less. But these articles would be better if they included a larger point.

When people use their phone less, they often just swap it for another screen. They take an hour off their phone screen time, get bored, and add an hour to their TV screen time. This is like replacing cigarettes with chewing tobacco.

I spoke to Joe Rogan about this. Here’s the clip.

So let’s deal with our boredom in a way that won’t end up driving us more crazy. Try one of these nine methods to leverage the power of boredom.

  1. Do nothing. Go inward and let your mind wander. Focusing inwardly is a mental rest state that restores and rebuilds the resources needed to work better and more efficiently. Mind wandering is critical to get shit done, tap into creativity, process complicated information, and more.
  2. Take a walk and leave your cell phone at home. I mentioned this last week. The benefit: a mental reboot and more creativity, according to researchers at the University of Utah.
  3. ​Spend 20 minutes in nature. Research from the University of Michigan found that dose of nature most efficiently dropped peoples’ stress hormones.
  4. Read a literary classic. I recently finished Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1 (the complexity of the name correlates with the complexity of the writing) by Marcel Proust. It was a strange and trying book. But it had enough brilliant scenes and lines that I’m glad I read it.
  5. Think of your death. I covered the benefits at length in The Comfort Crisis. In short: It can alter your behavior in a way that improves your happiness.
  6. Declutter. Clutter is associated with procrastination and higher levels of stress. After that, read this story to learn how to stop the powerful behavior loop that leads you to buy so much in the first place.
  7. Learn a new skill. Anything. Newness forces into presence and focus. This is because we can’t anticipate what to expect and how to respond, breaking the trance that leads to life in fast-forward. It can even slow down our sense of time, which explains why time seemed slower when we were kids. Everything was new then, and we were constantly learning.
  8. ​Do the 2% Warmup. They help offset many of the tightness and movement problems we get from our modern, sedentary lives.

Things Not To Do

Boredom is neither good nor bad—how we use it makes it good or bad.

Beyond mindless screen time, the most common way boredom goes wrong is when it drives us to eat mindlessly. Boredom eating is a huge driver of unintended weight gain.

Here’s a food rule that can help stop mindless eating and help you avoid excess hunger.

Why It Matters

Steve Jobs once said, “I’m a big believer in boredom. . . . All the [technology] stuff is wonderful, but having nothing to do can be wonderful, too.” Some of our finest thinkers all believe boredom was the secret sauce that kept them sane, led them into interesting new territory, and spurred their best ideas.

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Sponsored by GORUCK

When I decided to accept sponsorships for this newsletter, GORUCK was a natural fit. Not only is the company's story included in The Comfort Crisis, but I've been using GORUCK's gear since the brand was founded. Seriously. They've been around ~12 years and I still regularly use a pack of theirs that is 11 years old. Their gear is made in the USA by former Special Forces soldiers. They make my favorite rucking setup: A Rucker and Ruck Plate.