There you are in the room that is your mind, sitting there … bored. That is a big problem. Boredom breeds mischief. And that mischief, which can produce real messes, only relieves the boredom for a moment. You drive at a hundred miles an hour: as soon as you park, the boredom returns. You engage in the wildest sex: two seconds after orgasm, the boredom returns. Said the nineteenth-century novelist Stendhal, “This is the curse of our age, that even the strangest aberrations are no cure for boredom.” Hasn’t the problem gotten even worse in this age of trivia?
What, then, to do?
Let’s add a tactics table to the furniture in the room that is your mind. Picture the sort of table used in war rooms where military commanders move around their ships or troops and prepare to do battle. Your tactics table has drawers out of which you pull tactics to deal with challenges. The instant you’re bored, you pull open the drawer labeled “boredom,” you remove the five tiles with reminders engraved on them, you lay them out in front of you, and you prepare to battle boredom.
The first tile reads, “Do not fear boredom.” This reminds you that boredom is a psychological state and that it will pass. Experiencing a little boredom is no tragedy and no reason to overthrow your life. Call boredom uncomfortable, disconcerting, but not the end of the world. Turn the tile over. There’s a quote from Bertrand Russell: “Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist since half the sins of mankind are caused by fear of it.” You smile. No, just because boredom brings with it a whiff of the void, you aren’t obliged to overdramatize the moment.
The second tile reads, “Boredom isn’t an indictment of life.” Boredom is just a bit of a meaning shortfall, a mini meaning crisis. As a student of meaning, you know that meaning comes and goes. That it has vanished now is not so startling. You simply turn to your list of cherished life purposes and decide where you want to make some meaning next. And, who knows, maybe this bit of boredom is a necessary precursor to some excellent creative activity. Turn the tile over. There’s a lovely reminder from the artist Marianne Mathiasen: “I have noticed that after a day of boredom I get more creative, so perhaps our brain needs a rest from time to time.” Hold boredom that way, rather than as a huge negative statement about life.
The third tile reads, “Boredom motivates me.” You turn the tile over. There are two helpful quotes. From the sculptor Anish Kapoor: “It’s precisely in those moments when I don’t know what to do, boredom drives one to try a host of possibilities to either get somewhere or not get anywhere.” From the artist Gustav Klimt: “Today I want to start working again in earnest – I’m looking forward to it because doing nothing does become rather boring after a while.” You remember that working regularly and productively dispels boredom. You take this bit of boredom as an excellent reminder to return to your plan for your life.
The fourth tile reads, “What is the boredom masking?” Is it really boredom or is this fit of boredom masking some other feeling like resentment or rage? Read the two quotes on the underside of the tile. From the theologian Paul Tillich: “Boredom is rage spread thin.” From the novelist G. K. Chesterton: “A yawn is a silent shout.” If it isn’t boredom, if it’s something very different, get that challenge named. You know what to do next, don’t you? Open the tactics drawer for that challenge, remove the tiles rattling around in there, and start battling the resentment or the rage.
The fifth tile reads, “Best me.” This reminds you that you may not yet be the person you need to be in order to handle psychological challenges like boredom effectively. Indeed, maybe your formed personality habitually creates boredom, in which case you will want to employ your available personality to move in the direction of an improved you. Turn the tile over. Hear the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “Boredom is the root of all evil—the despairing refusal to be oneself.” When you become your best self, boredom might just vanish as an issue.
You may want to create an actual tactics table and put together sets of tiles for dealing with the many challenges that we are obliged to handle in life. Whether or not you create an actual tactics table, make use of the metaphor when some unwanted state like boredom arrives. Say to yourself, “Off to the tactics table!” Feel like a great commander about to engage with a formidable enemy. Smile a little—and then go do battle.
This lesson is part of the Your Best Mind Ever series. In this groundbreaking program Dr. Eric Maisel teaches a brand new way to get a grip on our minds.