“Live the mystery by beginning to perceive what average eyes fail to notice.”
– Dan Millman
We live in a world of incredible opportunity: we can travel like no other generation in history; we can communicate with each other in more ways – and with a greater ease– than we were capable of even 10 years ago; and we can access a seemingly infinite amount of literary, educational, artistic, and recreational content at virtually anytime we want.
Yet, many of us still complain that we are bored – maybe now more than ever before! Perhaps we encounter boredom when we are sitting around the house, despairing that there is “nothing good” on the television. Or maybe it sneaks up on us when we are stuck in a meeting (or lecture) where the content of the session is not as engaging as we expected.
Our tendency is to react to these unpleasant experiences by either avoiding them or by compensating for them in some way. This can lead us to overeat, shop for entertainment, abuse video games, or even resort to more serious addictive behaviors. But, these endless attempts to make our external experiences more arousing, stimulating or “satisfying” never lead to long-term solutions to the problem of boredom.
So next time, instead of seeking a temporary fix to your persistent restlessness, turn to these mindfulness techniques to calm your mind and embrace your current state of being:
1. Stop and Take Stock of What You Are Feeling
Recognize what is actually happening within you, which is simply that you are in an aversive mental and emotional state. Pay attention to what is going on internally and externally, without reactivity or judgment. Start by taking a few deep breaths, and simply paying attention to the feelings that accompany this experience of boredom. Where are you feeling this experience in your body? Jon Kabat Zinn likes to say that the mindful experience of boredom is actually very interesting! If we simply take a moment to pay attention, we will realize that boredom is simply a discomfort or aversion to our current experience – that is, we want our experience to be different than what it is. This mindful realization is the first step to overcoming this unpleasant state of mind.
2. Discover the Opportunities That Are Available
Once we recognize what is actually happening, we can investigate the true cause of our experiences. In virtually all circumstances, our negative experiences are caused by false core beliefs about our reality. The truth is not that there is “nothing to do.” We can verify this by asking ourselves what the real opportunities are for us in the present moment. If we think creatively about our present reality, we discover that the possibilities are endless. We then realize that the reality of the situation is not that there is nothing to do; it is that we are not exercising our innate imagination to provide ourselves with something to satisfy our desire for excitement.
3. Retrain Your Mind
Sometimes, realizing what is really happening, and recognizing that it springs from a false core belief about reality are not enough to eliminate boredom. After all, boredom has an emotional element that can be challenging to overcome. So, it is helpful to have some reset buttons to change your mind. A gratitude practice is one such reset button. List 10 things that you are grateful for, writing a sentence or two about why you are grateful for each one. This exercise is the antithesis of shopping for new things and experiences. Go the extra mile and turn this list into an email to your kids or loved ones. Or practice generosity by reaching out to a friend who is undergoing some challenges and needs some encouragement. Acts of gratitude, generosity, and kindness are easy to complete and help us shift our focus from what we can’t do to what we can.
Mindfulness not only helps you accurately assess your current reality, but it also allows you change it. These three simple practices can transform a boring afternoon into one that is supremely satisfying for yourself and potentially uplifting for others.
John Allcock is the Co-Founder and Director of Mindfulness at Sea Change Preparatory, a trailblazing academy that regularly integrates the practice of mindfulness into it’s curriculum. His new book, FORTY THINGS I WISH I’D TOLD MY KIDS, shows adults and children alike how to use mindfulness to become more compassionate, resilient, and confident.
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