Dealing with Boredom: Part I
Boredom has significant benefits, but my biggest problem with boredom “as an experience” is that all its benefits operate under the surface. They enrich your soul in the long term, but you can’t feel them unfolding. As best, boredom is experienced as a neutral experience. The rest of the time, however, boredom feels unbearable. It makes you listless, and you find yourself consuming pointless data or meeting people whose company you don’t really enjoy. I understand all this.
Over longer periods, boredom transforms into an excruciatingly empty experience. People who have a low threshold for boredom are more prone to addiction and depression.
Coupled with the element that certainty and convenience are guaranteed factors in the world today, the feeling of boredom sets in as an unexpected irritant. It’s certain, however, that boredom is unavoidable.
In this part of the course, I am going to discuss useful methods to deal with boredom—in terms of perspective (the way we experience boredom) and action (what we can do about it).
Instilling the Art of Listening
Do you remember the last time you had a great conversation? I want you to make a quick list of the people with whom you’ve had the best conversations. Do it now before reading further.
Now, scan through your list and answer this: How many of these people are good listeners? The answer is probably all of them.
The truth is, everyone loves talking, but the most loved people in a group are the listeners. I’m not saying this because popularity should be your aim (although that’s a worthy extra to have). I want you to invest in listening because it’s a good way to develop tolerance of spirit.
What is listening? Listening is the skill of hearing someone with the intent of giving them your complete attention and being present for them. When you listen, you strip down the inherent need to react out of impulse or judge what’s being said. When you listen, you look at non-verbal communication, such as body language, and the tone of the speaker. You hear without being distracted—no internal monologue, no drifting away in your head, no scrolling through your phone.
When you listen to another person, when you truly listen to them, you’re stepping out of a self-serving existence. You engross yourself in an activity in which the purpose is not solely your own release, but another person’s emancipation. You’re participating in a cause bigger than you. It’s also an exercise in increasing your attention span, another issue we struggle with.
Sure, listening an acquired skill, and it can be quite boring sometimes. But just like boredom, it’s an experience worth acclimatizing to.
Listening to Yourself
How many of us show our true faces when we’re dealing with the world? I have friends who sound very different when they’re at work. We all have versions of ourselves: a work version, a party version, etc. This is completely fine, if that works for you. My husband, for example, exhibits a distinct “cold demeanor” when I call him during a client counseling.
Sometimes, the lines get blurry and we internalize these versions. This sets a strange expectation that everything should be proper and sensible inside our heads too. But the mind often houses uncomfortable, distressing, and shameful thoughts, which disrupts the propriety of things. That’s when we start disconnecting with our inner feelings.
I often catch myself thinking, “I don’t want to think about this right now.”
I also tell myself, “Just let it go, Sonia,” teeth clenched and all.
Mark Nepo, author of 7000 Ways to Listen, suggests a brilliant technique to listen to ourselves. He suggests us to think about a time when we weren’t seen or heard by another person and how that made us feel.
Personally, not being heard made me feel that my emotions didn’t matter. Those moments have impacted my self-esteem, making me feel like a lesser human.
The important question here is this: Are we doing the same thing to ourselves? Aren’t we, by not being good listeners to our inner thoughts, also flagellating our self-respect and dignity?
Another brilliant thought experiment suggested by Mark Nepo is to have a conversation between two versions of yourself. This is how he puts it:
“Describe the face you show no one and the face you show the world. Without judging either, begin a conversation between the two.”
By listening to yourself, you encourage the real you to be more assertive.
But how does listening to yourself tie in with boredom? It does on deeper levels. People avoid rumination and a free mind because they don’t want to talk to themselves. You need the external distractions because you’re reluctant to inhabit your inner world. This approach is unhealthy.
Practicing the art of listening is one of the best ways to deal with boredom. It channels the wandering mind toward a valuable purpose that is ultimately life-changing.
“To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.” —Mark Nepo
In the next lesson, I will talk about the art of being present and how it helps us deal with boredom.
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