6 Tips for Coping with Boredom.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for coping with boredom.

Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.” Little things make us happy, and little things can drag us down.

One “little thing” that can be a source of unhappiness is boredom. Sitting in traffic. Doing laundry. Waiting in a long line at the grocery store.

I’ve found that the more I focus on my boredom or irritation, the more I amplify that feeling. Here are six strategies I use to “re-frame” the moment; even if I can’t escape a situation, by re-framing my emotions about it, I can transform it.

Put the word “meditation” after the activity that’s boring you. (This is my invention.) If you’re standing in a slow line at the drugstore, you’re doing “Waiting in line meditation.” If you’re cleaning up after a party, you’re doing “Cleaning meditation.” Just saying these words makes me feel very spiritual and high-minded and wise.

-– Dig in. Diane Arbus wrote, “The Chinese have a theory that you pass through boredom into fascination and I think it’s true.” If something is boring for two minutes, do it for four minutes. If it’s still boring, do it for eight minutes, then sixteen, and so on. Eventually you discover that it’s not boring at all. In my life, I’ve found that if part of my research isn’t interesting to me — for example, studying the Dardanelles campaign for Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill — I read a whole book about it, and then it becomes absorbing. The same principle holds when doing boring or irritating tasks, like washing dishes.

Take the perspective of a journalist or scientist. Really study what’s around you. What are people wearing, what do the interiors of buildings look like, what noises do you hear? If you bring your analytical powers to bear, you can make almost anything interesting.

Find an area of refuge. Have a mental escape route planned. Think about something delightful or uplifting (not your to-do list!). Or maybe review photos of your kids on your phone; studies show that looking at photos of loved ones provides a big mood boost.

Take your time. I realize that when information bores me, like trying to understand a change-of-service notice from the cable company, I try to rush through it. This makes things worse, though, not better, because I feel not only bored, but also impatient and confused. Now, when I have to make sense of something that’s both boring and bewildering, I deliberately slow myself down and take all the time I need. My resolution to Put myself in jail is helpful.

— Most important: always have something good to read!

How about you? Have you found strategies to deal with boredom?

* I love the internet! My friend Delia moved to London, but through the wonders of technology, I can read her blog — Real Delia, “finding yourself in adulthood” — and keep up with her from a distance. She just moved, and I got a big kick out of her post about Living with mess: radical acceptance.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 43,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I love the thought about connecting with wisdom through the waiting-in-line meditation, etc. And I relate to digging in and taking a journalist’s perspective. If I’m bored, it’s usually because I haven’t found the kernel that I can relate to or the thing that makes it interesting to me. I keep plowing ahead, looking from different perspectives and usually I find the one thing that helps me connect to the rest of the info. I’m rarely bored or uninterested for long.

    • Helene

      I liked what you said about not having found the kernel that you can relate to. I have a friend/co-worker who can be so boring I nearly fall asleep, listening to her descrbing, in detail, something about her second cousin’s bother-in-law’s 7 siblings, their dates of brith and occupations. I have lunch with her almost every day. This doesn’t happen every day…but when it does, I start wondering “why is this happeneing to me?” I like the concept of finding the kernel that I can relate to. I am going to look for that….I am curious to see if I can find it. Thank you.

  • pamwalter

    I can’t remember the last time I was bored. Who has the time? http://www.satisfiedsole.com

  • clearlycomposed

    I recently did my own post on this very subject! I love how you handled it here too. The theory of moving from boredom to fascination delights me to no end. 🙂

  • Playing engaging music makes most things a lot more fun 🙂

    Truly, deeply being present and mindful helps both with the meditation and the digging in suggestions you make. If you focus on the sensory details of each moment as you live it when washing dishes or waiting in line, letting other thoughts come and go, it really changes the experience.

  • mem5435

    I absolutely love this entry, and your “meditation” advice was particularly poignant for me. I just wrote an entry about my first meditative experience, and I’ve discovered how powerful this practice can be. I love embracing boredom sometimes, because it provides a chance to meta-cognate or reflect upon daily thoughts and actions. But then again my caffeine intake also leads to stir-craziness a little more often that I’d like it to.

    Visit my blog at:

    http://borntorunfouragreements.blogspot.com/

  • I typically use the technique you refer to as having “an area of refuge”. When bored, I will reflect on some fun things I’ve done recently with my son (also documented on my blog) or I’ll plan for our next thing to do together.It’s my own mental mood boost without having the need for pictures. It also further strengthens the relationship that I have with my son. Growing closer as a family and getting a mood boost – no boredom there!Thanks for the tips!Adam (AKA “Dad”)

  • I find that since I took up knitting socks I am rarely upset about waiting in line/for the train/at the doctor’s office because it just means more time for working on my project. Some people say they can’t knit because they don’t have the patience for it. I (and many other knitters will back me up) that I have patience because I knit.

  • I love this entire post, because I was sitting at work doing something completely mundane and boring, and I thought “It’s Wednesday – Tip Day! I am going to read ‘The Happiness Project’ to break up the monotony”

    I agree with Sprite – I don’t knit, but I love to crochet and do counter cross-stitching. These are projects that you can fit in a big purse and pull out anywhere.

    I also always make sure I have some kind of book (either audio- or visual) in my purse.

    My motto when buying a purse: will it fit at least 1 book and a ball of yarn??

  • Sandra

    Many years ago I read the book ‘Wherever You Go There You Are’ by Jon Kabat-zinn, I have never felt bored since. It is all about being mindful, quite appropriate for this month!

  • When I’m bored, I take about a minute of so to think of how wonderful my life is going to be. I’ll be waiting in line and thinking to myself, this is perfect time to envision what my perfect day will be like, or what it will be like when I become a best selling author on the New York Times List. And not only does that help me destroy some of the boredom, it makes me feel happy about where my life is going.

  • I will have to try your “dig in” – I usually avoid that. : -)

    I have five things that work for me while waiting.
    1. I carry a small leather bound calendar with me, and have written special thoughts and passages in it that help remind me, who I want to be – so I pull it out and read them. Relaxing and enlightening!
    2. Jot down notes in my calendar – calls I want to make, what I did on certain days, review appointments, etc.
    3. Clean out my purse if I am sitting.
    4. Meditate, easy to do, nothing to bring or carry, just some deep breathing and a bit of concentration. I bring my awareness to my body and breath.
    5. And, just as you suggested, I also try to bring reports or articles with me, which I haven’t had time to read and get started on those. Paperbacks and magazines are also great.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestions.

  • Michael

    I’ve saved this quote from a friend’s Facebook feed to look at and to remind me that being bored is a problem with my perception and not the activity:

    “”OK, I need to write this out carefully. While at Clark, I befriended a Bennett School Gurdjieff freak named Margo H. Whenever I used to say I was “bored”, she used to hit me, HARD about the head, and say that it was ME who was boring. Initially I thought she was just being an ass, calling me boring, but what her little neo-Sufic self was telling me was that I had framed my situation as “boring”, when in fact I could get up off my glutes and DO something that would not be boring. She was right. I was the one who was BORING, I owned that boredom. Unless you are in jail or laid up with broken legs in a hospital, there is no excuse for “I am bored”. It means you have constructed your life along certain lines that are repetitive. BTW: that was the only wisdom I ever got that has lasted from Margo, who was quite intellectual and a killer player of Hearts. I have no idea where she is now, but THANKS, Margo!””

    • Lambertbarb

      Thanks Michael – One of my favorite quotes is “boredom is an insult to one self

  • I love this topic, Gretchen, and your tips are great. And did you know that studies have shown that boredom is a precursor to creativity? I just discovered that and wrote it about it in March. And when I did, I realized that I actually have a weird boredom ritual. If I just allow myself to give into it, I’m usually gifted with new ideas and new ways of thinking. Who knew?

  • Helene Chabot

    I can’t go to bed tonight, just wildly flipping around on the internet and intermitenly playing solitaire. I am going to my high school reunion next month, it is one those “all year” reunions for the very small school I went to. For me, it is my 53rd reunion. I had a hard time talking myself into it because it was a small school and I was pretty and popular and prom queen, etc. Now, I am not only old, but I am very overweight. I keep trying to figure out how to survive it. I was thinking, God, if you had one thing you could tell me to do, while I am there, what would it be? Flipping around some more on the net, I went to your blog. I don’t expect to be bored (although I am sure there will be pleanty of that) I just want to do something other than think everyone is making fun of me….and there it was….”put meditation in front…” I can put meditation in front of everything that happens…this can be my meditation reunion and I can have meditation talks with John and Mary and Bill AND I hate parties, so when I am at the party, that can be my meditation party.

  • Helene

    Gretchen, You quote Samuel Johnson often. I wrote a term paper on him when I was in college, 50 years ago. It wasn’t my choice. It was assigned to me. I had no idea he was so interesting. I mean, at the time, I had no idea he was so interesting. I didn’t know it, until I started reading your blog.

    • gretchenrubin

      Samuel Johnson is a good example of the kind of writer who, if you HAVE to
      read, you’ll probably find extremely difficult and boring. But if you WANT
      to read, you’ll find it insightful and funny.

      He himself wrote about exactly this issue!

      I’m happy to hear that I’m helping to show how interesting he is — Johnson
      is one of the patron saints of my happiness project, for sure. If only
      because he made and broke the same resolutions for his whole life. Very
      comforting to realize that even someone like him struggled mightily.

  • Great point in putting the world meditation after it. This is a powerful mind shift. everything you do can be seen as a form of meditation.

    • Helene

      I agree that putting the word meditation after some things makes more sense….waking up meditation, tooth brushing meditation. I figured that out this morning, when I was trying to put meditation in from of those things. While “meditation line” felt and sounded right to me, “meditation wake” up didn’t. I would like to make everything I do a meditation.

  • That’s another cool trick I learned from you. HaHa. Adding meditation word after it. What I usually do is to just listen to music while doing chores. I hate it when it’s too quiet. I usually want to break the silence. So I put on some upbeat tune and dance while cleaning. HeHe.

  • Natalie

    When bored, I adopt the persona of Visiting Anthropologist Studying the Quaint Native Folkways. I developed this alter ego when returning to the small town in Texas where I grew up to visit my mother. It also worked well at my 25th high school reunion.

    Must be too early in the morning. I can’t find the log in button. Alas.

    Natalie

    • Helene

      I saw the part of the blog about being a journalist or scientist, after I wrote a comment about meditation. I thought that was the perfect for a high school reunion. I can’t find the log in button either. I couldn’t find it earlier either. I love your title for the process. I think I will be seeing a lot of Quaint Native Folkways in the small town in Arizona, where I went to high school. I would probably find even more Quaint Native Folkways in the small town in Texas, where I went to grade school. Bracketville.

  • Michael Yanakiev

    Hi Gretchen ! Another thought provoking post! Somehow I decided to share a thought of mine on anxieties:
    Yesterday I was having dinner with a group,and the discussion turned to the subject of anxiety. One member said that we can’t get away from anxieties in
    life; anxieties are necessarily part of the very part process. Now usually when I hear such remarks, I get “up tight” and ion a very superior – almost
    condescending – manner I forth and ride my favorite hobby horse, which is to the effect that anxieties are not necessary in life; life can and should be lived without anxiety . I still believe this as firmly as ever. I do not claim that I personally have yet found a way to live without anxieties;
    I merely believe that such a way can be found. I say this because I have consistently observed that whatever worthwhile things I have done in my life I have done without any anxiety whatever, whereas whatever anxieties I have had have all been to no useful purpose. Thus I like to tell people that it is but a superstition to believe that anxieties are necessary.
    But last night I remained strangely silent throughout the conversation.
    One reason is that the following thought occurred to me.
    Relief of anxiety (as well as all over sufferings) is my main interest in life.
    But suddenly I realized that for many people, the belief that anxieties are necessary in life, this very belief, is itself anxiety relieving ! So it is not irrational for me to tell such people that anxieties are not necessary in life
    when my telling them this only arouse anxiety on their parts ?

  • Mary

    I really like the meditation” tip and the take your time tip! These will help out in the future with certain tasks. I always carry a small sketch book with me. When I have to wait somewhere, I can sketch or make notes about my surroundings, taking me into my surroundings rather than out of them. I’m very big on “Be here now” philosophy. I guess this could
    be related to your tips on digging in and taking the perspective of being a journalist or scientist. And when necessary, when I need to not be here now, it can also be used as a refuge.

  • You’re right about this. One of the aspects of my job that I hated is that I’m our intranet webmaster, and I have to put together stats report. Kind of important but all the numbers … snore.
    Then one day I had to do them, so I put on some music and threw myself into it – I promised myself an hour.
    It led to some huge realizations about the site, a really important presentation and most of all I actually look forward to monthly stats reports.
    I kind of love all the graphs I get to create, and it’s reassuring to see the numbers.

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s absolutely astounding to me how often I can realize that actually I
      enjoy doing something that I thought I didn’t enjoy doing.

      For example, I used to resent having to run around after my family members
      and put their dirty clothes in the laundry. Then I thought, “I like picking
      up these clothes, because it’s easy to put them in the hamper, and yet the
      room looks so much tidier when I’m done, it’s as if I’ve done 30 mins of
      work.” And now I don’t mind at all.

      A friend hated her commute, until she discovered audiobooks. Now she LOVES
      her commute, because otherwise, she never has time to read. So yes,
      sometimes you can tinker with one element, even if only in your own mind,
      and change the experience.

  • I love the meditation tip! Basically it’s changing your mental attitude and feelings about it, by changing the name to something calming and relaxing. Cool!

    Well, how do I cope with boredom? One thing that I do to help deal with matters I enjoy less then some, is sandwich them with ones I enjoy. I basically plan my activities and events, even at work, so that following a challening or less fun task I can follow it up with a self-reward. This motivates me to complete it and gives me something to look forward to.

    Another way is that I look for the positive in everything! So, then I can discover it and quickly decide how it will benefit me, etc… Once I start to come up with them, they easily flow.

    Thanks!

  • I liked your comment on meditation and would like to suggest a small addition. Rather than just adding the word ‘meditation’ to help you feel more spiritual and high minded, why not take the time to make it an actual meditation? We are so busy that waiting somewhere, for something, is an ideal time to slow down, clear the mind and become present. I’m not talking about sitting cross-legged in line and chanting…..just a simple meditation on being present and noticing the world around you in a clear, present, way.

  • Maryl

    I love the suggestions! While I’m almost never bored, I am almost always impatient, and too often annoyed. The meditation concept is transformational! Though it’s the antithesis of midfulness, I find my iPhone a great “line time” distraction, endlessly fascinating and useful. My pet peeve is pumping gas: I hate everything about it, including that I need to use both hands so I can’t multitask as I do it. (Yes, I know, it’s all of 3 minutes, but it’s maddening.) Now I recognize it as the perfect opportunity to meditate.

  • MysticBlueRose

    I am so rarely bored!!! Who has time for boredom???? I’ve worked since I was 16, been married 3 times, raised 6 kids, read almost every book I could get my hands on, learned all the computer stuff, wandered through nature…I don’t have TIME to be bored. But I still liked the suggestions!!!!

  • LivewithFlair

    This is genius! I love it. My only suggestion for dealing with boredom is to try a “live with flair” challenge and look for the extraordinary in the common thing. I try to learn from every single thing in front of me. Today, it was a wise comment from my 5 year old that taught me the definition of courage! http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/

  • Boredom to me is a personal shortcoming. Being bored equates to failing to activate yourself; lack of creativity, laziness, stunted momentum in projects or a reduced outlook on life. When you’re bored you have come to an artificial halt rather than a chosen relaxed break. Take it as a sign to get started again, to begin filling your life up with exciting pastimes and adventures, expand your mind and, above all, have fun.

    • Lisa Keith

      I like the idea of taking it as a sign to get started again. Thanks for the prodding.

  • Well, it’s gald to read your post, but I wouldn’t understand your meaning well. Thanks all the same.

  • For the digging in I understand the Churchill example. But I don’t understand the washing the dishes example. No matter how many I wash I still HATE it. What did you mean then? Still confused.

  • This was a great post for me! Especially the part about when reading change of service notices, or the like. I thought I was the only one who rushed through it that way!

  • Sometimes I feel boredom if an activity didn’t interest me. But I have to motivate myself to continue to do something that is interesting like playing games or reading that stimulates my interest then I will do the activity. Somehow it worked for me. Maybe I should try meditating and taking my time in doing something.

  • Bobzy31

    reading this was boring

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    I am going to tell her.

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