6 Tips for Fighting Boredom.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 6 tips for fighting 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.”

One “little thing” that can be a source of unhappiness is being stuck on an activity that’s boring. Sitting in traffic. Doing laundry. Waiting in a doctor’s office. Listening to your five-year-old tell the story of the dream she had last night.

The more you focus on your boredom, the more you amplify that feeling. Here are six tips to re-frame the moment; even if you can’t escape a situation, by re-framing your emotions about it, you can transform it.

Put the word “meditation” after the activity that’s boring you. (This is my invention.) If you’re impatient while waiting for the bus, tell yourself you’re doing “Bus waiting meditation.” If you’re standing in a slow line at the drugstore, you’re doing “Waiting in line meditation.” Just saying these words makes me feel very spiritual and high-minded and wise.

-– Dig in. As they say, if you can’t get out of it, get into it. 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. If part of my research isn’t interesting to me — like 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!). Review photos of your kids on your phone (studies show that looking at photos of loved ones provides a big mood boost). Listen to an audiobook.

Look for a way to feel grateful. It’s a lot better to be bored while waiting in a doctor’s office than to be in an agony of suspense about your test results. It’s more fun to sit around the breakfast table talking about dreams than to be away from home on a business trip. Maybe the other line at the drugstore is moving even more slowly. Etc.

Consider: “Am I the boring one?” La Rochefoucauld observed, “We always get bored with those whom we bore.” I remind myself of this when I’m having a boring conversation with someone!

What strategies do you use to combat boredom?

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  • I love the strategy of calling boring tasks “meditations.” It’s amazing how just adding a word can completely recast a tedious activity as a worthwhile practice!

    Though it doesn’t work in every situation, I always make sure I have a book with me. I love to read, and either reading or listening to a book can turn waiting time into time with my latest book. When I know I’ll be standing in line or sitting in a waiting area, I bring a physical book; if I’ll be doing something mindless, like laundry or cleaning or even driving, I load my mp3 player up with an audiobook and hit play. Another benefit of taking charge of potential boredom this way is that it becomes my responsibility. I’m more likely to remember to bring a book because if I don’t, it’ll be my own fault. I’m hardly ever bored anymore!

    • gretchenrubin

      I am the same way, and almost feel panicky if I find myself without
      something to read. I can’t bear to lose a minute of possible reading time.

      • It’s amazing how much reading you can squeeze into an ordinary day if you take advantage of all the potential “bored” moments!

  • LivewithFlair

    This sounds really nerdy, but I make a poem of the boring thing. I try to find the most marvelous and beautiful thing possible regarding this terribly boring thing. Then I make a poem out of it. Then I write a blog about it 🙂 http://livewithflair.blogspot.com/2010/10/things-that-can-wait.html

  • Alexandra Dare

    My mother has always hated the phrase “I’m bored” and never allowed me to say it. Anything can be interesting if you really delve into it. Or you can make any situation interesting by changing the way you look at it. I never allow myself to feel bored at home. I can put on some music. I might write a story. Now that I have a blog, I might find things to blog about and start composing a new blog post. But I am hardly ever bored, and I never allow myself to wallow in sadness.

    The one thing I am not is patient. I love that “bus waiting meditation” concept. I will try that out from now on when I am feeling especially impatient waiting for something 🙂

    -Alexandra Dare

  • Where do you find all these wonderful quotes?? That one by La Rochefoucauld about our “always getting bored with those whom we bore” just about made me spit out my coffee!

    You have a wonderful blog here, and one I shall happily recommend. Also wanted to say how much I enjoyed your guest post on Zen Habits on the subject of fighting clutter. Many thanks, and keep up the good work!

    • gretchenrubin

      Awww, thanks so much! Your kind words make me very HAPPY. La
      Rochefoucauld…so many wonderful passages. It’s hard to stop once I start.

  • yeahh congratulations Gretchen! hehe i knew i was on to something 😉

  • Something that I enjoy doing when I’m bored is that I’ll start to sit around and make up stories about the environment or the people. It’s almost like creating a soap opera. I might imagine that the people there are actually spies. Or that I like to daydream about what my potential future is.

    One thing I love to do is imagine that I’m driving my dream car and imagine that I’m sitting in such comfy and warm leather seats.

    Vincent Ng
    Conversation Arts

  • Michelle

    I thought this article was a very shallow look at how to stay un-bored. As someone who is not bored very often, I don’t think advising people to spend 16 or more minutes washing dishes (or pretending you’re meditating to feel more “spiritual”) is a very wise idea. There are way better things to be doing with your time even if you’re a bored housewife. Better things to do include expanding your mind, scouring the library for a book you always meant to read, always having reading material or puzzles on your person during downtime. Minimize time spent doing the boring stuff-get it done really quickly!

    • gretchenrubin

      Of course! But what do you do about the unavoidable times of boredom? And
      yes, always have something to do is a great suggest ion — I love the
      admonition always to have puzzles on your person.

  • I like your “meditation” and “are you boring” suggestions the best! I will use those immediately. The one on taking the perspective of a journalist or scientist is very similar to a tip they gave me to get through birth labor naturally. So it gets you through boredom AND pain. But maybe boredom is a type of pain 😉 Thanks!

  • I learned this one from my son ..

    One day he was playing with his new iphone. I asked him what he was doing? He said he was entering an idea into his ‘fun file’. Of course he piqued my interest, so asked what a fun file was. He said, whenever he had an idea of something he might like to do at a future day, he entered it into his ‘fun file’. That way if he was bored, he could just pick something to do out of his fun file.


  • I just found your site through another blog that I love and I’m so glad I did! All great tips! I like to doodle:) I substitute teach and at time it can be eventful but other times it’s boring. During lunch period or planning period I doodle. Sometime if the kids finish all their work I get them in on the doodling action:) I even started a whole blog about doodling with doodling tips. Talk about getting into your boredom!

  • Bevjohnson

    Brilliant. I think boredom is not having power to get out of what you are doing… like visiting boring relatives as a kid.

    These tips would have helped no end! Imagine Uncle Joe as a secret murderer or bank robber could have entertained me during those long Sunday afternoons.

  • Re Psych

    Brilliant ideas! Especially the “bus meditation” is something that I’ll give it a try soon. And I’ll always keep in mind: “We always get bored with those whom we bore.”

    Check out this poem by Rumi on how to welcome unpleasant sensations and emotions.

    It was written in 13th century and it feels so contemporary, human beings are still struggling to cope with difficult emotions after 700 years.

  • It’s hard to be bored when busy on a happiness project! 🙂 Gretchen, I recently moved to Alaska and I’m armed with your strategies and determined to put them to use and make the most of this adventure. Starting with a blog (that I never would have attempted pre-the-happiness-project). You are today’s story. Thank you.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! Good luck with YOUR happiness project!

  • Shelley

    Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I have so many projects I’m working on, so much going on in my head, down time on the Metro is a gift. Living in England one simply cannot be impatient in a queue – they’d go mad. I couldn’t say where I heard the saying about being bored and being boring, but it’s stuck with me a long time and I hesitate to say I’m bored in case it is just my own lack of intelligent application.

  • Jules

    I saw a post recently that made me think very seriously about boredom (more than occasional) as a sign of bigger, more systemic issue : http://mysuperchargedlife.com/blog/is-your-life-too-small-for-you/

    “Are you bored most of the time? This is a common telltale sign of living too small. You need a challenge to be happy. It is not good for you to live small. You are full of awesome potential just waiting to be applied to meaningful activities.”

  • When I’m bored….hmmm….let’s see. I’m rarely ever bored these days. I have 2 young boys and I run an online business from home so I have to fight for time to be bored. And when do have nothing to do, I enjoy every second of it!


  • I’m trying to be fully present even in the midst of what I consider boring. Usually, I’m missing something that is truly beautiful about the moment. In other words, I’m undervaluing whatever is happening around me, in me, or through me. When I recognize the beauty of the moment, then that moment comes alive…and I’m awakened!

  • Diana Burgess

    Another strategy (related to “dig in”) is to reframe the boring task as something consequential. For example, I used to get bored at proofreading study materials and manuscripts (I’m a research scientist). I have recently been telling myself, “I am a good editor,” and “I love to edit things.” It has made me invested in these tasks–I do them better and like the tasks more.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestion — I especially like “I love to edit things.” Good
      reminder! Sometimes there are boring parts to a job that is otherwise

  • Hikmor

    But but but…if I’M the boring one, how does one remedy that? You merely pointed out how we should keep this fact in mind, that perhaps “we always get bored with those whom we bore.” You didn’t really tell us how to fix that particular problem.

  • That “meditation” idea is a gem! Must borrow that!

    Unloading the dishwasher meditation
    Laundry meditation
    Teleconference meditation

    I have lots of opportunities for meditation every day….

  • Emelia Richardson

    Love your efforts here, and the layout of your information!

    Just wanted to pass along another blog that has been helpful:


    These two are inspiring me as well…

  • Tina

    I thought you might like this quote of the day that came up on my calendar today:

    “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four.
    If it is still boring try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on.
    Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting”
    – John Cage

  • Interesting tips – especially the last one. I complete agree with that observation, were bored with people we bore. Never thought about it before, but very interesting.

  • Very nice post. I find that many people sometimes spend/waste money as a way to fight boredom. They’ve got nothing to do, so they take a trip to the mall and find something to buy.

    Check out this post:

  • Jenny

    Love you meditation idea! Other ideas along those lines would be watching your breath, doing your kegels, relaxing your tense shoulder muscles, and I also try to remember poems or bible verses or quotations that I have memorized to see if I can still remember them.

  • Amber Batson

    I rarely feel bored because generally I am thankful for a few minutes of down time.

    I play a jeweled app on my phone when I’m waiting in line (mostly at the airport). It’s a mental escape from a place that can be really irritating. I have my ID and boarding pass ready before I start playing, but I care a lot less if someone cuts or is slow at the security gate and feel more friendly.

    I have found that plane time is a great time to read. I take 2 short flights that you don’t have much time to turn off/on electronics before landing again – it’s uninterrupted time also because generally there is no internet or cell phone reception.

    Other than being stuck waiting I am rarely bored because I google random stuff to entertain myself. That is how I found the Happiness Project. 😉

  • Bubbles

    Haha! Funny you should say that about being bored! If my kids ever said they were bored I would say well “if you’re bored then perhaps you are boring! Now, whenever I hear my grandchildren say it (which isn’t very often) I hardly get it out before they say “I know…I know…maybe I’m the boring one right now! LOL! It has become kind of a joke in our family! 🙂 But it does make them take a look at themselves and their situation at that particular moment and it isn’t long before they are engrossed in some other activity and are no longer bored! 🙂

  • JimRich

    Once I understood that ‘boredom’ is just inner, unhealed early childhood pain & discomfort coming to the surface when there is nothing to cover it up (like excitement or some entertaining activity), I find that ‘boredom’ no longer over takes me since most if not all my early childhood pain and discomfort has been resolved.
    But when boredom, shame, guilt, resentment, anger, sorrow, distress, FEAR, etc. does pop up, like during holidays, I just remember to say “Happy, happy” and “No Negs” (silently) to offset the bad feelings and replace them with good or better feelings which just the word ‘happy’ brings. I do this as often as needed & it’s getting better all the time.
    BTW, I learned all this from the book: Happiness is a choice by Barry Neil Kaufman.

  • JimRich

    WHY DO WE ‘GET BORED’ in the first place?
    I get bored whenever I am in a situation where my inner, childhood pains come to the surface because there is nothing to hold them back!
    As I read the other posts, I notice that all of them recommend some ‘covering up’ strategy to deal with the inner, unhealed, repressed, unconscious PAIN that most of us were given in early childhood. We were most likely born happy and then encountered unhappy things which caused us pain, fear and other forms of unhappiness which we we learned to bury and ignore rather than HEAL.
    IMO, covering up inner pain is not nearly as effective as recognizing & HEALING our pains to begin with rather than the traditionally accepted: Denying, Escaping, Excusing, Rationalizing or Repressing methods used by a society too frightened to heal it’s pain.
    It’s your choice – Hide or Heal!

  • Vipin

    I like to use following activities to remove my boredom:

    1) While passing through a boredom activity, I just try to concentrate on Supreme Power. I presume that this world is being run by a Superpower who drives this whole world. I admire that how much powerful, intelligent and super-director He is, who drives this complex world. I imagine him as brilliant Superlight which has all five sensations of vision, touch, sound, smell and taste unparalleled in this world. The light possesses brilliance of thousand of suns yet so cool and lovable. I thank Him for giving this beautiful hours where I can forget this mundane activities of world and can remember Him and Him only. This becomes my privileged personal moment where I can communicate and thank him for what He has given me.

    2)If there is picture then there must be some artist who has made it. Thus if there is drama in this world, there has to be a Director who runs it. I argue with myself that I am just an actor doing my role in this stage of world whose director is Him. If He wants me to play this boring role then their must be something wise which I am unable to comprehend. Only He knows what is best for me. As I am grateful for what He has given me, I feel sense of thankfulness and love for Him and I spend my time in thanking and loving Him.

    3) I try to live in present. I remember briefest sermon give by Lord Buddha. He came to the meeting where audience was waiting for the sermon, picked one flower, smelled and looked at it for a moment and then left the audience. Only His disciple Anand understood the meaning. The meaning was, “Live in present”. Most of the time, 90% of our time is spent in regretting about the past or worrying about the future. We do not learn to enjoy the present. I try to stop my mind wandering in past or future and concentrate on enjoying the present moment. If I find hard to concentrate, I try to find something funny in present situation and try to laugh. When I laugh, I find positive energy flowing in me. Even I do not find anything, i still try to laugh and force myself to have positive energy.

    4) I read one acupressure book last year. I find boring time to press my palm and other parts of body for activating my blocked channels of energy and try to feel that my body is getting healed.

  • Happy Girl in Training

    Gretchen, I bought your book in the summer and I read it verrrrry slowly because I don’t want it to end. I have read a lot of “self realization’ books but I love yours because it has a SENSE OF HUMOUR! So important!

    I was looking at the tips provided and I have been using a lot of them at various times. I keep books EVERYWHERE..in my car…at work…but I also try to use the ‘meditation technique as
    often as possible.

    I have danced recreationally for years so sometimes I put my IPOD on and choreograph something to the music! You don’t have to be a dancer to do this and there is a deeper connection to the music. It really is quite satisfying!

    Bottom line is…I change up my “boredom techniques” so I don’t get BORED! Ironic isn’t it?

    • gretchenrubin

      Awww, thanks so much! I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoyed the book!

      • Happy Girl in Training

        Am still reading it Gretchen. It is like my little “treat” to read a few pages at a time! I find myself reading parts of it out loud to my friends. Is that weird? Oh well…then I am WEIRD!

        I forgot to add that I “choreograph” in my head…would be a little nuts to break out in a dance while standing in a line up…although I can’t say you won’t see my body twitching!

  • But when boredom, shame, guilt, resentment, anger, sorrow, distress, FEAR, etc. does pop up, like during holidays, I just remember to say “Happy, happy” and “No Negs” (silently) to offset the bad feelings and replace them with good or better feelings which just the word ‘happy’ brings. I do this as often as needed & it’s getting better all the time.

  • Dele

    Thanks so much! Great read and some inspring ideas!

  • Why fight it?

    The Boredom Manifesto Watching television last night I realized that I miss the comfort of boring television and boring places.  Everything is so persistently exciting and engaging these days that we rarely come across the opportunity to decide between boredom (seldom in occurrence and cherished) and agitation (constant, unending and ubiquitous). So I propose the next trend will be ‘Borecore’: The hoarding, displaying and dissemination of infomercials, dated instructional videos, intellectually vacant sitcoms, John Tesh CDs (downloading music is too exciting) etc.  Groups dedicated to boredom should pre-plan boring activities and hold boring meetings at Lamps Plus stores; these are the glittering palaces of boredom.   Everyone wants a new phone, but who wants to experience the exhaustion of watching a T-Mobile commercial?  Nearly every cell phone commercial boasts loud music and a verbally aggressive spokesman declaiming the fun you’re missing out on.  Cell phone commercials that don’t conform to this music video formula exhibit an equally alienating urban charm, as if there’s a Starbucks, unlike any other, in your area, filled with everyone you would ever want to know and meet, and you are absolutely barred from this place. No.  I’d prefer to watch a nice four minute dissertation on sleep apnea; with the only aesthetic being soft voices, and soft blue and beige clothes/backgrounds. Now that’s refreshing.  Refreshingly boring. In many ways, Tim and Eric were on the right track when they started The Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, the only problem was that they didn’t follow the thread far enough, they ruined their banal premise with comedy.   “Borecore is not a brand, it is a lifestyle choice.”  And since we are already digging ourselves an early grave, why make a big production out of it?  Conservatives have long thought that religion, or religious values will bring America ‘back to its senses’, but it is really Bingo Night that will save your soul.  Now that The Occupy Wall St. movement has been forcibly dispersed, it’s safe to assume a certain amount of that frustration will dovetail into Borecore; this is your chance to be ahead of the curve.

  • Marc

    I love the first idea!

  • Shpak Olesia

    when i’m bored, i usually kill my boredom
    trying to do something useful. last time when i was depressed about it i
    started to learn Spanish, bought a guitar and win 30$ here playing blackjack 🙂 so it’s even useful

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