Conquering Boredom with Opposite Action
Like many others, I sometimes find myself to be the victim of an idle mind, left in an oasis of psychological purgatory. I can’t think of a better time to write such an article, when currently, a wave of creative lethargy appears to have seeped through into my consciousness. Thus, hindering my zest for innovation, creation, and progression. Writer’s block is not the issue here, as this paragraph intimates.
Nevertheless, at the time of me writing this, what was once a joy is now a chore. Being aware that boredom, just like happiness, guilt, and anger are all transitory emotions which rise and fall just as the sun rises and sets with each passing day, one would think that such awareness alone would illuminate some sort of pragmatic solution to this problem. However, when in the midst of a spell of boredom, the antithesis appears to remain true.
Is there a remedy for boredom? Is there a way to immediately recognize that you’re bored and then take some sort of active role in improving it? There definitely is to a certain degree, although it is easier said than done. For example, me forcing myself to type the words you are reading right now at this very moment is intimation that boredom can be suppressed insofar as the mind can be sufficiently distracted enough to do so.
By distraction I mean being mindful. If mindfulness has taught me anything over the years it’s that unwanted emotions can be easily tolerated by distracting oneself. Just as we can only maintain our anger by repeating to ourselves all of the reasons why we should be angry in any arbitrary situation, so can we only remain bored when we give up pursuing that which we once enjoyed doing by virtue of being too disinterested or lethargic to commit to it fully.
How to combat boredom
A very effective method for regulating your emotions is with the Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) technique called “opposite action.” How does it work? In a practical way, it would mean that if you feel lonely, then you should get out and interact with other people. If you feel as if your life is worthless, you should then dwell on all the reasons why your life is worth living. If you’re afraid to speak to someone who you’d like to speak to, then you do the opposite of what your anxious mind is telling you to do and you walk over and talk to them.
Though we often don’t look at boredom as an emotion, it most certainly is and is subject to the foregoing DBT technique just described. During moments of boredom, instead of succumbing to the depressive whims of the blank slate which is the apathetic mind, you should instead force yourself to go do something. Anything really insofar as your attention can be captured and maintained.
Although there will be a natural resistance to following through with such a behavior due to it being the antithesis of what you “really feel like doing”, which is nothing, resisting such unproductive urges by actively doing the opposite of what that emotion evokes in you will help you to climb out of boredom much more easily than by merely accepting it as an unmoving inevitability.
The unsettling feeling of weariness due to perceptions of being unoccupied can last as long as you will it to last. Though forcing yourself to go to the park or read a book is not going to magically endow your psyche with a breadth of innovative ideas along with urges to fulfill those ideas, it will at least help to create the domino effect necessary for larger change to occur. That larger change being a shift in emotions, from apathy to contentment, for example.
Can boredom be prevented?
Boredom, just like sadness, anger, disgust, and even happiness for that matter are all emotions that can be successfully prevented given the right circumstances.
For example, it would literally be impossible to be bored if you were completely immersed in an activity, such as becoming lost in an engrossing film, being overwhelmed with feelings of compassion for a loved one, or simply being aware of the sensation of breathing as each breath exits and enters your lungs.
However, to aspire to permanently prevent unwanted emotions such as boredom, envy, guilt, or even anger from ever seeping into your consciousness is not only a terrible idea from an evolutionary standpoint insofar as it relates to self-preservation and self-improvement, but it is also a terrible idea from a practical standpoint seeing as how even the most practiced Buddhist monks who meditate for 14+ hours a day will have some moments in their day to day life where they are feel apathetic, jealous, or angry.
So, the application of permanently preventing the experience of certain emotions is simply not feasible, omitting the use of certain drugs of course, but I digress.
The three examples I just gave are all experiences of mindfulness and by definition, mindfulness is the antithesis of apathy insofar as we are defining mindfulness as having our awareness occupied by something and apathy as having our awareness unoccupied by anything. So, with this in mind, we can utilize the opposite action technique previously described to help prevent boredom from exacerbating into hopelessness or depression.
Furthermore, I don’t see the emotion of boredom to be “bad” just as I don’t see the emotion of anger to be “bad”, nor do I see the emotion of happiness as being intrinsically “good” either. There are some situations where these emotions are appropriate and other situations where they’re not. Would you want to be jovial and filled with mirth during the funeral of a loved one?
Our emotions have evolved to help us survive as a species. So, I see emotions as priceless tools with which the human species has been fortunate enough to wield, unlike other species. Boredom can be used as a catalyst for creation, which can then lead to virtues that would have never existed if it weren’t for the lengthy apathy you curmudgeonly endured.
Although, this does not exclude the rather obvious caveat that when left unattended with no motive for self-improvement, emotions such as anger, disgust, anxiousness, jealousy, envy, guilt, and boredom can all be catastrophically problematic.
In summation, the next time you’re stricken with an abysmal case of apathy, try forcing yourself to do something you know you’ll enjoy or something that you know you would enjoy if you weren’t bored. I did and you just read it.