Calling BS on Boredom

From: Dave Caolo on the Enough podcast:

We’ve cured boredom, and that’s a significant problem. Because who’s going to fix the problems that we have if you’re not bored, because that’s when you get up off your butt and do something.

I have a bit of a nasty habit… I tend to pick semantic arguments with things I fundamentally agree with. I found myself nodding along with much of what Dave and Patrick Rhone were saying in this episode and I really recommend you listen to it1, but their focus on boredom seems wrong.

You don’t get up off your butt because you’re bored, you get off your butt because you decide to do something. Playing angry birds, watching bad TV and drowning yourself in what others are saying on the web aren’t the enemy of boredom, they are the results of making really crappy choices.

In the episode, David and Patrick talked about taking time to process what you’ve seen and creating opportunities for deep thought. While these are both important, neither are acts of boredom. In fact, they are the exact opposite. They are examples of actively making the most of your time rather than squandering it on something useless. This isn’t a matter of disconnecting; it’s a matter of intent. It’s deciding that you’d rather invest your time in something meaningful rather than spending it on something distracting.

Sure, great ideas often come while doing nothing. Sure, we all have some of our best thoughts in the shower. But more often than not, ideas come from the seeking out and reacting to smart things other people are saying. More than anything, they come from deciding to be more mindful. It’s not about choosing to do nothing, it’s about carefully choosing what you choose to read, what you choose to see, what you choose to interact with and, most of all, what you choose to make.

Don’t choose to be bored; choose to do something. Choose to make a better use of your time. Choose to make a better use of your life. You’ll likely find that you accomplish a lot more than boredom if you do.

  1. Especially if you have even the slightest concern about how our persistent connectivity is affecting our ability to actually use our brain.  

13 Responses to Calling BS on Boredom

  1. I think it’s important to spend some time, every day, if possible, bored. Bored is the precursor state to having great ideas.

    • So two things, 1) isn’t OBX amazing? Went there for the first time last year and can’t wait to go back. 2) I’m probably devolving this into a semantic argument, but I just don’t think any of what you mentioned in your post is boredom. It’s quite the opposite… it’s making something happen rather than expecting something to happen to you. Even the shower example is an active decision to let your mind wander. It’s taking advantage of solitude and a distraction free environment. I assure you, there are far more people who never think beyond bar or liquid soap because they perceive that time to be “boring”.

      • OBX is terrific. We’ve been going there as a family for the last 22 years.

        Bordem, for me, is not a meditative state, it’s literally doing nothing, or doing something that doesn’t require much focused attention and getting your mind out of gear. The mind seeks stimulation, and if you don’t offer it up some, it will find it’s own path. That’s what I find useful. 

        Which makes me think that I need another post no the subject – stand by!

        • I guess I’ve never really had trouble getting out of gear, I just never found that it took me all that far. I feel as if I’m seeing better results ever since deciding to be more intentional with that time. 

          Looking forward to seeing what you cook up! I always learn a thing or two about a thing or two.

  2. I think the argument they were making is that there is so much “noise” aiming to fill up our time that we don’t have time to be “bored” (which, in turn, gives us no time to just “be”). It’s as if being bored means you’re not doing anything, when it can often be those moments of boredom that are allow the great things to come to the surface.

    When I was sick this weekend I was bored for much of the time, even though I know I had a lot to do. But my body and mind weren’t cooperating in that regard. So I remained bored (in a sense), and came up with two great post ideas — mainly through actually taking the time to digest what I’d read earlier on in the day rather than skimming it — and two projects that I can facilitate next year. All because of downtime/boredom.

    I think that moments of stillness are being whittled away thanks to a firehouse of information that we are being subject to each and every day. It’s removing ourselves from the path of the water that may result in boredom —  and also may result in the next great thing we do.

    • I’m almost certain that I’m having a flare up of my case of persistent literalism when it comes to the definition of the word boredom.

      Sure you were sick, sure what you could do at that time was limited, but you still chose to make the most of it. This can easily get off into the tangent of where ideas come from, but part of me has to imagine that it was you taking that time to actively think rather than passively sit and see what happens. You decided to take that time and digest what you read rather than picking up something new and that is still an intentional act.

      I really think Patrick came much closer to the point when he honed in on solitude and I rarely find solitude boring if I use that time well.

      Just believe that there is a big difference between having nothing to do (or in your particular example, not being able to do much) and doing nothing. Getting out of the path of the water is important, but like anything else in this world, it’s an opportunity that can (and often is) squandered.

  3. I alluded to my thoughts about boredom on Google+, but I’ll complete them here. When I was a kid, the words “I’m bored” never left my lips. If they did, my mom thought of all sorts of wonderful chores I could be doing. I quickly learned to find my own things to do. To this day, if the thought “I’m bored” starts to creep into my head, I think of and find something to do. If I don’t find something to do, well, there’s always some sort of chore requiring attention.

    • Good system, we were definitely allowed to be bored and that was probably not a good thing in hind sight (think I’ll take a similar approach with my kids as your mother… use your time or I will use it for you :) )

  4. “You don’t get up off your butt because you’re bored, you get off your butt because you decide to do something. Playing angry birds, watching bad TV and drowning yourself in what others are saying on the web aren’t the enemy of boredom, they are the results of making really crappy choices.”….easily one of the best quotes I’ve read in the blogosphere for quite some time Michael.

    Love it brother,


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