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Do you ever feel like life has become routine? Wondering what to do when you’re bored with life? Are you seeking a cure for boredom?
“Feeling bored” can strike when we’re seemingly the most “satisfied” with our lives—we’re going along in our career, relationship, and social life, and things are…fine. But we’re treading water. We’re not maximizing our potential or really getting satisfaction out of life. Maybe we drive to work on the same route. Our days are similar; we work on similar projects. We come home, we eat dinner with our partner, watch TV, scroll through our phones. We might feel like we’re leading a boring life.
This state of feeling bored with life or feeling stagnation can happen slowly without us even realizing it. Unfortunately, when it happens, we start to feel unsettled, restless, and unfulfilled. We may feel guilty—like we don’t appreciate life enough. We need a cure for boredom.
As humans, we’re continually growing and learning. Each new experience is processed by our brain, forming new neural pathways and connections. But sometimes, when life becomes mostly routine, we may feel like we’ve stopped growing, thriving, and evolving. We become stagnant. Without new experiences and opportunities to start learning, our senses dull. We begin to lead a boring life. Our brains become less sharp. Our work and social lives suffer.
What are soft addictions? These time wasters aren’t as obviously harmful as cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs…but over time, they can end up becoming just as deadly and certainly as deadening.
For example, when we feel bored, most of us do what? Most of us pick up our phones and start scrolling. We visit social media; we may catch up on the latest news. We think that it’s making us feel good, and temporarily it might be. Our phones can be powerful, helpful tools. They connect us with others and give us all sorts of information.
But our phones can also rob us of our time and focus. A recent study showed people spend a staggering 90 minutes per day (that’s 23 days per year) staring at their phones! We can download apps to tell us how often and how long we spend looking at the little handheld devices. The results are often surprising!
Our addiction to time wasters isn’t simply stemming from our smartphone use, either. Soft addictions encompass many different behaviors we use to zone out: television, shopping, eating, and so on. Even healthy behaviors such as exercise and work can become soft addictions if we use them to escape from engagement. We think that we’re using them as a way to cure boredom, but they’re actually fueling our sense of dissatisfaction.
The pattern of seeking soft addictions as a cure for feeling bored likely sounds familiar. It’s a common approach for many of us. If we want to learn more, there’s a Soft Addictions quiz here. This quiz can help us figure out if we’re really turning to soft addictions as a placebo cure for boredom.
Soft addictions aren’t necessarily “bad” behaviors. Many of them are quite nourishing and healthy when we take a moderate approach. Take watching a movie, for example. Appreciating a great film is one of life’s pleasures. Most of us love an opportunity to watch a movie and really delve into the deeper meaning and analysis.
But when we’re delving into a stimulating conversation about a film, we’re engaged and turned on. We’re aware of what’s happening, and we’re using it as a platform for further learning and personal development. That’s a far cry from binge-watching Netflix for hours while you scroll through Facebook on your phone.
When it comes down to it, each novel experience helps us form new neural pathways. In a study of bus drivers vs. cab drivers, the cabbies showed greater cognitive response and capacity. Why? Because their brains were stimulated. They were experiencing new routes and routines each day. They had to adapt, react and evolve to each unique situation. The bus drivers, on the other hand, were going over the same routes time after time. They weren’t learning from new situations.
Now, when most people get bored, what do they do? They start planning an activity or even a vacation. They look at travel as an opportunity to find fulfillment. People talk about wanderlust. There are magazines, blogs, and websites devoted to the travel experience.
While there’s nothing wrong with travel, it isn’t a cure for boredom. In fact, if we aren’t getting to the heart of why we’re bored, we’ll return to the same state we were in before we went on the trip. Travel is excellent for learning and seeking new experiences. It’s a fantastic opportunity to recharge our batteries and reset. But without a greater purpose and a set intention, our travel becomes empty—another soft addiction and method of escape.
The good news is, learning is a lifelong process. We don’t stop learning simply because we graduate a college class or finish taking a professional or personal development course. Learning can and should go on throughout our entire lives. It’s a vital part of living a long and happy life and transforming into our best selves.
When you understand how the brain works and what it takes to build new, lasting neural pathways, you realize that there is no such thing as a quick fix—and anything that offers one is misguided at best and fraudulent at worst. The odds are you’ve taken a class, been to a workshop, or experienced some other type of learning situation that provided useful ideas about how to transform your life or some aspect of it. You’ve spent a few hours or perhaps a few days absorbing theories and exercises that struck you as valuable or maybe even epiphany-producing. You’ve learned a lot about yourself and what you need to change, and you’re excited about putting this learning to work. Unfortunately, it’s one thing to learn a valuable lesson; it’s something else to put it into practice.
…Understand, too, that as a human being, you have an innate drive to learn, to grow, and to transform. We define learning as coming to know something new and growing as doing something you’ve never done before. We all want to explore our capabilities, to keep improving our relationships, to achieve more in our careers, to find more meaning in our daily lives. Dr. Diana Fosha, a leader in the new field of interpersonal neurobiology, writes that “People have a fundamental need for transformation. We are wired for growth and healing…we have a need for the expansion and liberation of the self, the letting down of defensive barriers, and the dismantling of the false self… In the process of radical change, we become more ourselves than ever before, and recognize ourselves to be so. [This] overarching motivational force strives toward maximal vitality, authenticity, and genuine contact. Residing deeply in our brains are wired in dispositions for [transformation].
Most often the proof of this need manifests itself not in a deep desire but in its opposite. When we’re not on a transformational path, we are nagged by the feeling that we should be doing something more, that we’re missing out on things. We have a vague sense of lost opportunities. This is what the existential philosophers call “ontological guilt,” and we try to drive it out of our conscious mind through soft addictions: watching television, gossiping, texting, shopping, and a hundred other things that distract us from the nagging voice in our head telling us we should be doing more.
The first step toward breaking out of this routine pattern and finding the cure for boredom is to start examining ourselves. What do we really want out of life? What can we learn about who we are, our deepest desires, and greatest yearnings?
We must seek challenges and opportunities that push us out of our comfort zone—not chances to escape or “get away” (like a luxury vacation) but chances to get back into our life. What if we took on the bigger project at work—one that would push our boundaries and make us really reach? What if we found ways to be more intimate and connected to our partner? What if we became a more engaged friend? What if we challenged ourselves with a life assignment—to make a change within ourselves?
As we unlock the mysteries within and explore what yearnings are driving us, we discover more ways to get those yearnings met by connecting with others. Each of us yearns for certain things: to be respected, to be loved, to be secure. We may yearn to be seen, to be heard. We may yearn to connect or to belong. Our yearnings run deeper than wants. Yearnings can be fulfilled by a new car, or losing ten pounds, or getting a bigger house.
Our yearnings are vital to helping us find more fulfillment. When we’re pushing our brain with new experiences and breaking out of our ruts, we’ll find that more opportunities arise to get these essential yearnings met. If we’re feeling bored, it’s a strong indication that we’re not getting those vital yearnings fulfilled. We’re not going for it.
As we start to engage and break out of the state of stagnation, our experiences become richer, and our lives become more connected with those around us. Instead of feeling as though we’re going through the motions, we start to feel wonder, curiosity, and joy. We become more mindful and aware of the moments around us. We begin to live a life of more.
When we’re ready to break out of our rut and find a cure for boredom, we should look at the places in life where we’re zoning out. Are we engaged with those casual contacts? Are we really listening to others at work? Are we seeking new opportunities to learn and make discoveries about ourselves and the world around us? Are we taking on new challenges? Do we see mistakes as opportunities—chances to learn and grow?
Learning is a life-long activity but one that enriches our lives and leads us toward greater fulfillment. If we find ourselves tuning out, it’s time to start tuning in!
For more ways to learn about yourself, please explore our array of personal growth and development courses on Wright Now. We have many different courses to help you strengthen your relationships, boost your career, and discover more about who you are as you unlock your fullest potential.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.