Boredom is different to tiredness. When you are tired you know what you want to do – rest. When you are bored you aren’t sure what you want to do. You don’t have the energy to do any particular thing – but you do have some energy; those tapping fingers or feet, that getting up and walking around. You do have energy.
With boredom it is the directing of your energy that is the problem. You aren’t doing any one thing. Perhaps you are ignorant (unaware of available options), or conflicted or confused.
You may be ignorant. You probably had an experience growing up where you discovered something that opened up a whole new field for you: throwing a ball, thinking logically, a philosophy (or philosophy in general), a musical instrument, an artistic medium. I didn’t realise until I was in my thirties that there was a thing called ‘history of ideas’. My liking and not liking of philosophy came into focus – this was like philosophy but not the same. It was both relaxing and exhilarating to discover. This year I discovered brush and ink: it is my medium. As soon as the brush hit the paper I knew – this is it. Why didn’t I know this? I’d never tried it before.
If you feel a kind of low-grade on-going discontent, it may be you just haven’t found what suits you in some way. Which is hard to deal with. An unknown unknown – you don’t even know what the right question is. So what can you do? Scan around and follow any hints or intuitions.
- Imagine and fantasise. The fantasies will be unrealistic. And you can reflect on them for hints of what you may want, and unmet needs. Then imagine meeting these needs and wants. If something jumps out at you, if you find your attention captured, then you have a hint to follow up.
- Are there others whose life you’d like to live? Get specific about what it is you find attractive: their relationships? Fame? Skill? Occupation? How could you be more like this person in a small way?
Or perhaps you are confused. Stuff swirling around, with no focus to your experience. This can be overwhelming – instead of not knowing, you know too much.
Time to be ruthless and pragmatic: What do you know you need? right now! This year I’ve been a uni student. So there have been times when I’ve felt overwhelmed, confused, and felt like I should push myself to keep going even though bored. At which times what I needed was usually a break. Sometimes a cup of tea, sometimes to go for a walk, other times to work on something different. Sometimes this is enough to be rid of the boredom and be clear about what to do next.
Sometimes you get back from the break and things are just the same.
It may be time to reassess immediate or longer term goals. Immediate goals like: Is this important for this essay? (If so I have found some clarity. If not, I can think about how it could be; or perhaps it isn’t and I can just not bother.) Longer term goals like: Why am I doing this? What kind of life do I want? Will this help the relationship? Asking these kinds of things can often help know the next step, the next thing to do.
- You may want to try a different way of looking at things. Do a drawing or a dance? Talk it over with someone else? Do an internet search?
- You may want to focus on breaking down what you are thinking about into manageable chunks. Or analyse it into parts. This can help with the overwhelm part of the boredom. Once you realise that you can do something about one part, you may find that your energy comes back.
Or you may be conflicted. You may not have energy for any particular thing because you are attracted to two or more things equally. I may want to have a break and get an essay finished. The boredom is due to your energy being split. So you alternate between two (or more) things and don’t get anywhere.
There are different things you can do; depending on what you are attracted to.
1. Allocating time.
You may be able to do one thing then the other. Eg if I finish this paragraph of the essay I can have a coffee. I can take a singing class this term and an instrumental class next term. It will take me two years to get good at running, then I can spend two years focused on swimming.
Sometimes one thing needs to happen before the other. And it just means a step back so that we see this.
2. Finding the Theme
You may want the same thing. That is, underneath the conflict you want one thing. You may not be able to decide which art form you want to pursue – when what you are wanting is to express what you have to say; and when you realise this it may not matter which form you choose. You may be discussing possible outings with your partner, and realise that what you both want is just to spend some time together (which may mean, staying home, choosing one of the proposals or a different one).
3. Sometimes the Result is Personal Change
Perhaps the conflict is between what you see as incompatible or irreconcilable. You want to be both assertively yourself and accepted by those people or groups you value. You may wish to be both clear minded and warm hearted. Or both prudent and extravagant. The conflict here is, in some sense the desire to be a different person, or even different people.
One approach to resolving this conflict, is to see if there are people who manage to be both of the things you wish to be. If so: can you find out how they do this? Perhaps you can do similar things.
Perhaps the conflict isn’t with what you want but between what you want and what others have told you is who you are or what you want. In this case it is a matter of negotiating your social world while finding more personal fulfilment. Generally those who value you will be supportive, in my experience. It may mean ending some relationships and beginning others.
When the conflict is between parts of you then resolution is possible – because they are both parts of you. Avoid the choosing of one over the other – if you choose one part of yourself over another then you lose, even if you win. It means getting to know the different parts of you. And, this is important, getting to know what they want.
It is important to distinguish the parts of ourselves and behaviour. We may feel like we want act violently, but what we want is for our (physical, intellectual and emotional) integrity to be respected. We may feel it is bad to want to just lie around all day; to give yourself a break is a good thing, and when you are rested you will find you want to do some things (though you want feel rested if you just criticise yourself).
To summarise: sometimes when you have no energy it is because you are bored. And you might be bored due to ignorance, confusion or conflict. There are different strategies to address each reason.