Updated on 11.18.11

Boredom Is Our Enemy

Trent Hamm

The other day, a friend of mine put up a Facebook update stating that she was incredibly bored. I wrote back and suggested that she come visit me, as I have more than enough things to do.

I’ve come to believe that boredom is the enemy of a vibrant, enjoyable, and values-based life. As the saying goes, the devil finds work for idle hands to do.

Let’s start out by defining exactly what boredom is. According to Merriam-Webster, boredom is “the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest.”

Lack of interest.

If you don’t have anything interesting around you to do, you’re going to be itching to find something interesting. That’s often a very expensive state to be in.

Often, because that wandering is unchanneled (if it wasn’t, you’d not be bored to begin with), you’ll wind up doing something that’s not a good use of your time. That’s also an expensive state to be in because of the lost opportunity.

Boredom has led me to the bookstore more times than I can count, as well as to electronic stores. It’s also led me to idle away whole afternoons on pointless activities that never really led to anything at all.

I’ve made an effort to completely eliminate boredom from my life – and I’ve mostly succeeded.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have leisure time. I certainly do engage in lots of things that are mostly for my own enjoyment. It also doesn’t mean I don’t have unstructured time. I just always have projects to fill that time.

Here’s what I’ve done to specifically combat boredom in my life.

First, if I ever conceive of a project that I might want to work on, I add it to my “project book.” This book is simply loaded with things that I’d love to work on if I have the time, from painting some of the unpainted pieces in a few of the board games I own to writing a novel I have in my head to building an add-on laundry room off of our kitchen to reading a challenging book I’ve never tried… the list goes on and on and on.

Then, if I ever find myself even approaching boredom, I look at that list immediately. There are so many things on it that I want to do that I always find something that gets me excited in that moment, and off to the races I go.

If nothing on that list excites me, then I assume I need sleep and I go take a nap or go to bed after drinking a big glass of water. Rehydration and adequate sleep are my first responses to getting things back on track if I ever feel out of whack.

Boredom is my enemy. When I see it cropping up, I aim to defeat it quickly. If I let it grow, bad things tend to happen.

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  1. elyn says:

    I disagree that boredom is an enemy of any sort, or that boredom naturally leads everyone to do expensive things. I also dislike having the “combatants” for boredom to be 1) work on a project, or 2) sleep. Reminds me way too much of being bored as a child, and telling my mother so, and her answer being, “Oh, I have a task for you if you are so bored.” One of the freedoms of being a grown up is to be able to not constantly be barraged with tasks on your downtime. This whole article is really about fear of boredom more than anything else.

    When I am bored, if I try to fill my time with purposeful activity, that activity is usually unsatisfying, because I’m doing it to run away from feeling bored. If I let myself sit still and feel the boredom, often there’s an emotion underneath it that needs attending. Then, if I attend to that feeling, the boredom tends to dissipate, my energy comes back, and my mind is able to be creative again. So, in my experience, boredom is my friend who lets me know something is off.

  2. krantcents says:

    Boredom is a reaction to stimulus. You can change your reaction. If you are bored you can find something else or make what you are working on better.

  3. Becca says:

    For me boredom is when I’m trapped in a situation having to do something I don’t want to do. Examples include tasks required by an employer, or having to be polite when a social situation and make conversation with someone I find uninteresting.

    During my free time, I find there is little reason to being bored. I once had a friend whose passion was bird watching. And as she told me about the things she had seen, I reflected that everywhere around me there are interesting things I could explore, yet are overlooked.

  4. lurker carl says:

    Attitude adjustment cures boredom. As Elyn points out, boredom is the expression of something else bothering you. Then get out of the house and lend a hand to someone who needs it.

    How in the world does someone with three small children manage to take a nap or feel bored? My kids seldom left me alone long enough for sleep or boredom! Their little monsters don’t either.

  5. Nick Thacker says:


    I just posted about using “projects” to keep us motivated and basically help prevent boredom. Your idea of an ongoing “project bucket” is great!

    I think I’m going to look into this more and see where it takes me, thanks for the great ideas!

  6. valleycat1 says:

    Sometimes it’s okay to “idle away an afternoon on activities that never lead to anything at all.” Time does not always have to be spent productively or even purposefully, and I think it’s pretty unrealistic to expect to be able to do so. Your body and your mind and your emotions sometimes need the down time, and you don’t have to actually go to sleep to get that rest.

    In my family it is considered a good thing to sometimes experience boredom (particularly for children). I agree that some people might turn to expensive options, but even that can be a learning experience if someone’s serious about maturing. I don’t fear boredom – & after the week I’ve just had, would welcome the luxury!

  7. Misty says:

    As a writer of fiction, I’m with Stephen King. Boredom is the best cure for writer’s block. For me, boredom can be one of the greatest sources of creativity. I don’t know if it’s just because your brain goes to work looking for something to do if you don’t provide it with something, or if you just suddenly listen to the random thoughts passing through your head.

    Whatever it is, some of my best writing has resulted from being bored, with nothing to do but sit around coming up with interesting stories to tell.

    Basically, boredom is an emotion, just like any other. It can be healthy or unhealthy, depending upon how you handle it. However, I suspect that a lack of boredom in the world, with all people turned to “productive” tasks during all their waking hours, would result in a world sadly devoid of creativity.

  8. Rockledge says:

    A lot depends on your personality. My mom gets bored very easily and it’s caused her to do all sorts of dumb things from shopping when she doesn’t need stuff, to gambling, to affairs.

    Myself,on the other hand, find it very hard to get bored; there’s so much I’m interested in and just sitting on the porch watching the weather can keep me entertained. Sometimes when I’m sick, I get bored, but other than that, I’ve been bored maybe three times in my life. I can read, or garden, or walk, or listen to music, or go on-line, or meditate, or pet the cat, or talk to a friend, or…… So many things to do in life!

  9. kristine says:

    Misty- I completely agree. I find people who are afraid to be bored are often people who are afraid to be alone with themselves, to let their mind wander into unknown thought patterns. In other words- true creativity. I do not feel the need to fill every single second with productivity, or improvement. Anyone in the arts knows the power of boredom.

    Boredom is underrated as an imagination-building tool for children. A kid gets bored- they create scenarios and pretend, unprompted. There are no dots to connect form here to there- the “there” is a meandering horizon. It does not mean they will get into trouble- no more than they would doing some other activity, if properly supervised. Adults have to supervise themselves, and I guess it can be intimidating. Having a ready-made list of activities and ideas to avoid letting thoughts, and life, just happen from time to time, can be great for people who need a ton of control-many do. I have such a list, but I do not rush to check it at every moment of ennui. I find it healthy to balance purposefulness and void. Void can spur artistic ephanies, or Zen-like interludes. Life is so much richer than lists and tasks.

  10. kristine says:

    I can understand that some people will behave badly when bored- but that may be due to not being bored ENOUGH when young, so they did not have that practice. They did not develop good habits, coping techniques, interests or mental wandering skills for dealing with gaps in stimulus, and feel the need have activity all the time, or shut of completely.

    Poor behavior is more about character. For those prone to negative behavior or poor choices, boredom can be a decisive catalyst. In that case, having a down-time to-do list as a crutch is a good thing! I was bored a lot as a kid, and find it a catalyst for looking at the world in new ways.

  11. beth says:

    one of my fav sayings when teens say “I’m bored” is “if you’re bored than you must be boring” because it is tragic that such creative and energetic people don’t find interest in so many amazing and positive things that are waiting to be discovered

  12. Steven says:

    “If you’re bored, you must be boring.”

    Something I’ve long believed. There are times in my life when I get bored, and reflecting upon those times, I was boring. Sitting on the couch flipping through the channels, etc. If I’m not *being* boring, I don’t get bored.

    But I don’t need a “to-do” list in case of emergencies. If I get bored, either I accept the boredom, or I find something interesting to do with my time.

  13. Lady D says:

    Everyone has their own ways of dealing with boredom, but let’s understand that if there’s an underlying emotion that needs to be dealt with, then that’s not true boredom. While it’s true that one needs to identify those underlying emotions and deal with them, that state should not be referred to as boredom. Discontent is probably the more appropriate word in that case… and yes, there usually is a reason why people are discontent.

    I, too, love the idea of an ongoing project bucket and intend to start using that idea. Further, I don’t believe the main article is about fear of boredom at all, but is more about using time constructively. As far as I am concerned using time constructively is never a bad thing. I believe the ongoing project bucket is a good way to skip over the wasted time trying to decide what to do and get right into the doing, thus leaving more time for the actual project.

    For example: I have an hour or so to spare. I want to do something with that hour… but if I spend 15 to 20 minutes thinking about what to do, that leaves me only 40 to 45 minutes to do my project, and lets out all the projects that take 45 minutes to a full hour. (I always leave 5 to 10 minutes to clean up afterwards.) On the other hand, if I have that ongoing project bucket handy, I can find my project topic in less than five minutes and spend the remainder of my free time working on that project.

  14. Sandy says:

    @ Elyn – you are SO right! I agree wholeheartedly :)

  15. elyn says:

    Thanks, Sandy! Not sure why this topic in particular got me all fired up, but I was inspired to write a blog post to elaborate on what I was saying in my comment, on my blog that I have neglected since April. I’d post a link, but I think it would go to moderation…

  16. greg says:

    I always thought that though a nap and a large
    glass of water might be fine for your health, but
    taken together they might work against each
    other, LoL….

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