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drawing of distracting ourselves vs. being alone with our thoughts

❝Boredom is simply a lack of attention.❞ -Sam Harris

Consider the last time you had to stand in a long line. How long did it take you to pull out your phone? One minute? Thirty seconds? Ten seconds?

Many people reach for distractions like cell phones to avoid boredom because boredom often means being alone with our thoughts.

And that scares the hell out of people.


How is your relationship with boredom? Do you hate being bored? Do you get bored easily?

If you're like many, it doesn't take long to get bored, and you don't like it!

drawing of boredom

On the other hand, it's pretty difficult to be bored today. We all have (including our kids) supercomputers in our pockets that act as a distraction when we feel the slightest tinge of boredom. We might compare ourselves to everyone we follow, buy things we don't need that will be delivered by the end of the day, or spend our time looking at other people's pictures.

The problem is that when we're distracted from life, we're missing life.

If we hate being bored so much that we are quick to distract ourselves, and if distracting ourselves leads us to miss out on what's important to us, it might be helpful to pull back the curtain and try to understand why we hate being bored in the first place.

drawing of fighting boredom with distractions


We have a lot of thoughts! I've heard some estimates that we have up to 70,000 thoughts per day!

Of course, we don't pay attention to all of these thoughts, and we may not even notice them. And yet, they are there.

drawing of thoughts

Because of our inherited negativity bias, many of our thoughts are negative. You may know this part of you as the inner critic. These are the thoughts that point out dangers, no matter how unlikely. These are the thoughts about how the good things that happened to you were lucky and aren't going to last.

Mostly, these are the thoughts telling you that you aren't good enough. Our thoughts can be a dark place.

drawing of negative thoughts

And thus, it's uncomfortable being along with these dark thoughts.

drawing of being alone with thoughts

A grateful person exhibits certain traits. Rather than feeling deprived in life, a grateful person experiences a sense of abundance. A grateful person acknowledges the contributions of others to his/her success and well-being, appreciates life's simple pleasures, and acknowledges the importance of experiencing and expressing gratitude.


Instead of reaching for your phone, there are several different ways to channel your attention in order to work through your boredom. You might consider trying the following when you feel bored.

Practice something that improves your life while nobody knows you're doing it. Practice your posture by standing upright. Or work on proper breathing techniques. Plan your day or your next project.

Other ideas are about creating games you can play with yourself. After all, you can't be bored when you're playing a game!

Some examples include a game I've heard called "Would I Wear That Shirt?" With this game, you look at others - a sort of people-watching exercise - and ask yourself if their shirt is a shirt you would ever wear.

drawing of would I wear that shirt game

Another example, if you are outside, is to see how many dog breeds you can find. Or types of birds. I've heard of someone who tried to find as many security cameras as possible on each outing. Other people look for the most funny thing they can find, or the most beautiful thing, or all the blue things. It doesn't matter much what the game is, but it helps you with your boredom, all while helping you train your attention.

drawing of dog breed game


The ability to strengthen your attention muscle can be further honed with mindfulness meditation.

We're addicted to our thoughts! Thinking is when we pay attention to our thoughts. This can be on purpose, of course, and we can even bring thoughts into existence.

Our default mode, however, is to pay attention to our thoughts without knowing we're doing it. This is thinking without knowing that we're thinking, or something philosopher and meditation teacher Sam Harris calls being lost in thought, almost as if we're dreaming.

drawing of attention for thoughts

With mindfulness meditation, you choose something to anchor your attention to, like your breath. As you pay attention to your breath, you may notice that you've been carried away by trains of thought. That's okay. Simply return your attention back to the breath.

drawing of meditation

This trains you to see how often you're lost in thought. It also helps you observe thoughts without being identified with them.

drawing of observing thoughts

As you get more practice with paying attention, you can start to change your relationship with boredom. Most of us are prewired to claim boredom as quickly as possible and then reach for the distractions.

drawing of impulse and boredom

Those trained in meditation can focus on boredom. Instead of using your breath as an anchor, you can use the feeling of boredom as an anchor. Pay close attention to what it feels like to be bored. How do you know you're bored? You might even notice that the boredom passes as you pay attention to it.

drawing of using boredom as an object of meditation

Boredom isn't as bad as most people think it is. Training your attention and learning how to relate to boredom differently will keep you less distracted, keep you from boredom shopping, or spending your short life watching short video clips.

You get one life; live intentionally.


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Adams, Scott: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Hanson, Rick: Hardwiring Happiness Harris, Sam: Waking Up Reivich, Karen & Andrew Shatte: The Resilience Factor



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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