I'm scared of boredom
Fear is a weirdly wonderful thing. I’m a big believer of the principle, put forward by thought-leaders like Gabrielle Bernstein, that in terms of emotions there are only two: fear and love. Have a think about it, can you name a negative emotion that can’t be distilled down into fear.
Anger= fear of losing control.
Sadness= fear of losing someone/something.
Hatred= fear of the unknown.
So, why am I scared of boredom? When I’m asked what the biggest lesson I learnt from my gap year was, I respond: learning my threshold for boredom. You see, from the time I started senior school and the pressure cooker that was national exams, maintaining extra curriculars and having family on both sides of the world - I was never really bored. If I was getting bored of England I could ask to go to Canada and vice versa. If I was getting bored of home I would go to a friends house. If I was getting bored of doing school work I would hop on my computer. If I was bored of my computer I would go out and spend money on coffee, shopping or drinking (depending on my age). If push came to shove and I was stuck in my boredom I would either start eating like mad or wish I was at university already - because as we all know university solves all your problems..
I’ve been pondering the enigma that is boredom for a long time. But, this morning I went into my brother’s room and asked the simple question I’ve been asking myself. He said ‘maybe’ he was scared of boredom, but that in all honesty it was not an emotion he felt regularly. From leaving high school he jumped straight into an academically competitive university with summers spent getting work experience in high pressured job. That being said he wasn’t actively scared of boredom because he was so busy that he’d passively avoided the threat. This got me thinking, is it a superpower of mine that I’ve travelled to the brink of boredom and I can tell all my tech-philic peers of what it’s like at the other end of Netflix, Instagram and YouTube.
Let me tell you what I learnt on my gap year about boredom. Ironically, trying not to run the risk of boring you so badly that you click off this post - it’s tempting I know, but stay with me. Throughout high school one of the wishes I always had was to have more guilt-free free time. Yes, I know that makes me sound like a highly strung anxious freak but in all honesty that’s exactly what I was. I had dreams of sleeping in until 2pm everyday, not leaving bed as a binge watched hours of my favourite tv shows and ate as much pizza as my debit card/parent’s money could afford. Maybe you’ve had a similar vision of a life where you have no responsibilities and you can do just that. Well, I’ve lived it and in all honesty it gets boring really quickly.
The month after my A Levels I started by going on a couple holidays staying out late at night and lazing on the beach during the day. Then I moved to Canada where I got a part time job and my mom gave me cash which I spent eating Cheetos and takeaway (thankfully these were the days before Deliveroo) laying on my bed polishing off another Netflix series. It took me three months until I was bored out of my mind and I mean really bored. I mean so bored that you can’t bear to find another TV show to watch the whole way through because you’ve hit the wall with entertainment. I mean so bored that you’re completely sick of all the music in your library and you can’t be bothered to find another album. I mean so bored that all of your friends/family are off working/studying and you’re stuck at home wishing you could do the things you’d been whinging about since you can remember.
I think I might know what you’re thinking: why didn’t you get another job or new friends or a hobby? All of these sound like a fantastic idea, but unfortunately in my experience boredom perpetuates boredom. I found it hard to maintain a conversation with would be new friends or lovers because I had nothing to share aside from my reactions to the latest American Horror Story episode. I found it hard to get out of bed to go to a gym class because I was so used to doing nothing but sleeping in and staying in bed - I physically could not muster the energy to leave the house aside from going to get food. You’ve probably seen a similar phenomena with your grand-parents where they can only do one activity a day and they prep for it for weeks before because their threshold for activity is so low. Lunch becomes a big deal.
I remember the day clearly when I hit my boredom threshold, which for the record I think is pretty impressive given the extent of entertainment at our finger tips nowadays. I was laying in the middle of my bed on my stomach and I saw my reflection in the screen as I paused the sixth episode of OITNB that I hadn’t enjoyed. I was done. This dream of doing nothing finally was my reality and it sucked. Straight away my head started buzzing with what I wanted to achieve. I made a list of books I’d been dying to read, I thought about businesses I’d like to start and I even started painting weird portraits of my dog. You see, hitting that boredom threshold was so important for me for two reasons:
1) It kickstarted my creativity from a place where I didn’t need to ‘achieve’ anything
2) It reminded me how lucky I am to be alive and that I wanted to get out there and start living again.
So, why am I still scared of boredom? Even though I’ve been to the otherside and I know how good it can be. In all honesty, I think it comes down to a low tolerance for discomfort and a lack of trust that if I dive down that hole of laziness again I could get lost forever. The generations before us had a much higher threshold for boredom. I regularly see old people sitting on trains for hours just staring out of the window. When’s the last time you travelled anywhere without entertainment? But, what I think this means for our generation is that we’re not used to being uncomfortable. We drown out the discomfort through staying busy, chasing our goals or just picking up the closest technology we can find.
‘Boredom’ has become a dirty word only used by ungrateful people who aren’t taking advantage of their opportunities afforded to them. I, for one, am making a pact to lean into boredom a little bit more. It’s about building that muscle of being okay with not doing anything. Being okay with not having my mind doing or consuming all of the time. It’s those moments where you’re not stuck in thoughts or actions that the real magic lies. Those moments where you truly appreciate the people in your life and you look them in the eye and you just sit there. Those moments when you’re sad and you don’t try to push it away with distractions. Feeling our feelings even when they’re uncomfortable is part of being human. You can start by just sitting for a moment wherever you are and try not to think about the next thing you should be doing. Just try.
I think the reality, like with all fears, is that the things we’re scared of are never as bad as we think they are. Whenever we feel resistance towards something in our life it’s our mind building it up to be worse than it is. This feeds into all parts of my life relationships, friendships, university and my career path - I’m staving off boredom at all costs and it’s become all-consuming. Does this make sense? This could be another existential crisis.
All my love, Sam