Photo Credit: Matt Wynn
It’s 11 am and I’m still struggling getting my thoughts together. The party last night was fun, but my day has been a total write off.
As we get into the holiday season, there likely will be more of such days, for me and for many of you. And the effects will wear us down physically, emotionally and mentally. Hardly the way to enter the New Year!
Why is it that we find it difficult to say no to constant fun and entertainment? I used to think it was at least partly because of the societal imperative to be lively, extroverted and brimming with zest. But I’ve begun to see it as more. As Bertrand Russell half a century ago, we believe that boredom is not natural, and thus go to great lengths to avoid it. It has given rise to this new kind of fear that now eats us – the fear of missing out (FOMO). In a world bursting at the seams with choice, this has made us unhappier people. Barry Schwartz author of The Paradox of Choice, says that unhappiness is because choosing any one path leaves us plagued with angst and self-doubt about the many others not chosen.
So how do we navigate this FOMO in our lives and especially around this season without running after every party in town? I believe that it begins by understanding that our relationship with boredom is unhealthy. Not only has it led to the need for constant stimulation, it has also given rise to a certain fear of being boring. We feel that for others to find us interesting and seek out our company, we need to prove that we’re worthy of their time and effort. And so we’ve become addicted to venturing into the midst of all that is fun and happening in order to allay our fears of loneliness.
But this fear has come at a price. When we waste our energy running after everything that may somehow prove the value we bring, we save precious little for the things that truly matter. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard saw boredom not as absence of stimulation, but as absence of meaning in life. In our age of technology, his views stand all the more stark, with many of us suffering the double whammy of over-stimulation and boredom.
It seems that in an ironic twist to be interesting, we’ve let go of what truly makes us interesting to others and continue to churn in a vicious cycle that gets us no closer. For what draws others to us is not the number of night outs we can tally, but the enigmatic potential that lies within each of us. It takes the stillness of boredom to connect to this potential that lies hidden beneath the stories in our minds.
Once we’ve connected to this genius within us, we need an immense amount of energy to nurture it and allow it to shine its light. Its not for the party animal to kindle the fires of their soul. If we truly want to see our creative genius flourish, we have to become very purposeful in where we spend our energies.
Some of the greatest minds of our times were the people who were able to craft structure into their day through the power of habit. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, says “I never waste a brain cell in the morning trying to figure out what to do when. Compare that with some people you know who spend two hours planning and deciding for every task that takes one hour to complete.”
What is worse is that every decision saps us of energy. No wonder we have very little left to actually accomplish what we set out to do when we spend an hour arguing with ourselves about why we shouldn’t do it. There has to be a better way to nurture what most makes us alive.
I think I’ve found my New Year’s resolution. I’m going to embrace boredom and create structure in my day and evenings. It’s the best way I know of organizing my energies around my potential and showing up fully in life!