How to Free Yourself of Boredom

James Titchener / @mistertitchener

I used to hate running. Give me a ball to chase and I'm a golden lab without a care in the world. But just running?

But after listening to the audiobook of Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds again, I decided to dust off the running shoes and hit the streets. Not because I expected to have any fun whatsoever climbing up and down the hills of San Francisco, I started running to train my mind to embrace the suck. I write more about learning to avoid taking The Easy Way, but I want to touch on something unexpected that's come about in the months since I've started this near daily practice.

I think I actually like it.

Don't get me wrong. Running is often painful and there're times where I'd rather be doing anything else. I don't think that's ever going away. I've committed with a friend to run a marathon on or by Halloween of next year, so pain will follow me at least until I've finished my 26.1 miles in a giraffe onesie.

What's changed for me is that I no longer find running boring. Without any music, podcasts, audiobooks, or running buddies, I've come to find real enjoyment during parts of my increasingly longer runs.

If I were to able to travel back in time and relate this experience to my younger self, he wouldn't have been able to make sense of it. How could running miles upon miles without some competitive angle provoke anything but utter boredom?

With devices that provide instantaneous access to every song, thousands of critically acclaimed shows and movies, an algorithmically curated feed of the lives of our friends, families, and favorite influencers, the knowledge base of the world, and enough video games to make our eyes bleed, boredom is increasingly becoming a fleeting memory.

Sam Harris in his Waking Up meditation app, however, believes there's a price to be paid for unfailingly acting on the compulsion to distract yourself from boredom. The price being a loss your capacity to do nothing.

Once you learn to meditate, boredom is just a failure to pay attention. Within consciousness is an intrinsic sense of curiosity, peace, compassion, and even bliss. After taking on two silent meditation retreats myself, I can attest to the fact that even something as mundane as paying attention to your breath can bring about bizarrely positive states of wellbeing.

Once you learn to meditate, you will never be bored again.

With practice, any moment can be seen to be as good as any other for recognizing your true nature. And boredom isn't our default state, or at least it needn't be.

But if you can't sit alone with yourself without immediately reaching for your phone, you need to train your mind. Following the impulse to distraction isn't always possible. Sometimes you need to do things that are seemingly boring or uncomfortable, so you might as well train your mind to better deal with the inevitable.

This is what's shifted for me—I'm learning to treat running as meditation in motion. I'm training my mind not to latch on to the stories that come when pain, discomfort, and boredom arise. I'm coming to see that the human brain has an impressive capacity to find compelling reasons for why you should, or even need to stop, but these compulsions are really just noise. The pain is real. The fear around it, however, is needless. Both pass in time so long as you're resting in awareness.

I sometimes worry that I've been beating the mindfulness horse to death on this blog. I keep coming back to this topic in part because it's one of the few things I feel somewhat confident speaking to, but also because I'm extremely bullish about this esoteric practice. Outside of maybe sleep, I'm not sure there's anything better for your personal wellbeing.

While it's gaining in popularity, I don't think mindfulness' adoption has reached neither the depth nor breadth it deserves. So frankly, I'm going to keep approaching the topic from as many doorways as I can. And luckily for me, this practice is a panacea. I could write about this for a lifetime and fail to exhaust the reasons why you should finally take me at my word and give this a try.

And if you have tried mindfulness, and you've just gotten bored and immediately lost in thought, keep going. That is the practice. It's not to stop thinking, or to endlessly pay perfect attention to the breath. That is a type of meditation practice, but I'd argue it's not real mindfulness. There's no experience to have or state to attain. Mindfulness is simply recognizing awareness as it already is—free.

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