I’ve wondered before about multipotentialites’ greatest fear. Last time I suggested it might be that each choice we make excludes all the other options we could have taken. Every time we do anything, we mourn an infinite number of lost futures.
There’s another common dread that I hear over and over when talking to fellow multipods: boredom.
Boredom has a reputation for… well, being boring. But not for being scary. Right?
Unless you talk to multipods, for whom boredom is a lurking terror direct from our nightmares. It’s an alarm signal in our minds, a siren that screams YOU ARE WASTING YOUR LIFE – IN THIS MINUTE YOU ARE BORED – DO YOU NOT REALIZE HOW SHORT LIFE IS? – YOU WILL REGRET THIS ON YOUR DEATHBED – PANIC IMMEDIATELY – ABANDON EVERYTHING.
Some of us put up with it. Some of us quit our jobs at the first sign of it. Some of us turn down opportunities out of fear that we might feel it in the future.
And some of us, presumably, make measured, sensible changes to re-engage our passions whenever it shows up. (I don’t actually know anyone who does this, but I assume such people must exist.)
With rare exceptions, multipotentialites hate being bored.
However, today I want to change our perceptions and celebrate boredom. But before I do that, let’s look at one exception.
Imaginary Boredom Sucks
Boredom comes in many different flavors. The most useless is what I think of as “Imaginary Boredom.”
Imaginary Boredom is boredom we’re not even experiencing yet. We feel this when we worry that we might get bored someday: “I could start this new job/course/project/whatever… but what if I get bored?”
Imagine you were starting a new academic program that was going to span several years. I’m sure you’d partly be excited at all the cool new stuff you were going to learn. But there might be a lurking fear: what if I’m going too deeply into just one subject? Will it become boring?
We don’t need to fear depth. Depth doesn’t erode our breadth; it just adds to it. None of our other passions will disappear just because we focus for a bit on one in particular.
Deeper knowledge is still new. There’s no reason that those novelty cravings can’t be just as satisfied by Super Hard Quantum Mechanics for Experts as they were by Introduction to Physics.
In fact, deeper knowledge in one area creates more possibilities for interesting intersections with other areas. Maybe something we learn in Super Hard Quantum sparks an idea we can bring into one of our other passions.
I’m digressing here, but the point is that Imaginary Boredom doesn’t serve us at all; especially because it often shows up before we are even bored. It simply paralyses us.
Real Boredom is Great
Okay, so Imaginary Boredom isn’t worth fearing. But what about real, genuine, soul-crushing tedium? Surely that’s not a good thing?
As with every other question in the universe, the correct answer is “it depends on how you look at it.”
The obvious disadvantage of true boredom is that it’s unpleasant. It can trigger existential angst as we worry that we’re wasting our limited time. It can make minutes stretch out like hours, crush our creativity, and make us feel depressed and purposeless.
But a life without boredom can be just as bad.
A life of relentless stimulation is exhausting. Constant activity drains our energy and fills our mental space. Without moments of quiet we become stressed and anxious.
If neither extreme is healthy, we have to find a balance, and that means creating space in which to be bored.
Boredom as a Positive Signal
It’s common knowledge that without giving our brains downtime to rest and process, we can become over-stressed and anxious. So perhaps we take a vacation. But how much downtime is enough?
I see boredom as like a battery indicator flicking from “orange” to “green.” While I’m still recharging, I’m not yet bored. I’m happily taking time out and allowing my brain to rest. But once I start feeling bored, I know my mental energy has been replenished.
Boredom as Creative Fuel
We can go further. Not only is boredom a useful “readiness” signal; it can also be helpful in its own right.
A well-rested mind is creative. Our brains can’t help but chatter away. While we’re distracted by the minutiae and stresses of daily life, our inner monologue is uncreative: I’m going to be late, I hate traffic, I need to pick up something for dinner…
But when we’re bored, our minds start to rove, searching for something interesting to alight upon. Our thoughts become more novel, and novelty is necessary for creation.
Bill Gates reportedly takes a “Think Week” every year, during which he just sits and thinks for an entire week. He claims that the lack of stimulation helps him to come up with new ideas.
Naturally, a week like this is a luxury we can’t all afford, but the idea itself is transferable; a little boredom can provide creative inspiration. If you’re struggling and feeling uninspired, perhaps strive to bore yourself senseless and see if your brain gets unstuck.
(I love counter-intuitive paradoxes like this! Just as welcoming the feeling of anxiety can reduce a panic attack, embracing boredom can aid creativity. Being human is weird.)
Boredom as a Signal for Change
I suspect that this particular positive doesn’t need mentioning to an audience of multipotentialites, but I’d be remiss not to mention it.
Chronic boredom can be a signal that we need to make changes in our lives.
That may sound like a statement of the obvious. Multipotentialites are so boredom-averse that it might be surprising to realize that not everybody thinks this way.
We humans are wired to be illogical. Ever heard of the Sunken Costs Fallacy? Or the old proverb “throwing good money after bad?” This is one reason we stay in jobs, relationships, and situations that have long since ceased to be positive. We’ve invested so much time that we feel it’d be a waste if we didn’t stick with it.
But this is illogical; we’ve already spent that time. The time we have coming up is the only time we have left to spend. And there’s no point spending a whole life in a situation that makes us unhappy.
Now, in this area of boredom it seems likely to me that multipotentialites probably need to rein themselves in, while non-multipods need to step up a bit.
A tiny bit of boredom isn’t a reason to immediately quit whatever we’re doing. Learning to tolerate some boredom is an important part of becoming well-rounded. But a long-term lack of challenge and growth might be a reason to move on. Judge for yourself, and ask your friends, peers, and fellow multipods for advice.
In short, depending on your unique circumstances:
- Learn to tolerate (some) boredom OR make life changes in response to it.
- Check you’re getting enough mental space; if you’re never, ever bored, are you recharging enough?
- If you’re creatively stuck, lean into being bored.
- Don’t fear imaginary boredom as much as real boredom.
Has boredom ever been positive for you? Share your story in the comments!
Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.