While teaching on the Alaska cruise, I was reminded of how important it is for people to learn how to stop and experience life without the distraction of a never-ending to-do list. Too many of my conversations with others centered around feeling overwhelmed and yet uncomfortable with downtime. Hence this week's newsletter last published in 2007 - a message worth repeating.
This week I asked several friends about their ability to slow down and do nothing and discovered that it's clearly not an easy thing for most people to "do." Many friends said that the minute they had extra time on their hands, they felt bored and therefore uncomfortable and immediately began doing something. Together we laughed at the kind of things we've done. See if you can identify with any of them...
You know you have a tough time with boredom when:
1. You keep a box of dental floss, nail files, or pens and paper in your car so you have something to do when you hit a traffic jam.
2. You begin cleaning out your purse or wallet when you have extra time before an appointment.
3. You clean the dashboard of your car while waiting in a slow moving drive-thru line at your local coffee shop.
4. You start dusting the furniture or cleaning out drawers when you finally have a night to yourself.
5. When you have a spare half hour during the day, you call someone who needs you.
6. You start reading the phone book in a hotel room.
7. You find yourself engrossed in a story about a three-headed baby while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store
In an adrenaline-fueled society, learning to do nothing can be quite a challenge, but with practice, you'll discover that those feelings of boredom quickly give way to a sense of peace and serenity that will fuel you in a whole new way. My lesson on boredom came more than twelve years ago while working with my first coach, Thomas Leonard.
During our work together, Thomas dared me to master the art of being bored so I could get to the peace of mind on the other side - something I longed for at that time in my life. To do this, I had to create much more space in my life than I felt comfortable with. For example, I needed to
clear my schedule to free up my nights and weekends. He suggested I let go of several projects and goals (some I really wanted) to put an end to what appeared to be a career of "striving." And, he recommended that I stop my relentless pursuit of new ideas so I could settle down, be with my own thoughts, identify my true priorities, and connect with a spiritual power that would allow me to create my life from a deeper, more authentic place.
Learning to be bored is like learning to meditate. You need to hang on through a period of restlessness before you can experience the benefits. Once you get used to it though, you not only learn to relax, you learn so much more. You learn to enjoy your own company. You learn to develop self discipline - a skill that will serve you in other areas of your life. You learn to be less impulsive so you can make better decisions.
These benefits don't happen overnight. As you begin to practice being bored, you'll most likely experience the typical fear-based thoughts that will try to pull you back into "doing." They go something like this:
"Everyone else is getting ahead but me."
"I'm missing out on important opportunities."
"I won't succeed fast enough."
"I'm being irresponsible and/or unproductive."
"This is a complete waste of time."
"If I keep this up, I'll become a lazy sloth who never gets anything done."
These thoughts are just your mind telling you lies in the hopes of keeping you busy and disconnected from your true Self. Here's the truth: Once you get good at being bored and are able to maintain a reserve of space in
your life, you will engage a spiritual power that will draw toward you the people, opportunities, and resources you'll need to accomplish your goals quickly and easily. If this sounds a bit far fetched, don't take my word for it, give boredom a try. Start making space in your life and see what happens. Take the challenge below...
Take Action Challenge
This week, become mindful of how you avoid boredom. What do you do to fill up your time? Do you do the dishes, fold laundry, clean out your desk drawer, or call someone to chat? As you notice these behaviors challenge yourself to stop and be with the discomfort of doing nothing instead.
Next, consciously make space in your life. Look over your calendar and make the necessary changes to free up some time. Let go of a few commitments and sit with the space long enough to feel a little peace on the other side. That's right. Become a master of being rather than doing :)