Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Boredom: Scourge or Opportunity?

Boredom:  Scourge or Opportunity?

Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Boredom. This is not a new or exotic topic. We all experience it, at least once in a while, and studies say men more than women, youths more than adults. It’s unpleasant. We want to get out of the feeling, but don’t quite know how. We don’t even really know what it is or what’s causing it.

Here’s a definition generated on Wikipedia: “Boredom is an emotional and occasionally psychological state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, is not interested in their surroundings, or feels that a day or period is dull or tedious.” Well, ok, that does describe what most of us feel, but why? Where does it come from, and what do we do about it?

It can be caused by a number of factors: lack of external stimulation; lack of internal stimulation; being engaged in a necessary but predictable, repetitive, monotonous task – a task that has no obvious value or reward; the wish to be “productive,” but lacking the motivation to get off the couch and do it; not feeling up to the task (a self-esteem issue); a lack of energy, physical or mental; external obstacles you have no control over (e.g. a flight delay, a long line you find yourself at the end of, a red light that seems will never change); feeling trapped by circumstances (a tedious, unrewarding job that lands in your lap, like caring for a sick relative); you have ideas and motivation, but you lack the resources to follow through; being sleep deprived. I could add to the list but at least one of these will likely resonate with you.

For many, getting out of a state of boredom was easier pre-internet. There was no need to constantly check your emails, texts, “likes” on various social media platforms, etc. Ok, there was TV, but people were also more likely to read a book, go for a walk, or most importantly, socialize with others. This is critical. Engagement with people goes a long, long way at staving off boredom. Better said, being with others is stimulating. For those people who have jobs that involve interaction with others in, say, an office setting, this is likely to be fulfilling, and coming home to a significant other, children chores that have to be done may be enough to keep boredom at bay. For others, coming home to some precious alone time feels luxurious.

But some don’t know what to do with it, and engage in passive entertainment. Catching up on social media may feel active, but in many ways, it isn’t. It’s being passively fed a kind of external stimulation. Binge-watching your favorite series does the same. If these activities keep you out of boredom, there’s no problem with that in the short term. But what happens on the weekend? You can see where this is going.

Oddly enough, boredom isn’t always bad or bad for you, but it can be. Chronic boredom (aka apathetic boredom) can be a sign of depression, but occasional boredom often actually leads to creative thinking, stimulation of new ideas, driving you to try something new – at work or in your personal life. The screen is never blank; your mind is never totally turned off. It wanders, and when you don’t choose to engage in passive entertainment, new ideas spring up. For example, having a dinner party – yeah, you’ve been meaning to do that, and now you find yourself planning out the details – whom to invite, what to make, who can bring a fabulous dessert, etc.

Or you can find yourself going into Memory Mode. Reliving experiences (granted, not all of them joyous), how you might do them differently next time, or just feeling the warmth of the good ones. If they were with people you’ve lost contact with, it might lead you to find them, and reconnect. Renewing friendships can be one of the most rewarding experiences ever. And all this out of….boredom!

So the benefits of occasional boredom far outweigh the drawbacks. The champion of actually embracing this state is none other than Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, who believed that “boredom allows one to believe in curiosity.” Want another? J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor who grew bored of grading papers. His wandering mind led to the creation of “The Hobbit.” Ok, we may not be the next Steve Jobs or Tolkien, but something creative will come out of embracing boredom, allowing your mind to wander now and then, rather than fighting it tooth and nail. You might come up with a way to remove the obstacles to success in the work project you’ve been assigned (or come up with one on your own!), or getting back in touch with emotions sorely needing to emerge, finding old friends, making new ones, finally signing up for the workshop or class you’ve “been meaning to” take for months if not years.

You might find your self-esteem on the rise, the obsessive beating yourself up on the downswing, self-destructive behavior waning, be better able to tolerate boredom, feeling less restless, more in control of your life, making better decisions. You remember to take something to read when you have to catch a flight, bring healthy snacks to nibble on. If the subway is stuck in the tunnel due to “police activity,” or a sick passenger, and there’s no Internet in that particular stretch, maybe you’ll strike up a conversation with someone, on the theory that you never know where it might lead.

Boredom isn’t fun. I’m not suggesting you should think it is. But there are better and worse ways to deal with it. All your choice.

You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.
~ Andy Warhol

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