Be Bored To Be Happy

So there’s this guy. You know him. I know him. But neither one of us has met him (stay with me).

A Harvard classmate of his, said that he had an “amazing array of interests.” Outside of completing all of his homework, he was still able to carve out some time for boxing, wrestling, bodybuilding, dance, and poetry. He even published his first book (of the 40 to come); all while crushing his classes.

Most of us struggle to balance Netflix, beer pong, girlfriends, boyfriends, and that project that’s due tomorrow in our college lives.

So how did Theodore Roosevelt get so much done on any given day?

Since writing that intro, I’ve talked to my Dad on the phone, went and woke up Kels, sent a text, tweeted, got up to get a cup of coffee… twice, and read a page of this book sitting next to me.

There are so many distractions that come into play in 2016. It’s not an excuse as much as it’s a new way of life. Good old Theo didn’t have a computer in his pocket, text messages, Facebook, Game of Thrones, or Snapchat constantly distracting him.

Even so, Roosevelt had a certain intensity of focus while working that allowed him to be so effective and successful. When he worked, he worked. When he wrote books about birds, he wrote. When he was in the weight room, he left his iPod at home.

Because we now have more distractions, it’s even more essential we take a play out of Roosevelt’s playbook.

Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, suggests that we practice being bored. That’s another luxury of 2016, we never have to be bored if we don’t want to. Feeling bored? Pull out your phone. Starting to feel lonely? Binge a season of Friends and feel like you’re a part of the gang at Central Perk. 

Here’s a new practice — every time you’re feeling bored, don’t reach for the phone or Netflix. Sit with the discomfort for a moment. Feel the uneasiness of boredom. Sound stupid? Check this out: 

Clifford Nass was a Professor of Communications at Stanford who studied people who multi-tasked. He said, “people who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They’re pretty much mental wrecks. They develop mental habits that make it impossible for them to be laser-focused.”

In other words, distraction can become such an ingrained mental habit that it would make focusing for any prolonged period of time impossible. And if we can’t focus, we don’t stand a chance of being effective in anything. 

Remember all those distractions I was giving into in the intro? I just wrote the next 400 words in half the time of the first 100. That is the power of focus.

We learn more. We engage deeper. We feel more, see more, and accomplish more. Something I read over a year ago argued that “one hour of focused time is equal to about four hours of distracted time.”

If we all worked with the intensity and focus of Theodore Roosevelt, we could cut our 8 hour work day into 2 hours, and have plenty of time for other activities like horseback riding, finger painting, and sculpting statues for our living rooms. 

That’s why I’m with Newport when he suggests practicing boredom. This will make us more mindful of how we spend our time, and therefore more intentional of how we spend our days. The quality of our lives is so much better when we are mindful and intentional. When we execute our daily tasks with purpose and intensity, we are much more fulfilled and happy. 

A 2013 survey by The Broadcasters Audience Research Board asked 25-35 year olds how much TV they watch. They confidently answered about 15-16 hours per week. In reality, it was about 28 hours. When we are this unaware of how our time is spent, no wonder our to-do lists never shrink. 

So let’s practice boredom. Let’s practice being mindful. Let’s practice being intentional. Let’s not react to the impulse of the buzz or ding. Or scratch the boredom itch with TV and bottles of wine.

Let’s focus like Teddy Roosevelt, and practice being bored like we don’t have iPhones.

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