If so, chances are you feel lost and imprisoned by your inability to grab onto anything that interests you. Some people confuse boredom with laziness, but they are notably different: Laziness brings up images of someone lounging around, not wanting to put effort into doing anything. People who are bored feel restless to do something—but nothing feels compelling or motivating. They feel stuck.
Surprising as it may seem, you can break out of your boredom much as you might break out of prison—by tunneling down.
The first step toward feeling motivated is to allow yourself to actually feel the boredom. You may think you already do; maybe even that you feel it too much. Perhaps. But in actuality, you may surf the Internet, watch TV, listen to music—anything to get out of yourself—and in those moments in-between the distractions, you are overcome by that nasty bored feeling.
This is not allowing yourself to feel bored.
Allowing yourself to feel bored involves saying yes to the feeling. It means inviting it in and sitting with it when you want to run from it. It is noticing when you are looking for distractions and reminding yourself to return to that uncomfortable feeling. While “sitting” with your boredom, you will have a chance to take a closer look at it, and consider: Are you really just unmotivated?, or is there something else going on?
Many people feel bored because disconnecting from the world is their way of protecting themselves from difficult situations or emotions. You may feel hurt, sad, angry, or afraid. You may be facing a difficult situation—say, a bad marriage—that you prefer not to face, but keeps pushing its way into your heart and mind. To solve the problem, you simply unplug. Then nothing can bother you, or so you hope.
This is not usually done consciously. Sit quietly with your boredom, allowing yourself to be aware of the thoughts or feelings that arise from deep within. If nothing comes to you, it can help to just review the circumstances of your life slowly, turning your attention to each one, and giving yourself a chance to become aware of the reactions you have to them.
If you find that you are avoiding some particular experience, be respectful of your efforts to protect yourself. There is a reason that you have disconnected, so approach the feared or avoided topic with care. You might journal about it or talk with a trusted, supportive friend.
Give yourself the chance to have the experience and challenge yourself to face your fears. If you feel overwhelmed, take a step back, but keep returning. As you acknowledge, label, and invite in your experiences, they will inform you about what you need to do next: Feel lonely? You’ll be aware of the desire to connect. Feel afraid? You might notice a desire for what you fear. Feel empty? You’ll need to explore what fills you up, even if it’s just a little bit.
For some people, boredom is part of depression. They lack any joie de vivre. They might be sad, but they also might just lack interests and have lost the capacity to enjoy anything. If you struggle with this, it can sometimes help to get yourself moving. Despite wanting to hunker down, go for a walk or exercise, connect with a friend, make plans to socialize, do things that used to make you happy, make sure you get enough sleep and eat properly. Together, these kinds of actions can often help people re-engage in life and make small positive steps that gain momentum until they are back on a happier life journey.
As you look inside and allow for your experiences, be sure to treat yourself with kindness. It’s not as if you are purposely making yourself suffer. (And even in the unlikely event that you are, there must be something painful that would make you do so.) Be compassionate to your struggles, just as you would be to anyone else’s. Then support and encourage yourself to face them. If you need the help of a therapist, choose to take that brave step.
In the end, coming out of your boredom will feel like breaking out of a cold, dark, isolation room into the freedom of the outdoors on a warm, sunny day.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness